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catvalente
So Wiscon finally decided to rescind Elizabeth Moon's invitation as GoH to Wiscon.

Let's be straight about it: this was a fucked up, poorly handled situation by just about everyone involved. But really, it all comes down to Moon thinking it was an awesome idea to post a racist screed essay on just who counts as civilized human beings (hint: not brown people!) on her blog during the year when she knew she would be a GoH at the most activist, progressive SFF con currently going. At best, this shows poor cause and effect modeling skills, as it's also the most vocal and organized fanbase when it comes to race, gender, and class issues (and you know, blogging on LJ) that she was tossing her ideas to like so much shit we were meant to mistake for meat. At worst, I'd say it shows someone who didn't particularly want to be GoH at Wiscon, and it's pretty impressive self-sabotage.

How should Wiscon have responded to that?

I said from the first that it made me uncomfortable to just rescind the invitation. And obviously I don't know much about what went on behind the scenes--except that it was bad enough that nojojojo  resigned from the concom and people were clearly enormously upset by the internal reactions to the issue. The first act was to affirm her as GoH, and the assertion of a "teachable moment" was a big part of what upset people so much--that one white woman's personal education (which she would be unlikely to actually want to take part in--dude, no one wants to go to a con and discuss how wrong they are and how much they suck for three days) took precedence over the right of a significant portion of the con attendence to not feel like someone who disqualified them from civilization was the honoree. That bit is on the Wiscon folks, because wow, way to not make it better.

I worried, and worry, about the precedent it sets. Does this mean any con can disinite based on what you post on your blog? I post some loud mouthed shit on here, yo, and if, say, Convergence disinvited me because there were conservative kids on the concom and I came out online or because I said the recent Apex post was a puddle of liquid dramallama shit designed to increase page views and make the author feel like a persecuted maverick (which I'll be saying shortly), then I'd hit the roof of the fucking world. (Convergence would never do that. Just an example.) But there are two issues there:

One, Wiscon is specifically a political and progressive con. In its mission statement is a pledge not only to promote feminism but anti-racism--a con has the right to not invite guests to be honored who align themselves against the mission of the con. Which is what I've always said should have happened in the first place: this isn't the first time Moon has expressed such opinions, and I feel a concom should always Google before inviting. I certainly invite any con to which I go as guest of honor to pre-Google me.

Two, at any point, Moon could have said something along the lines of believing in the exchange of ideas and that a diverse population of ideas is always stronger, so she understood she had hurt people and at least regretted the mass deletion (that is not how we play nice on the internet, kids) if not the content of her post, and since she was being honored by a con that expressly believed the opposite of what she said, she would be open to listening and learning. All she had to do was express some knowledge of the effects of her actions in public and all of this would have taken on a different tone, I think. Her refusal to engage or to allow others to continue to engage with the post has made a lot of my sympathy for her as a GoH losing her position--which might actually be unprecedented--evaporate. Because here on the netz, we don't just shut it all down, refuse to talk to anyone, take our toys home, and expect everything to be ok. You can do all those things, but then no one wants to hang out with you anymore.

Was this the best move? No. The best move would have been for Moon to use her powers of imagination to figure out what a shitstorm this would become--because it was incredibly predictable. It's gone pretty much the way all of these things go, with a lot of yelling and a lot of sensible conversation ignored because people get REALLY UPSET when you call them out on their crap, with poorly thought out responses and poorly worded apologies from everyone except the person who needs to apologize. Once this had all happened, I'm not sure what the concom could have done once people were resigning from the concom and pledging to stay away from the con in droves. In the end, Wiscon is still a small regional con that can't afford to alienate its most vociferous base, and this was taking over the whole con. It was not going to go away, and it would have made the con massively hostile and fractious as a space, and fun would not have been on the table. And so I am grateful for this choice because I love Wiscon and want to keep going and not feel crappy about supporting it and I want to have fun while I'm there, not sit around waiting for the mushroom cloud of drama to rise over the Concourse.

The precedent? Still worrying. Does a con have to have consensus from its GoHs? Again, Wiscon is uniquely political and again, a little research goes a long way. I don't think that if I was going be GoH at PinkElephantCon and I loudly yelled about how pink elephants suck and should all be turned into erasers I really should be welcome afterward if I refused to say anything at all in response to the totally reasonable and utterly inevitable outcry, nor, really, that I wanted to be GoH there in the first place. (The enormous privilege of believing one should be welcomed no matter what one says and that one should not even have to deign to engage boggles me. Just talk it out like, well, a civilized person!) And that's a deliberately ridiculous example--this is a lot more serious. No one argues they have the right to invite people who are on the same page. Disinviting is extreme--but the post was extreme.

