Truck Nuts

Truck nuts are just that — nuts

Throughout the month of February, Canada has been gripped in a slow-moving crisis involving a group that calls itself the Freedom Convoy occupying Ottawa with a loud and often threatening assortment of tactics, blocking international crossings such as the Ambassador Bridge and generally being a nuisance on the roads.

The claim of this group is that their principal motivation is that they are protesting against a vaccine mandate for truckers who cross the border between Canada and the United States. Presently such mandates for COVID-19 vaccination are required by both Canada and the United States. Also presently compliance among truckers is over 90% within Canada. Furthermore this convoy is not supported by the labour movement that represents Canadian truckers with Teamsters Canada, calling the convoy a “despicable display of hate lead by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians.”

This convoy is principally composed not of long-haul truckers but rather of private citizens most of whom drive pickup trucks or SUVs. This is categorically not a protest of truckers nor for truckers. However, thanks to a leak of donation data from Give Send Go we can see certain things about the composition of the active supporters therein.

The largest single named donor to this convoy was an American billionaire. The largest Canadian donor is a New Brunswick small business owner. Within the PEI data, which I have reviewed with some level of detail, approximately half of those donors who could be identified at any level of support were entrepreneurs or small business owners. The largest PEI donation (listed at $700) was paid directly by an eavestrough business. This convoy is not in support of truck drivers but rather of small and medium business owners with the explicit financial backing of American billionaires and crypto investors. The majority of donations (roughly 56% of recorded donations) came from donors in the United States. (Before anyone brings it up, 12 of the nearly 93,000 donations came from Russia.) So this is who this convoy serves: Canadian and American Petit-Bourgeois entrepreneurs. Mostly Americans.

The stated goals of the convoy are to ease restrictions related to COVID-19 however most of these restrictions are time-limited and set to expire in coming months. This was already known in late January when these protests began. So if the convoy could achieve their goals in a reasonable timeframe doing nothing why did they bother to come out and protest?

Well it’s because their goals aren’t really to have COVID restrictions eased.

Frankly the convoy is not a protest. It is a show of force. And so far it has been stunningly successful.

Here’s what it has accomplished:

  • The ouster of the vaguely moderate federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole
  • The revelation that the police cannot be trusted to protect Canadians against the threat of far-right violence and that organized labour is too weak in this country to confront them directly
  • Free harassment of the citizens of the national capital
  • Airtime from news media outlets
  • A lot of money funneled to far-right figures in Canada from far-right figures in the United States; much of this money is being transmitted not via operational fundraisers like Give Send Go but rather via distribution of cryptocurrencies.

About the only thing this convoy has been unsuccessful in doing is ousting the Trudeau government – but the have struck a blow to his governance which has been weak, indecisive and overly-cautious throughout the crisis.

So what we have is a show of political force being put forward with the explicit backing of the petit bourgeois in defense of capitalist interests and in the face of crisis. As early as 1931 Leon Trotsky had that clocked as the material basis of a fascist movement. Despite his criticisms of Marx’s definition of the proletariat this is a point that Reich agreed with in The Mass Psychology of Fascism when he said, “As is done in every reactionary movement, Hitler relied upon the various strata of the lower middle class for his support. National Socialism exposes all the contradictions that characterize the mass psychology of the petty bourgeois”

We know this dance.

Communists, anarchists and other anti-fascists have spent the last two years trying to warn anyone who would listen about how the far-right, all these modern by-blows of fascism, have integrated into the anti-vax movement and how they’ve used this alliance to position themselves with increasing power. We explained anti-masking when the mainstream were bewildered by it. We explained how naturopathic concepts of cleanliness and purity fed into fascist fear of the other and everybody thought we were being hyperbolic.

Well now they’re here in force. Journalists are peeling the decals off their vans because they’re afraid of being identified. Tow truck operators are standing aside because they’re afraid of retaliatory violence. And the police don’t have the will to stop these neo-fascists from doing whatever the fuck they want. Don’t dare try and say we didn’t warn you.

