Please Learn How To Talk To People Again

I’ve been monitoring the recent insanity with SFWA and the multiple parties involved in the artillery shelling that is masquerading as a professional dialogue, though I can’t say I’ve been doing it with too much enthusiasm.  I’ve hinted at this in a previous post about the political/moral arguments that seem to be hanging like a dark cloud over the SF/F genre, and I don’t really think I’ll rehash those details here.  I’m not going to pick a side or give what I think about the issue or its tangents – at least not at the present time.  But there is something that has been bothering me quite a bit as I find myself being Facebook ambushed by links to blogs and websites, etc.

People have completely forgotten how to talk to each other.

I could go out on a limb here to blame it on the internet, but I think that’s overly simplistic.  Still, one cannot deny the phenomenal impact that internet communication has had on the way we interact with each other.  You’re allowed sufficient time to come up with witty responses; you’re allowed sufficient anonymity if you choose it; you’re (perceiveably) allowed immunity from the responsibility to adhere to social norms, in some cases.  You also can’t engineer your tone.  You can’t accurately guage your inferences.  You can’t baseline your interlocutor to find out how he or she might perceive what you are saying.  Worse, you don’t care.  You don’t care because you’re not there to see the fallout.

We need to reinstitute a standard of behavior in the way we communicate over the internet and start treating it like we would any other communication.  If you wouldn’t spew the kind of hateful, sarcastic vitriol in person that you are spewing across the internet, then you should probably reconsidering what you are saying.  No, you should probably reconsider HOW you are saying it.  There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing it.  I think there’s something wrong with expressing it like a child who was never taught the meaning of respecting other people.

Worse, the internet and the types of communications I’ve been seeing involve another dimension that up until now was only present in select circumstances – all your communication is public.  Yes, this means that you should watch what you say, since it becomes etched in stone immediately upon you saying it, but there’s more to it than that.  In one-on-one communication, or even communication in small groups, the dimension of pride and ego is much less than in a public forum.  You may have an ego to protect, you may have honor to defend, but the way you’re going to handle yourself in a coffee shop – even if you’re sipping lattes with people with whom you disagree – is much different from the way you are going to conduct yourself if you were on a soap box in the middle of a crowded forum.  Essentially, that’s what the internet has become.  Everyone now has access to a soap box, and almost nobody has any idea how to use it properly.

Communication on the internet is not just public.  In fact, it’s not really communication – it’s entertainment, and it’s become a zero-sum game.  There is no compromise, because compromise is giving up status and ego and pride and concession that maybe you weren’t 100% right after all.  Maybe every situation isn’t black and white.  There is no discussion, since there really is no listening going on – there are only people stating their opinions loudly.

This is not communication.  It’s not healthy from a personal perspective, and it’s certainly not healthy from a professional perspective.   SFWA and the SF/F genre have been grievously wounded in a way that is both saddening and embarrassing, but it’s not just restricted to that community.  Without a willingness to listen, without a willingness to compromise, without a willingness to accept responsibility for the things that are coming out of your keyboard, there will be no progress in any community.  There will only be lines in the sand, and through the gap it creates will blow a stagnant, callous wind that smells an awful lot like decay.

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  1. I commented on the the other post you mentioned here, and made a similar point, but I’ll just say I respectfully disagree with much of what you say here. No, not everything is black-and-white, but some things are. Even in such cases where the issues are cut-and-dried, it’s certainly possible to discuss them without sounding angry and vitriolic – and some of us should be dispassionate.

    But if change for the better is going to happen, there will need to be those who are motivated by a very strong passion who will speak out and speak loudly. Because no one is listening otherwise. That’s a reality of our times. For many of these people, the argument you make here, that we should all be quiet and respectful and discuss things calmly, is tantamount to saying they should just shut up and not speak at all. And they cannot abide that message. I, for one, have a lot of empathy for that position – especially for those who have faced a historical climate of silencing and belittling. I get their need to be heard, and I appreciate it, and I have nothing but respect for their courage to stand up and speak loudly right into the face of those who say they shouldn’t even be speaking at all. And maybe, those of us who support them shouldn’t be telling them to be a little more quiet and circumspect because they’re rocking the boat. The boat was already sinking and unless action is taken, it’ll be scuttled for sure.

    The way I see things, the genre hasn’t been “grievously wounded” by these discussions. Rather, some of us have been awakened to the festering wound – the deep and violent cancer – that was already there the whole time, under the surface.

    • While I think I understand where you are going, I would argue that the most influential figures in history were the most meek and respectful. Look at Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and MLK and a dozen others that history will cite – they were definitely heard, but they advocated peace and respect for all mankind. I’m not convinced any of them would approve of the kind of tactics being used to push agendas on either side, today. But damn, they were loud, and they made changes.

      I wasn’t arguing against speaking passionately; it would be a dull world that never went anywhere if we did that. Rocking the boat is one of the things I’m good at, I think, but there are good and bad ways to do it. Larry Correia’s and Jim Hines’ public argument over an article about binary sexuality wasn’t rocking the boat; it was trying to sink someone else’s while making your own boat look bigger and with more cannons. It’s that kind of stuff that makes me shake my head.

      I hope that clarifies a bit. I would never encourage anyone to be silent just because they’re making waves. I might tell them to pick their battles and use less carpet-bombing when they fight them, though.

      • I respect what you’re trying to say by citing MLK, Mandela, and Gandhi. But I might suggest you take a closer look at the history of these men. While they each pursued their goals through nonviolent means, they were anything but peaceful. These men were frequently audacious and forceful in their rhetoric. People were beaten, tortured, and jailed as a direct consequence of the course of action these men charted. Two of the three were assassinated for their causes.They were agitators and revolutionaries (in Mandela’s case, literally a revolutionary, as he was the founder of the African National Congress’s military wing in the 1960s; indeed he was jailed for a long time because of his connection to organized violent resistance to apartheid).

        Your assertion that the two sides are both carrying on tactics that are ostensibly more transgressive than the tactics of these men who opposed past oppressions begs the question: In what way, specifically, are they worse?

        You cite here the Larry Correia and Jim Hines affair, for example. The two are thoroughly different in their approaches, with the exception of sharing the common trait of mocking the other side (but even that not to the same degree). But let’s look at the blog posts: one was disingenuous and dishonest as well as fiercely and virulently mocking. The other was mostly reasoned, with citations and logic, and some mild mocking. Perhaps you disagree as to the degree in which these two posts differed in tone, but I’d be happy to engage in a respectful point-counterpoint – in a format in which there was a little more time and space to address this topic – with the goal of proving demonstrably through a direct comparison of both the original posts in questions as well as the attendant comment threads (I believe the comment threads in each case are an important object lesson on the general flavor of the conversation on each side) that there is no equivalency between these two sides. (I didn’t want to burden this comment thread with a long and potentially superfluous meta-Fisk of the Fisks… And obviously you’re under no obligation to give me the time of day, but if you’re interested in exploring this topic further, I’m more than happy to exchange ideas about how we might continue this discussion.)

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