I don't know what's right here, if anything is. I see a lot of people saying it's too little too late, though I'm not sure what else is desired. We can't force Moon to apologize, and public flogging is still a no-no. I think Wiscon has aligned itself concretely now as a progressive, not just a feminist con, and we need to support that choice. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, they invite in place of Moon. It's awful that so much damage has been done by one woman's post, but now we have to decide how we move forward, and what this means for the future of Wiscon--and hope it doesn't mean anything alarming for the future of other cons.

It's done. What do we do now?

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Anyone involved with running a con should contact the conchair and say, "I would like to add a topic to the agenda for our next concom meeting: Under what circumstances would we revoke honored guest status?" And this discussion should be had every time someone new becomes conchair or program chair. There doesn't need to be a published policy, necessarily--though that is not a bad idea, and it is especially not a bad idea to inform any GOHs of such a policy if one is established--but the people in charge should at least be in general agreement and prepared in case something like this happens again.

I completely agree with this. Informing prospective GoHs of that list of reasons is also not a bad idea.

I think we need to hear from Moon on the subject, honestly. Her silence is shit.


I don't think we will though. She shut off comments on her announcement entry and it's been a month and a half in which she could have said something, anything. It's astonishing that she hasn't, and I suspect there was a conversation that went: apologize or be disinvited, and she declined. Purely my speculation, but holy shit WHY would you just let all this go down without saying anything?

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I agree with much of the substance of your post -- poorly handled all around and so on, and Moon probably should have said something like you suggest -- but I don't think characterizing Moon's refusal to comment on the situation or allow others to engage in the situation as the wrong decision is correct.

You and I have both been on the wrong end of exactly that kind of internet hatestorm (less you, perhaps, since you're more careful about what you say on the internet than I am, and your opinions are more popular). Once the debate reaches the level of howling shitstorm, like it did, there is absolutely no advantage to be gained by pursuing it, or allowing it to grow. At some point closing comments and cauterizing the wound becomes the right thing to do, because if any useful conversation is going to be salvaged from the situation, it's not going to be in the context of a blog post.

You already know that I think that the WisCon ConCom made the wrong move by disinviting Moon, and I think that it was in betrayal of the ideals of progressivism that you claim that the convention has come to support. It was, on the other hand, probably the smart thing to do, if as you say the convention would have fallen apart if they hadn't done it. It was a tough call either way.

Personally, I will say that even though I disagreed vehemently with Moon's original post, this action has made me disinclined to ever attend WisCon. They came down on the side of stifling a dissenting voice, and despite the complexity and murky ambiguity of the situation, that's not something I can get behind.

I don't think that, in the context of the wider culture, that Moon can accurately be described as a "dissenting voice."

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The whole issue just dumbfounds me. Seriously.

Excellent post. I feel the same combination of unease, concern, and desire to proceed that you talk about here. In particular, your point about the problematic of having a "teachable moment" with an unwilling subject resonates with my concerns, and also my frustration around this controversy. It's difficult to create dialogue when someone is unable or uninclined to engage in a critical, reflexive deliberation. Would dialogue have been created and engaged in if she had attended? What sort of discussion can take place given relative positions and inclinations?

I worries me whenever I first hear of someone being fired, disinvited, or otherwise censured for their opinions (see also the Juan Williams case). What effect will that have on what people think they can say or debate publicly? Are the grounds sufficient for this kind of action? In this case, I can't automatically say it's a good move, in large part for the reasons you discuss in your post, and also because I am always apprehensive about how situations like this affect public speech and dialogue. Moon should be taken to task for her words, and they should be debated and debunked, but where should a community or network go from there? I'm not sure.


Again, she is welcome to attend the con, just not on the con's dime and not as a guest of honor. Important difference. No one has suppressed her voice--she can express those opinions forever. She just can't be paid and honored by a feminist/antiracist con for it.

But I still agree, and I think the idea that she would ever have submitted to a teachable moment was laughable. Who would?

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Good, thoughtful post, covering the bases that need to be covered.

Utterly off topic but I LOVE your icon.

I think you're talking a lot of sense here. I would add, though, on the closing-down-of-threads etc thing, that it's sometimes a lot easier for Americans to say what they like on-line than for those of us who aren't. There are more US users than any one other group (in English, anyway) and it can get a little alarming sometimes. I'm British, for the record, and there are cultural differences and differences in language use and that can and does cause confusion. There are things I don't say about the impact of the US on things, because I know that someone will get upset and yell, and bring all their friends and... This happened to me last year over an observation very like this one. A friend blogged about her reaction to a piece of US foreign policy feeling heavy-handed and I commented that I agreed. We were both then screamed at for bullying Americans because they didn't make the policy. I explained that I meant the govt of the Us, not all Americans, but when that was insufficient, I did just walk away. Maybe that was cowardice or a breach of internet rules. I don't know. There doesn't seem to be an easy solution.
Apologies if this is in anyway derailing. I was deeply disturbed by Ms Moon's original post and I do not intend to detract from that side at all. I was thinking through your comments on netiquette.