But this presents us with a problem. Because, quoting Beauvoir, “When a young sixteen-year old Nazi died crying, “Heil Hitler!” he was not guilty, and it was not he whom we hated but his masters. The desirable thing would be to re-educate this misled youth; it would be necessary to expose the mystification and to put the men who are its victims in the presence of their freedom. But the urgency of the struggle forbids this slow labor. We are obliged to destroy not only the oppressor but also those who serve him, whether they do so out of ignorance or out of constraint.” You don’t surrender public squares to fascism. A response is required and the desire for the government to do something is fully justified. But part of the problem here is the complete abdication of responsibility by an intransigent police force that seems very supportive of these far-right figures. Our supposed political leaders seem unable to command police to deal with fascists as they would with First Nations activists. As such, new laws prohibiting vehicular blockades and occupations or categorizing these economic actions as terrorism are undesirable. There’s plenty of existing law that could be used against these fascists. The police are demurring from doing so. New laws just give the police-allies of fascism new tools to oppress enemies of fascism.

One of the principal preoccupations of Marcello Tari’s very challenging eschatological work, There is no unhappy revolution. is the position of the strike in modern revolutionary praxis:

“{In the new form of strike} there is no classic demand of future closure – something that became even more explicit during the revolt against the French labor laws – but expresses itself instead through the blockages of normal social functioning on the one hand, and the immediate material transformation of life and how we think about life on the other. The more intense the form of the strike, the more intense becomes the ungovernable nature of the form of life that expresses it.”

Simply put, in 2017, Marcello Tari was telling communists that they should be occupying cities and disrupting metropolitan economies. The problem is not that disruption has occurred but rather the who and the why of the matter. A fascist revolution will not create those new and ungovernable forms of life that represent the eschatological beyond of the revolution on the threshold Tari wants to prophecy. The real desire of these movements is to put things back to how they were in 2019. Just with a little bit more death. So we cannot use these movements. We must remove them. But we must do so in a manner that will not foreclose upon the left or our allies making use of similar tactics in the future.

An ideal solution would be for organized labour to remove these occupiers. The streets they honk their horns down do not belong to them and there is justice in removing them. If police will not do so citizens should. But if labour is unable to accomplish this task we still must remove these people from our streets and we must do so without the police as the police have made it entirely clear they intend to do nothing at all. This means that a critical thing we can do is to give support to Ottawa area resistance to these demonstrators.

I know some socialists have declared the convoy “a distraction” from the real work of dismantling capitalism but I have to take issue here. Fascism is the old enemy in its most visible form. It is the mobilization of capitalist violence without pretense. This is why the police sit back and do nothing. The leaders of the police will say the rank and file are afraid to act. The rank and file will say the brass is restraining them but the truth is far simpler: the convoy are adjuncts of the police establishment. They want an end to mask wearing for precisely the same reason the police do. They feel entitled to see your face and confirm you are allowed. They want an end to biopolitical regulations such as social distancing, reduced capacity at restaurants and other venues, vaccine passes and the like because these measures interfere with the free flow of capital and this is the freedom this “freedom convoy” really cares about. Just like police.

I know this rhetoric, calling for direct action on the part of labour from outside the strictures of law, explicitly criticizing policing as a solution to fascist social disorder, will probably leave NDP-type social democrats feeling very uncomfortable. And that’s good. I’m not comfortable with anything going on in this country right now, are you? Should you be?

Ultimately what we need is a renunciation. There’s no prelapsarian past to return to. COVID has arrived and the epoch has turned. That’s it. We must renounce the very idea that there’s a normal to return to or that we would even want it. I mean were you satisfied with life in this country in 2019?

One more reflection on Tari. I have to admit I am still reading There is no unhappy revolution. It’s not an easy book, dipping heavily from Walter Benjamin‘s Marxist and rabbinical thought, Catholic eschatology and the poststructuralist formations of Deleuze, Guattari and Agamben. But I’ve got far enough into it to put forward an hypothesis about what the book is saying.

