Friday, April 10, 2015

"No Award" and How to Parent Unruly Children

Old news in the 2015 Hugo Awards debacle is that those who hate the Sad Puppies - not the works on the slate, mind you, but the very idea of public slates, the proponents of the slate, those who agree with the proponents of the slate, and, by extension, every author named on the slate - are lobbying that everyone who hates what they hate should vote "No Award" in every category dominated by the slate, regardless of whether they like any of the works nominated. This, they seem to think, will prove to the Sad Puppies that they cannot continue to present slates for mass voting. (Hmph.)

In response, a contingent of SP supporters, led by nobody-likes-him-and-he-doesn't-care Vox Day, are promising that if the 2015 Hugos are No Awarded out of existence, they'll do the same in 2016. And in 2017. And will continue to do so until everyone stops being mean, shares their toys, and admits that the other side is right. 

Did you get confused, in that last sentence, and wonder which side I was talking about? Me, too.

Since we're already confused, let's talk about my sons for a minute, huh?

I have three sons, all spaced two years apart. By the end of the summer, they'll be 14, 12, and 10. In true brotherly fashion, the 14 year old likes to tell the others what to do, and they HATE that. They respond by telling HIM what to do. He persists in asserting his older-than-thou superiority and they strike back with name-calling, pseudo-ugly gestures ("That wasn't my middle finger, mom!"), and general button-pushing. He grows frustrated at being ganged up on and  allows his temper to get the best of him. Physical threats follow. And are returned. Actual physical violence often ensues. And ends with three angry, crying boys.

Ever since the start of this on-again-off-again war, a few years ago, I've sat down with each of them as the dust settled, and tried to impress upon each what HE could have done to avoid the most recent skirmish. I was universally assured that there was absolutely NOTHING he could have done, as the fault lay entirely with his brother(s). Each would insist that I immediately go talk to his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad brother, and convince him to change his behavior to better comport with the preferences of the one I was conversing with.

No one, you see, was ever responsible for his own actions, as they were always the natural result of his brother's actions.

I have pointed out countless times that they all have ample instances of actual bad things their brothers have done to them in the past. These bad actions can serve forever as justification for whatever retaliation they want to inflict upon said brothers. And their retaliation will be added to their brothers' lists of wrongs, fueling their own righteous indignation... and so on and on until my boys are the next Hatfields and McCoys.

Unless. Someone. Starts. Forgiving.

In desperation, I started selecting family scriptures to memorize. One of the earliest was this, from Proverbs:

Be like Yoda. He can control himself AND take a city.
Then came the hard part: I had to actually stop getting angry, myself.

Screaming at the boys when they were in the middle of a scream-fest only made things worse, I slowly realized. Throwing my own temper-tantrum might have momentarily halted their conflict a time or two, but it contributed to the general idea that yelling was a great, effective way to solve a conflict. Striking them or throwing things only taught them that striking and throwing things was an okay way to react to stress.

THEIR bad behavior was a direct outgrowth of MY bad behavior. Once I changed my behavior, we started to see a lot more peace at home. My more calm and measured responses to their disagreements help to diffuse the conflict instead of adding fuel. The boys still get into it on occasion, but I can see them actually trying to choose better reactions to their brothers' bad behaviors.  It's awesome to watch, even when they fall short of actual harmony.

Which brings me back to the Hugos.

I've had fun watching the sides duke it out, but my fun was tainted this morning when someone on the side I agreed most with started name-calling, cursing, and offering actual physical violence to someone who disagreed with him in a comment thread.





Can we talk for a moment about how we want this to end? 

Do we want to lay waste to all SFF fandom awards? To divide into politically-polarized sides? To someday find that we can't tell our closest friends that we enjoyed a book by a liberal or a conservative author lest we reveal that we've crossed some line in the sand? Do we want to have separate awards, which will be universally derided by half of the fans of the genre as not "legitimate?" How about separate cons, where liberals and conservatives will never have to mingle with each other and so can avoid the actual physical shoving that is coming (and fast)? Should we rename SFF to LibSFF and ConSFF? Lobby book stores to designate separate shelves lest we accidentally like a book whose author we dislike?

Or, we can start to forgive each other for the stupid, mean, rotten things we've all done/said/written. 