Edited at 2010-10-21 09:24 pm (UTC)

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I've only recently started reading you online and in print, but I already have enormous respect for you and your opinions.

This is a wonderful post, and clearly delineates the extremely complex issues involved.

(@swanberg on twitter)

I'm so glad you write things like this. Aside from my initial post, all I've been able to muster in response to it all is to mutter "oh, for fuck's sake" over and over again.

You are a sensible and intelligent voice. Thank you for raising these questions.

I have to be quite honest: I am taking you all on your words about how awful the original post was because I couldn't get through the first couple of paragraphs.

Actually, that was part of the problem: A lot of people looked at the first few paragraphs, didn't read further, and left comments saying "Yes, this sounds quite reasonable". And then someone read the whole thing and said "Um, guys? I hope you're not saying that this and this and this are reasonable, because they're not".

Lesson learned!

I do not think it needs consensus but with the con I was presiding over, the point I made, and the deciding point, was that if the committee did not wish to spend time with the guest what right did we have to ask our constituency to do so?

This wasn't about free speech, this was about a convention which--as you say--has an explicit mission which the guest had made clear she did not support.

As a friend of mine commented also, free speech is about allowing people to talk, but it does not require us to explicitly honour them, and being a GoH is an honour.

I understand what you are saying I do. But here my POV, I think that if you choose to invite someone, uninviting them is unfair. You are basically saying you were good enough 5 minutes ago but now since I like the blue gum and you wrote a piece about red bubble gum, you suck. I am not okay with that. They knew who she was when they invited her, they knew her opinions. Its not about free speech to me, its about keeping your word. They chose to kick her out based on a viewpoint that doesn't seem new. I will choose not to support Wiscon because of this. I am honestly sick of people choosing be a jerk and then getting patted on the back for it. Look, she doesn't have a popular opinion, lets kick her out and hooray shes out. No one is considering her feelings and if this the way people treated her, no wonder she chooses not to respond.

Her views were not, so far as I know, apparent beforehand. A couple of people have mentioned that she's said similar things in personal conversation, but this is the first time she's put out a major public statement. And the statement wasn't "I like something different from you," but "I hate a portion of your membership and think they aren't capable of being good citizens." If I invited someone to, say, my wedding, and then they put up an LJ post about how they'd like to deport my fiance, I hope I would be justified in uninviting them.

Well said. Thank you. (And do they have to invite anyone else?)

They usually have two guests, it'll be interesting to see if they fill the slot or not.

The action we have not yet seen and that is warranted is the resignation of the current concom, which created this incident, and which it is clear has not got the confidence of the con's membership.

I'm not sure I understand the logic, but I haven't been following the issue closely. Could you elaborate as to why resignation is warranted?

There was a similar thing at Silicon in 2008 with Larry Niven. A few folks were very offended by some comments he had made about Mexican illegal immegrants and were planning on boycotting. Instead, we themed the Fanzine Lounge with a Mexican theme. It was a blast and at least once Larry asked about why so many folks were wearing Wrestling masks and serepes. It was a protest, and folks noticed, but it wasn't a deal where he was humiliated.

Sadly, the one thing I really want is a good statement from the SF3 for the reason for the reversal from their initial announcement (unless it's something like there being legitimate death threats, in which case, keep us all in the dark). Especially if it's to say 'The membership spoke up and we listened'

Chris

There was a meeting on Oct 3.:

http://sf3.org/2009/04/two-resolutions/
These two motions were passed during the SF3 annual meeting on October 3, 2010. These motions represent RECOMMENDATIONS to the WisCon committee from the mother corporation SF3. They do not represent action taken by the WisCon committee.

MOTION: it is the sense of the SF3 Annual Meeting that rescinding Elizabeth Moon’s GoH invitation would best serve WisCon’s goals and community.

MOTION: a vote of confidence (and chocolate) in the troika in their attempts to handle a very difficult situation so far.

You know, I frequently miss a lot of the drama that happens in the SFF/SFF-blogverse, and most of the time I'm ok with that. But sometimes, something like this happens and a bunch of people I know say something about it, and I still have no idea what is going on, but just that something is.

