The SJWs are taking over Science Fiction!

I’m not particularly fond of circular logic, but it sure gets used a lot. Here’s an example: there are more men working in tech than women, therefore men are better at coding than women. It’s easy to find people who accept that reasoning without a qualm.

But those same people balk at another example: more women than men are getting published in science fiction now, therefore women are better writers than men. They go to extraordinary lengths to rationalize away the current difference. Why, the SJWs must be actively discriminating against men! I can prove it using math, because men are also naturally better at math than women!

I have found the most remarkable example of this “proof”. This fellow has gone through back issues of various magazines and tallied up the number of male and female authors published — and also the number of “not real sex” authors, which sort of tells you right there what kind of regressive asswipe we’re dealing with. He comes to the conclusion that there’s a huge discrepancy in the numbers of F&SF stories getting published by men and women, and that it’s the product of a conspiracy by SJWs to actively harm men. Really!

It’s been obvious for a long time in publishing that men need not apply, you’re not welcome. But now in the 2% where men were actually allowed to compete, it’s been completely taken over by social justice warriors who don’t care in the least about equality, but want to actively harm men both as professionals and readers.

In order to demonstrate this, he engages in some amazing cherry picking and distortion of the statistics. He plugs numbers into a spreadsheet and then does some weird analysis. For example, here’s the month-by-month counts for a podcast, the Escape Pod. The thing is, there are huge numbers of podcasts out there — why is he selecting this one? Is he going to exhaustively summarize the state of the podcast genre (no, of course not, because that would be a huge undertaking), or is he selecting this one because it will support his claim? You know it’s the latter. I looked it up, and here’s one of the criteria for entries in the podcast:

We are especially interested in seeing more submissions from people of backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented or excluded from traditional SF publishing, including, but not limited to, women, people of color, LGBTQ or non-binary gender people, persons with disabilities, members of religious minorities, and people from outside the United States.

If you identify as part of these or other underrepresented groups, we welcome and encourage you to indicate so when you send us your story. We acknowledge the reality of unconscious bias and will make our best efforts to account for it during the editorial review process. Our goal is to publish fiction that reflects the diversity of the human experience.

So yes, they intentionally are casting a wide net, and are trying to bring in diverse writers. They aren’t discriminating against men at all.

So let’s see the numbers.

So a podcast that is actively encouraging diverse submissions still includes 20 stories from men, vs. 30 stories from women. That’s not bad at all. But wait: what’s that number? He’s saying that there are 50% more stories by women than men? That’s odd. How does he get that?

Looking at several of his examples, it becomes obvious: he’s taking the difference in the number of stories by men and women, and then dividing, not by the total number of stories, but by the number of of stories by men. It’s a way to amplify and exaggerate the differences — it allows him later to claim that some magazines publish 247% more women! 306% more women! Aaaiee! It’s a bullshit statistic, though.

And then there’s this interesting table: these are the long-standing big names in SF publishing: Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF. There are more men getting published in the established magazines than women! You would think this would be a troubling statistic for his thesis.

So magazines that encourage diversity in their authorship get fewer submissions from men, which is totally unsurprising. What is odd is that a couple of magazines buck the trend. Why? Our intrepid investigator has an explanation.

The oldest of the old guard of magazines still seem to be a safe place to submit if you’re a man. Now the numbers look very skewed in men’s favors and a feminist might cry foul here saying that these magazines actually discriminate against women. This is where they’re wrong. A source that will remain nameless told me that the editor of Asimov’s, Sheila Williams, prints male to female stories in the ratio of submissions she receives. Even though the monthlies look a little suspect, if these periodicals still work in an old way of proportionate representation of submissions, this is probably an accurate picture of what Science Fiction authors make ups are overall, and what one should expect were that more the case.

Uh, wait. This is actually a bit bothersome. I expect the role of the editor is to select the best quality stories for publication, without regard for the identity of the author. This guy is actually saying that this is not true for Asimov’s — that they have a quota system. If 60% of the submissions for that month are from men, they decide that, regardless of quality, 60% of the published stories for that month have to come from that pile? So all the guys have to do is throw lots and lots of trash at the magazine, and they’ll effectively squeeze out stories from women authors?

Excuse me, but I don’t really believe that. If true, though, that works both ways, and all the women have to do to break the male hegemony at Asimov’s is to submit, submit, submit stories. Fish the crappy stuff out of the wastebasket and send it in anyway — it probably won’t get published, but it will enable more of your sister writers to get in.