We can, a few years from now, find ourselves in a real fandom award show, inwardly hissing for the winning works we didn't like and cheering the winning works we did like while knowing that, at least, we'd had a fair chance to see the award go to the books we liked. Resolving to rally more voters for next year. Blogging afterward about why we did or didn't like the results without once mentioning the personal politics of the authors, except when those politics reflected themselves in their works.

Folks, this is more than the Golden Rule, though that's a great place to start. If YOU don't like a No Award nuclear option, REFUSE to give it legitimacy by threatening to use it yourself. If YOU don't like the nasty conflict in fandom, REFUSE to give it legitimacy by participating nastily. 

If you want everyone to be reasonable, YOU must be reasonable. Usually, you have to do it FIRST.

In any fight - especially those that are recorded forever online and can be reviewed years later by heads free of the adrenaline rush of conflict engaged - the actual winner isn't the one who scores the most points. The winner is whichever side is most gracious. Most reasonable. Most clear-headed. The side which controls its anger, rules its spirit, and doesn't try to take someone else's city.

I wanna be on that side.

Now, since I can't resist, some specific advice:

If you're part of those who don't like how the Hugos are going this year, you have some options short of blowing them up completely. 

1) You can do as Mary Robinette Kowal is doing, actually review all the works on the ballot, and vote for the ones you like the best, ensuring that, at the very least, the most worthy nominees win. You can follow that up by rallying behind your favorite works in next year's nomination process, convince your friends and family to do the same, and get your favorites nominated by sheer force of votes. 


2) You can seek to have WorldCon change how the Hugos are awarded and appoint a contingent of "approved" judges, who will henceforth choose the nominees, review all nominated works, and decide on the winners. Careful with this one, though: You can't guarantee that you'll agree with every judge, and you will lose your individual vote.

What you can't do, of course, is claim that the award represents the voice of all fandom while silencing the fans you don't like. That's got some definitional problems: Either you want everyone to vote or you can't call it everyone's vote. Choose wisely.

If you're part of those who are currently celebrating, keep this in mind:

1) Gracious winners are more important than gracious losers. Sore losers at least have some excuse in the emotion of severe disappointment. Some temper-tantrum throwing is normal, if not quite the "adult" thing to do. The sore winner, however, who is too busy trash-talking to smile graciously and shake his opponent's hand... well, that's a special kind of stuck-up, isn't it?

2) Nothing is more maddening to those who act badly than to receive only kindness in return. Kindness isn't being a door-mat, and it isn't being a victim. Only the truly superior can muster true kindness. Only those who can love their enemies – the ultimate sign of superiority – can see those enemies for all their parts (and not just the parts currently acting badly). If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone who knows you that well, loves you anyway, and refuses to return insult for insult, you know how disconcerting it is.

In conclusion…

Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong. Let’s stop trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong on which point and just rejoice that the speculative fiction genre we love has such a wonderful spectrum of thought, opinion, and creativity.

Larry Correia would tell me, now, that I’m an idealistic fool, and that trying to get people to play nice is useless. He has years of hard experience to back up that opinion, and parts of it are obviously correct: There are those on both sides who will always be rabble-rousers who are hungry for a fight and unsatisfied with a cease-fire. There are those on both sides who are incapable of logical thought and who are ruled by their emotions almost entirely.

But there are also those on both sides who are weary of the conflict, and who are actively trying to calm it down. Larry, for all his fire, is not an illogical rabble-rouser: He fights back, and he hits hard, and he has his agenda, but I've never seen him engage in a conflict for the sake of conflict. Sad Puppies was begun as a campaign to give voice to thousands of fans who weren't being represented in the “ultimate award of fandom” and I truly believe he’d be satisfied to see works he didn't like still win Hugos, if only he could be assured that everyone had a voice in the awards.

Mary, too, though she and Larry see eye-to-eye on very little, is also a friend, and a lovely voice of reason. She is generous with her knowledge and her talents and has been publicly trying to calm the flames for days, now.

I want to give ammo to the peace-makers, no matter what else we might disagree on. I want to convince the fence-sitters that an all-out civil war is not the answer.

I've been a lawyer for over a decade and a mother for even longer, and I can promise you this: Conflict without utterly annihilating the other side resolves nothing. And annihilation is rarely a viable option.

Which side are you on?

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