In his formation of the Eternal Return, Nietzsche effectively asks us the question, “would you say yes if you had to say yes to absolutely everything?” There is no unhappy revolution. is an inversion of this, asking, “would you say no if you had to say no to absolutely everything?” There are fascists occupying Ottawa and at time of publication the police have done nothing to oppose them. How much are we willing to refuse to remove them?

Drawing the line: Capitalism and Wrong Livelihood

(Image c/o Wikipedia)

The Worldcon that never should have happened has had a wild ride after an all-too-easy to call COVID outbreak, some shady business at the business meeting that seemed likely an attempt to influence the site selection process away from the (ultimately winning) Chengdu bid for next year and then, the piece de resistance, the revelation that a major sponsor for the convention, with a branded red-carpet photo wall at the Hugo Awards was the Raytheon corporation.

This raises an interesting question regarding the duty of participants in Worldcon to respond to the interface of their science fiction convention with a “defense contractor” that was supplying materiel to Saudi Arabia at least as recently as 2017 and that is a key supplier of the US military. Should a concom be held responsible for how sponsorships are used to launder the reputation of corporations? What about the ethics of working for such an organization? After all, it’s something of a received wisdom in progressive spaces that corporations are de-facto evil; if we cannot work but to work for an evil organization is there a gradient of evil to mark against? How far is, ultimately, too far beyond the pale?

Buddhism provides a very concrete starting point for what constitutes a boundary with the Aṅguttara Nikāya, in particular containing discourses accredited to the Buddha and his disciples on the topic of right livelihood – one of the eight subjects of the Noble Eightfold Path. According to these early Buddhist texts, a right livelihood is one that does not involve traffic in, “weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison.”

As such it’s clear that, at least from an orthodox Buddhist perspective, there is a very specific line and it is one that Raytheon is entirely beyond. Of course the same could be said of the butcher and the liquor store down the road along with any pet store proprietors and certain garden shops that sell plants that could potentially be used for the production of poison so we could, perhaps, argue that such specificity is somewhat unhelpful to a modern context.

The Buddhist proscription is bound, inextricably, to a Buddhist ethical universe that seeks to avoid the causation of harm. As such proscribed livelihoods are proscribed because of their specific interaction with the Buddhist perspective on what constitutes the Good. However what the Buddhist example is best for showing is that a boundary can be set. We can, in fact, say that even if all things are not intrinsically ethical some things, in particular, are unethical enough that they should be avoided as moral hazards.

No ethical consumption under Capitalism

There is something of a mimetic phrase within progressive circles that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. This phrase appears not to have a clearly fixed origin although it does seem to arise out of online spaces. Now this argument – that ethical consumption is impossible within Capitalism points in two disparate directions. First, it is deployed as a form of absolution. “Yes I know this product was made by an appartheid state in an occupied territory but there’s no ethical consumption under Capitalism,” at the extreme sure but also, “I’m aware that fast food restaurants deploy environmentally destructive agricultural practices to keep prices down but there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, I live in a food dessert and have few choices and ultimately I have to eat something,” would be closer to an ideal example of this absolutory use. The second is as a critique. A celebrity backs a T-shirt slogan – or some other commodified piece of political rhetoric – and critics point out that it was manufactured with exploited labour. Does a feminist really look like a white woman getting rich off of sloganeering at the expense of vulnerable workers in Bangladesh? There is no ethical consumption under Capitalism.

And so, effectively this statement means either, “I am aware of the contradiction in my position and cannot avoid it,” or “you should be aware of the contradiction in your position,” depending upon whose consumption is the subject of ethical assessment.