Which is why I don’t believe this story.

But then take a look at his conclusion.

If you’re a man, even with the skewed results of the legacy three magazines of Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF, that are vocal about the fact that they’re proportionate in representation of submissions, you’re hosed. An analysis of all the markets that accept these submissions on a monthly basis (I left out Lightspeed Magazine which has dead even results), the total discrimination against men is big. The totals of all stories published in this market survey over a year are:

Men: 426

Women: 487

Which means women have a 14.3% advantage just in sheer numbers of stories published. If the industry holds with ratios of 4:1 submissions, and say the accepted represents about 1% of all submissions, it means there’s about 91,300 submissions in the industry. Rough estimates puts men at 73,040 submissions and women at 18,260 submissions.

First look at that bit I highlighted: he threw out a data point because Lightspeed Magazine happened to have equal representation of men and women authors — that is, he discarded data that didn’t fit his hypothesis. You don’t get to do that! He doesn’t even seem to be aware that this is a great big flaming no-no in data analysis. Of course, given how he chose to inflate numbers throughout, it’s not surprising that he’s clueless here.

Second, he’s claiming that discrimination against men is big, yet all he’s got to show for it is a difference of 426 to 487? What’s the statistical significance of that? Wait, scratch that: his methodology means that at best he’s confirming a bias he favored with his process, which isn’t particularly interesting. He intentionally selected magazines that are trying to acquire a diverse audience, so of course he sees some underrepresentation of men. It doesn’t say there’s a conspiracy, or that men are being harmed.

Third, to amplify his claim of discrimination, he brings in this other statistic: men submit more stories than women with a ratio of 4:1, so there’s even more invisible bias! To back up that claim, he mentions a submissions tracker and market database called The Grinder. I poked around in there, but didn’t see a way to pull up stats on women’s vs. men’s submissions — maybe someone could explain how you do that. But the thing is that in his one specific example of Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF, he claims that the proportion published is representative of the proportion submitted, and it’s nowhere near 4:1. I also rather suspect that those magazines that encourage submissions by underrepresented groups also tend to get relatively fewer stories from your traditional white male engineering types, so the 4:1 doesn’t hold.

But given that 90% of everything is crap, I don’t find submission rates to be particularly compelling, so that line of argument is also crap.

But here’s my bottom line: of course there is bias! It’s everywhere! Some places will favor women, others will favor men. Go to your supermarket and look at the magazine racks: there are magazines “for men”, and magazines “for women”, and they tend to propagate some ugly stereotypes. In a field like science fiction that tends to encourage innovation and change, and that like all literary fields goes through waves of new emphases, there will be times when people are trying to shake up the old staid tropes, and that means that the previous beneficiaries of convention will fall out of favor, and will find it harder to publish. People are looking for new twists and interesting ideas in their fiction, and of course if you want to write stories exactly like the ones you read 30 years ago, you’re going to be discriminated against.

Or you’ll find a niche publishing market.

Really, I don’t choose my preferred reading material by the color of the author’s skin, or what genitals are slung under their pants. I read Nnedi Okorafor, or Scott Lynch, or Ann Leckie, or NK Jemisin, or China Mieville, because they challenge me with new ideas and good writing. Sometimes to get new ideas you have to encourage new perspectives, which tends to disrupt the Old Guard.

But here’s another factor that influences what authors I favor. The good ones (even the white male authors!) will read those new authors, too, and praise what they like and grow and change themselves to value those novel approaches, and their writing will get better.

The bad ones will read stories by authors different from themselves and resent it, and run away from the challenge, blaming others for their lack of adaptability and talent.

But don’t worry, White Men! You’re just as capable of writing great stories as people who are not White Men, as long as you don’t get tangled up in your persecution complex.

The 2017 Hugo awards are out

The winners have been announced, and they are NK Jemisin, Seanan McGuire, Ursula Vernon, Amal El-Mohtar, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Marjorie Liu…hey, wait a minute, those are all lady names. Obviously, this must mean that women are genetically predisposed to write the best science fiction and fantasy. The evidence is right there! I’m sure the people who argue that existing sex differences in anything can’t possibly be caused by socio-cultural factors will agree because they hate that kind of stuff. They’re just going to have to acknowledge that women are biologically better writers.

Oh, there was the usual effort by the Sad/Rabid Puppies to get some of their nominees on the ballot, and they did have a few works they pushed — none of them won. Not even the transparent attempt to steal credit from good authors by naming them succeeded. They nominated, for instance, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, and the movie Deadpool…they lost, too. I suspect there might be some weak negative effect, even, where attaching Vox Day’s recommendation to an otherwise good book causes some negative votes. Not that it matters; all the winners were rewarded fairly on their own merits.