But after this, and after your note about the incident with Mr. Wright, I know I can usually come here for a clear view of what's going on and usually a very eloquently stated opinion that matches my own.

I just wanted to say, thank you. Thank you for these posts, and thank you for being a reasonable and intelligent person. You win.

What do we do now? Well we could always get Moon a date with Juan Williams as a consolation prize for both of them.

I must be under a bush, I have not heard about JW.

Agree, with pretty much everything you've said here. Though I will also add one thing to Moon's responsibilities -- when she was invited to WisCon as GoH, it was on her to research the con and decide whether she was an appropriate GoH. If I got invited to, say, the KKK's science fiction con (if such a horror existed), I would look the thing up, ask around to find out what its philosophies were, and then run as fast as I could to get the hell away from it. Politely and professionally, that is. Because a) my con experience isn't likely to be very fun, at a con where a good number of the attendees are going to hate the things I have to say, and b) I'd be terrified of exactly this sort of thing happening -- me posting something on my blog that causes the whole con to nearly self-destruct in apoplexy. (Granted, if it was the KKK, I wouldn't give a shit. But you see my point. I wouldn't want to be responsible for that kind of organizational injury.)

I'm sure Moon thinks of herself as totally a feminist and totally not a bigot, though, so she probably wouldn't have looked at a feminist and anti-bigotry con and thought "Hm, maybe I don't belong there".

I do think a convention has a right to disinvite somebody who publicly opposes their main point between when they were invited and the time of the actual convention. I don't think it has to be extreme to do so. Guest spots are just that -- they are offered to people whom the concom, acting as well as possible on behalf of their members, wish to invite into their 'home'. If someone proves themself a bad guest, there's no reason they still have to be welcome.

I would hope this wouldn't happen often -- as you said, advance research goes a long way toward preventing such things. But so does gracious behavior on the part of someone who has been invited as a guest... whether to a convention, a private home, or anything else.

i respectfully disagree

marlowe1

2010-10-22 01:53 am (UTC)

over the right of a significant portion of the con attendence to not feel like someone who disqualified them from civilization was the honoree.

How many religious Muslims are coming to WisCon? I'm an Orthodox Jew and I doubt I'd feel very welcome there. There's plenty of leftwing discourse at non-"progressive" conventions (I remember mentioning to people that I was riding an elevator with at Arisia that I was going to be on the Cylons and Monotheism panel and one said "Is NO-theism ok?" as if I just told them that I eat babies and kill puppies and was on the verge of convincing them to do the same) that the idea of spending three days full of people who will see my yarmulke as an opportunity for a "teachable moment" fills me with revulsion.

Most Con attendants are angry on behalf of Muslims, but they aren't Muslims. Nor would they be comfortable in the presence of a religious Muslim.

As far as her turning off her comments - so what? I have had plenty of internet fights that I walked away from. Usually I just stopped reading them. There comes a certain point where no one really is saying anything new and the discussion has gotten old. Moon didn't want to read hundreds of people all jumping over each other to tell her how wrong she is and that's her call.

Re: i respectfully disagree

catvalente

2010-10-22 02:29 am (UTC)

There are at least a few Muslims at the con--and a whole lot of immigrants.

I've been watching this since the original post about citizenship and so on, partly because I'd subscribed to her journal at some point and saw it on the first go-round.

In my heart of hearts, I can't help but feel like someone on the concom should have been on the horn with Moon about that post about 5 minutes after it went up, having that teachable moment in a personal, immediate way. "Hi. That post you just made? Yeah, some of what you say here seems awfully problematic. Let's talk about why, and how it complicates our relationship." At the very least, that would have given the whole fiasco more structure.

Dissonance, divergence, ignorance, fuck-ups, and so on are a part of life. Nobody's perfect on everything. Moon has written some thoughtful stuff. Unfortunately, she's got some regressive, biased attitudes that she vigorously defends. If she's getting invited to play along, that can't be something that goes unaddressed.

I'm on the fence about the disinviting thing. On the one hand, a con like Wiscon with a specific mission may have more room than something more general like Dragon*Con. On the other hand, I think concoms are well-served by having some kind of policy that protects them in the event that somebody does something genuinely egregious.

As I understand it, members of the concom did call her, and nisi_la did too. And you can see from Moon's further silence on the topic how well that worked.

*sheers your post*

I see a lot of people saying it's too little too late, though I'm not sure what else is desired.

As one of the people who was saying this, and is now ambivalent (or maybe more bewildered), what I'd like to see is an explanation of WTF from... someone in charge. Because what I find most damaging is the silence.

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Avoid potential and uncomfortable door-ass conjunctions as you depart.

This is the best response I've seen to the whole thing yet.

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