One interesting twist: the Puppies, for some reason, really really hate Rachel Swirsky’s If you were a dinosaur, my love, which was nominated for a Hugo in a previous year. I like that story a lot, so I don’t quite get the hatred, but OK, they’re allowed…but this year they intentionally went looking for an opposing story, something with dinosaurs in it, so they could simultaneously sneer at both Swirsky and Chuck Tingle. They picked Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock. You can’t hold that against Hiscock, though.

Hiscock also said she didn’t know anything about Beale, and seemed to be unaware (before the interview) that he was responsible for Alien Stripper getting on the ballot. She was a little hurt that he would use her novelette as a way to mock the Hugos, especially since it doesn’t seem like he’s even read it. (It’s possible Beale picked it specifically because of the Rabid Puppies’ hatred of the award-winning novelette If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love.) “I guess I’ll cry a little, laugh a little. But I’ll be ok. Jokes are pretty hilarious sometimes,” Hiscock said.

Still, Hiscock said it’s an honor to be nominated, even though she probably won’t be able to attend the ceremonies in Helsinki because of the expense. And even though Beale might’ve gotten Alien Stripper on the ballot due to sheer pettiness, the bank error is definitely in Hiscock’s favor. Book sales of Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex are through the roof.

It didn’t win, even though the author is a woman, and we now know that women naturally have superior writing skills.

But I ordered a Kindle copy of Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex anyway. It was free. The author seems nice. Besides, I’ve already read all the winners.

The 2016 Hugos

hugoaward

Man, they’re just torturing puppies. The Sad/Rabid/Pathetic Puppy slate got repudiated again by giving awards to people who earned them.

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

The best novella (and for me, it literally was — this was my favorite SF story of the past year) went to Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us. And at the same time, it doesn’t erase 90% of the human species by turning starfarers into an American monoculture of endless variations on Captain Kirk.

Both of those are written by black women. That has got to sting the Puppies, who hate “SJWs”, which is actually a code phrase for “doesn’t think white men necessarily deserve all the things”. There’s also no way to call these token awards — these were stunningly good books.

Most of the rest of the nominees I hadn’t read — especially that very popular “No Award” that seemed to beat out offerings from Castalia House. Of the ones I did read or saw, I did not much care for The Martian by Andy Weir, which won best long form dramatic presentation, although I will admit that the book was a fast-paced page turner, and the movie was slick. I just objected to an engineering wish-fulfillment fantasy presented as science. That one is going to be long forgotten while people will still be watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I noticed that one episode of Jessica Jones also won best short form dramatic presentation.

The best thing, though, is that when awards are given on merit, rather than racial and gender bias, you start to seen great new voices being appreciated.

NK Jemisin’s acceptance speech is worth reading. For completely different reasons, Vox Day’s weird rationalizations are also worth reading, to see the depth to which the puppies will sink. He calls Jemisin a half-savage, claims her win was primarily a vote against the Puppies, claims credit as kingmaker for The Martian’s win (it was a very popular movie and book, you know, without Theodore Beale’s “help”), and declared that coming in second place was a great victory. He also comes right out and says that the goal was to burn the Hugos.

I would be embarrassed to be associated with these goons

The indignant defenders of Vox Day are still ranting away. John C. Wright, who is apparently a fairly popular SF writer, has written an angry denunciation of all those corrupting leftists who have tainted an awards ceremony. It’s remarkable; it’s an essay for which the descriptor “spittle-flecked” is entirely appropriate, and I am surprised that a professional writer would produce something so incoherent. The bottom line: he longs for the good old days when one could be a racist, sexist asshat and still be rewarded for your writing.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

I’m not even going to try to go over the details of this irrational mess; Foz Meadows has taken care of that. I just have a couple of general questions for Wright.

  • If you’re standing up for the principle of “intellectual liberty”, why is so much of your essay an attempt to argue that your favorite “speculative thinkers” weren’t actually saying the horrible things they are accused of? One problem here is that Wright is terribly unconvincing: he makes excuses for Orson Scott Card’s homophobia and Vox Day’s misogyny, either by abstaining from actually quoting them or by claiming that their words were taken out of context. When Card writes something like this, claiming that gay marriage will destroy ‘normal’ families

    Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

    I fail to see how context redeems it. I read the whole thing; it is most definitely a standard bizarre homophobic rant against giving gay people the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals.

    Or when Vox Day made his racist, misogynist attack on N.K. Jemisin, it’s damn hard to find any way to excuse this:

    … those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them. … Jemisin’s disregard for the truth is no different than the average Chicago gangbanger’s disregard for the traditional Western code of civilized conduct. … Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.…Being 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, Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance.

    So one problem here is that it is blatantly dishonest to pretend that Card is not homophobic, and that Vox Day is not a racist and misogynist. They are. It’s not a matter of the “thought police” and “witch-hunters”, as Wright tries to claim, propagating untruths about these authors. It’s their own words that condemn them.

    But here’s the big point: if Wright is really trying to wrap himself in integrity and commitment to a principle, it shouldn’t matter. An author could be a baby-raping cannibal, and by Wright’s own insistence that we should judge a work solely by the quality of the writing and not the personal failings of the author, we should ignore the baby-raping and the cannibalism. So why does he spend so much effort trying to minimize the odious political and social views of Vox Day? Revel in them! Go ahead, admit that he’s a contemptible woman-hating racist (as he is!), and then insist that even this terrible excuse for a human being should have his work judged entirely on its merits.

    But Wright lacks the courage of his convictions. Apparently it is important to minimize the defects of his heroes.

  • Why is this an issue of left vs. right at all? That’s what Wright pins all the blame on: a particular set of political views.

    The lunatic Left planned and struggled for years, decades, to achieve their cultural influence. Let us imitate their perseverance, and retake our lost home one mind, one institution, at a time. Start by praying.

    This is a very familiar whine. But step back and look at what people actually object to in Vox Day and others: Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Religious bigotry. The very things Wright unsuccessfully tried to minimize in his protagonists. I will charitably assume that Wright deplores racism, misogyny, homophobia, and bigotry of all kinds.

    So why, oh why, do these right-wingers so obligingly associate support for equality with the Left, and identify so readily racism and misogyny etc. with the Right? It is fine with me if they want to draw the dividing line that way, and it’s true enough that the Right has done a wonderful job of shackling themselves to inequity and discrimination and oppression, but I can still imagine (with increasing difficulty, I admit) a conservative wing of American politics that doesn’t necessitate despising every segment of society other than white men.

    And now not only is the Right carrying a lot of unpleasant obligate baggage, but we’ve got a political party afflicted by and ideologically dominated by the Tea Party — and they call us the Lunatic Left.

It seems to me that the real problem here is that wingnuts don’t want to be held accountable for their ugly views — they want to be racist and sexist, but how dare you call them racist and sexist, and worst of all, how unfair to actually penalize them in the court of public opinion for being bigoted scumbags.

But it’s actually quite fair. You’re free to accuse me of being a feminist, an egalitarian, an anti-racist, and I won’t deny it — I’ll actually take pride in it.

This is not an update

I can’t explain how things are going except to say…it’s complicated. Do try to keep up with others — I can’t. I worry that this is the end of a lot of good things, or rather, things that had to be the potential to be good, and that without many changes, we’re going to lose too many great people, and that conditions have become intolerable. Let me tell you that when I pressed “publish” on a certain post the other day, I knew that no matter how it turns out, the one thing I could be certain of is that I would be persona non grata in a large segment of the movement, and that I’d be spending many more quiet weekends at home in Morris in the future (which is OK, this is a nice place, and my day job is ramping up the responsibilities, and I’ll always have the blog).

But even if I’m squeezed out, it’s time to pick a side and build a better secular movement. You can’t do it by simply accepting what is and looking the other way. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. It’s especially important that you don’t walk past the standard set by the powerful men in the movement.

I’m a professional “biologist”!

Vox Day/Theodore Beale really is hilariously easy to trigger into paroxysms of foolishness. He now refers to me as a professional "biologist" in those lovely scare quotes, because he thinks his understanding of “genetic science” is better than mine. He explains what he meant by his remarks that he, a white man, and NK Jemisin, a black woman, are not equal.

You see, Africans are pure homo sapiens sapiens.  Non-Africans are not. NK Jemisin, being of African extraction, is almost surely more purely homo sapiens sapiens than I am.  Or, for that matter, than PZ Myers is. 

"Previous research has revealed that Neanderthal DNA can be found in the genomes of everyone who isn’t of African extraction. But, as Pääbo said, "The Denisovans had contributed DNA only to people in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, and other places in Melanesia." In other words, modern humans entering Asia interbred with Denisovans. But the Denisovan DNA didn’t wind up circulating to other areas of the world the way Neanderthal DNA did."

So, everyone who isn’t African possesses DNA from other homo species, including Homo neanderthalensis and what is either Homo denisova or Homo sapiens denisova.  This is why I often mock those who believe in both evolution by natural selection and human equality, because humanity is not only NOT all the same under our skin, we are not, according to current genetic science, even all entirely the same subspecies.  If we apply their idiot logic, then I was actually claiming that I am not fully equal to Jemisin rather than the other way around.

Pure what? What is a “pure” human? Every single person on this planet belongs to the same identical species, Homo sapiens, so his distinctions by differences in alleles is irrelevant. I must also mention that his habit of capitalizing the binomial name is a bit irritating. We teach a class in science writing here that hammers on a lot of the scientific conventions, and we literally tell our students that one of the first signs you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know basic biology is that they get the punctuation wrong.

The existence of individual variants, even regional patterns, is an expected aspect of the genetic complement of a population. A species is not ever assumed to be genetically homogeneous, so it’s ridiculous to point to one member with a particular admixture of genes within a group and say they’re more a member of the group than someone else with a slightly different genetic complement.

It’s pure typological thinking. Theodore Beale has a crude version of 19th century biology (to be generous) rattling around in his head, and he thinks it makes sense.


Oh, look, Sinfest has a comic just for Theodore.

newknowoldass

Theodore Beale, racist asshat (and not embarrassed by it)

I recently highlighted NK Jemisin’s speech in Australia, which pointed out the disgusting degree of racism still common in the US. One small part of the speech noted a remarkable recent occurence.

…the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten percent of the vote.

It was clear who she was talking about: flaming hatemonger and regressive thug Theodore Beale, who also goes by the name Vox Day. Not a good person, a really nasty, unstable, vicious wackaloon. And of course, Vox Day noticed and flew into a furious snit, demanding apologies and threatening lawsuits, because he’s so annoyed at being called a racist.

So he wrote a post denying the accusations and making his demands. He also insists that he can’t be kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America because he’s a paid-up lifetime member.

If you go to his page now, here’s a sample of what you’ll find.

Reality isn’t racist, Mr. Sanford. Neither is history. They simply are. And you can’t escape the fact that Ms Jemisin lied about me and about the state laws of Texas and Florida. As some of my Australian readers have already pointed out, Ms Jemisin has no idea what she’s talking about concerning Australian race relations either.

Oh, that doesn’t sound so angry or racist, you may be thinking. But what you’re seeing there is the stripped-down, cleaned-up version of his original racist rant, probably revised when he realized that threatening lawsuits for being called a racist while flinging racist insults was probably not a wise idea.

Fortunately, screen shots of the original tirade were captured. It’s rather different. Another short excerpt from the ugly:

So, perhaps their assertions should be taken with at least a small grain of salt. And it should be obvious that, being a libertarian, I am not actively attempting to take away anyone’s “most basic rights”. Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious reason that she is not.

She is lying about the laws in Texas and Florida too. The laws are not there to let whites “just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence,” those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend themselves by shooting people, like her, who are savages engaged in attacking white people.

Keep in mind that Jemisin is black. Here’s Theodore Beale coming right out and saying that while she’s human, she’s not fully equal to a white man, himself (and please, his invocation of “genetic science” is reeking bullshit). And then he says that the racist “stand your ground” laws some states have in place are there to protect white people like him from savages like her.

Or how about this?

Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support.

Racist as hell.

Hmm. Why do you think he felt it necessary to cut that kind of racist noise out of his post?

There is now a rising swell of people calling for Beale’s expulsion from the SFWA (and apparently there are provisions within the organizations by-laws that allow for that). It sounds like a good idea to me. Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and Beale certainly is setting a low standard. I’m surprised they’ve let him poison the organization for so long.

Then comes the tricky question. What about the 10% who actually voted for that turd?


Oh, wait, I didn’t dig deep enough into the sewer. Beale did not edit his complaint; he posted a cleaned-up version for circulation. The racist rant is still online in all of its feculent glory! The man has no shame at all.

Non-eurocentric science fiction & fantasy?

It exists! The LA Times gives a brief introduction to genre fiction that breaks out of the mold of pale elves and macho engineers. It gives a few well-regarded names (including NK Jemisin, who was mentioned here the other day) to get everyone started.

Now…I can afford to buy these books, and I have my iPad that lets me get them instantly, but does anyone have some spare time they can give me so I can read them?


Related news! This kickstarter was funded in 30 seconds: they propose creating a line of 28mm SF&F miniatures for gaming…featuring all women characters. They’re not perfect — a few of their examples succumb to the bared midriff trope, or accentuate the cleavage, and why do they keep referring to the figures as “girls” in the video? — but it’s a step in the right direction.

I don’t want to hear about it, though. I used to paint miniatures as a hobby…35 years ago. I did a little bit of it again when the kids were growing up, showing them how to drybrush the little guys they used in their games. It was fun, but I don’t have time to read all the books I want to devour, so I can’t afford to get hooked on another hobby now!

Dealing with the ten percent

NK Jemisin is an American writer who was in Australia to give a speech. The context: she’s a black American woman in Australia with some trepidation — Australia has a bit of a reputation for racism, I’m sorry to say. Even when I visited the place, there were a couple of instances of casual racism as we were touring the cities (not within the atheist convention I was attending, I am quick to add) that left me a bit gobsmacked, and I’m your standard oblivious white man. But before you think this is an Australia-bashing occasion, read the speech.

Now. Before you tar and feather me, let me tell you something else I’ve come to understand in the past three days. Australia may not be the safest place for someone who looks like me… but it’s trying to become safer. And Australia may have classified the peoples of the Koorie and other nations as “fauna” until very recently, but Australia has also made tremendous strides lately in rectifying this error. I’ve listened in fascination to the Acknowledgements of Country made at nearly every public event I’ve attended since I’ve been here. I’ve marveled that indigenous languages are offered as courses for study at some local universities. I am awed that you don’t shove all of your indigenous history into a single museum, where it’s easy for people not of that culture to avoid or ignore, because that’s what happens in the US. So as horrified as I am by the nastier details of Australian history… I am also heartened, astonished, inspired, by the Australian present. You’ve still got a long way to go before Reconciliation is complete, but then again, you’ve started down that path. You’re trying.

I want you to understand: what you’ve done? It will never happen in my country. Not in my lifetime, at least. Right now American politicians are doing their best to roll back voting rights won during our own Civil Rights movement. They are putting in place educational “reforms” which disproportionately have a negative impact on black and brown and poor white kids, and will essentially help to solidify a permanent underclass. 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. So: admitting that the land we live on was stolen from hundreds of other nations and peoples? Acknowledging that the prosperity the United States enjoys was bought with blood? That’s a pipe dream.

Ouch. It’s true: Americans can be masters of denial. Didn’t we fix all the racism with the Civil War? Or was it the Reconstruction? Or maybe the Civil Rights Movement. Anyway, it’s not a problem anymore. The Republican Party isn’t profoundly racist at all, nor is the rest of the country. I can’t see any problems with my eyes closed, anyway.

She’s not done. She then proceeds to chastise science fiction fans.

For the past few days I’ve also been observing a “kerfuffle”, as some call it, in reaction to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ of America’s latest professional journal, the Bulletin. Some of you may also have been following the discussion; hopefully not all of you. To summarize: 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 and racist by most of the organization’s membership. Now, to put this in context: the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten percent of the vote. SFWA is small; only about 500 people voted in total, so we’re talking less than 50 people. But scale up again. Imagine if ten percent of this country’s population was busy making active efforts to take away not mere privileges, not even dignity, but your most basic rights. Imagine if ten percent of the people you interacted with, on a daily basis, did not regard you as human.

Just ten percent. But such a ten percent.

And beyond that ten percent are the silent majority — the great unmeasured mass of enablers. These are the folks who don’t object to the treatment of women as human beings, and who may even have the odd black or gay friend that they genuinely like. However, when the ten percent starts up in their frothing rage, these are the people who say nothing in response. When women and other marginalized groups respond with anger to the hatred of the ten percent, these are the people who do not support them, and in fact suggest that maybe they’re overreacting. When they read a novel set in a human society which contains only one or two female characters, these are the people who don’t decry this as implausible. Or worse, they simply don’t notice. These are the people who successfully campaigned for Star Trek to return to television after 25 years, but have no intention of campaigning for Roddenberry’s vision to be complete, with gay characters joining the rainbow brigade on the bridge. These are the people who gleefully nitpick the scientific plausibility of stopping a volcano with “cold fusion”, yet who fail to notice that an author has written a future earth in which somehow seventeen percent of the human race dominates ninety percent of the characterization.

That ten percent seems to be a problem everywhere: politics, religion, science fiction, atheism.