Now a fan convention is most certainly an example of consumption. In fact, fewer things are more purely consumptive than a fan convention – an event that seeks to lionize and institutionalize a category of consumption, to bring consumers into the proximity of producers so that they can consume more effectively. And with a fan convention being a form of institutionalized consumption, sponsors of a convention are certainly to be counted both as consumers of the product the convention offers (largely the attention of other consumers) and simultaneously as producers of the event. Raytheon is both a consumer of Discon III and also a product that Discon III attendees are being invited to consume. And anybody who took a photo at the Raytheon branded red carpet photo station, anybody who went to the Raytheon booth, they were consuming Raytheon. So when people respond to this consumption of Raytheon by attendees that there is no ethical consumption under Capitalism our question then becomes whether this is the consumer being asked to be aware of the contradiction in their position or if it is the consumer aware of the contradiction claiming they have no choice.

It honestly seems mostly to be the latter.

Certainly, unless that consumer was on the concom they had no choice about whether to invite Raytheon to be a sponsor so we may be able to absolve most attendees of that specific blame. Although members of the concom should certainly be called to account for their funding decisions. However, while the attending membership had no choice whether Raytheon was to be a sponsor, this doesn’t mean they had no agency in this situation at all. And this is where things become even more difficult.

Ambiguity

In her seminal work, “the Ethics of Ambiguity,” Simone de Beauvoir grappled with the fundamental problem of making ethical judgments in recognition of the inability of a person to have an objective understanding of all consequences. In this book Beauvoir remains consequentialist in her outlook, maintaining that the ethical value of an act had to do with its movement toward liberation but problematized consequentialist ethics by pointing out that it would be nearly impossible to judge, in a moment of action, whether any given well-intentioned action, in fact, moved in the direction of liberation. Antagonistic to the virtue-ethic of the Buddhists that would declare it is wrong livelihood, a consequentialist might ask to whom weapons were being sold and to what purpose. Beauvoir then points out that, no matter how great the purpose the consequentialist cannot possibly know what the ultimate consequences of selling those guns must be.

In the end, Beauvoir’s ethic proposes something of a Sisyphean life – one of constantly striving toward a greater freedom fully aware that it can never be obtained. The struggle for liberation is an endless and ever-changing task. All a person can do is their best. As Beauvoir puts it, “Ethics does not furnish recipes any more than do science and art. One can merely propose methods. Thus, in science the fundamental problem is to make the idea adequate to its content and the law adequate to the facts; the logician finds that in the case where the pressure of the given fact bursts the concept which serves to comprehend it, one is obliged to invent another concept; but he can not define a priori the moment of invention, still less foresee it.”

Beauvoir argues that meaning is constantly changing and that the movement of life with purpose, of a good life, is thus also constantly a moving target. But that doesn’t mean she provides no lodestone. Instead Beauvoir takes a nearly Epicurean approach, saying, “However, it must not be forgotten that there is a concrete bond between freedom and existence; to will man free is to will there to be being, it is to will the disclosure of being in the joy of existence; in order for the idea of liberation to have a concrete meaning, the joy of existence must be asserted in each one, at every instant; the movement toward freedom assumes its real, flesh and blood figure in the world by thickening into pleasure, into happiness. If the satisfaction of an old man drinking a glass of wine counts for nothing, then production and wealth are only hollow myths; they have meaning only if they are capable of being retrieved in individual and living joy. The saving of time and the conquest of leisure have no meaning if we are not moved by the laugh of a child at play. If we do not love life on our own account and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way.”

And, of course, this idea of a good life as being one that pursues some sort of genuine happiness both on our own account and through others is something of a shared quest between Beauvoir, the Epicureans and the Buddhists.

What then is the ethical weight of a red-carpet photo against the death of a child in Yemen? It should be such a simple formula – arms dealers bad – and yet it brings with it so much other baggage. Did the actions of the red-carpet walkers contribute to Raytheon’s ability to sell the weapons that kill? Were factors such as the ability of convention members to pursue a career in the arts (which received wisdom says necessitates participation in fan conventions) ones that moved their own actions, in that moment toward a concrete mode of liberation? Should an artist who discovers their participation might give a company like Raytheon access to an audience disengage immediately? How much burden to know what, in fact, Raytheon is and does should be ascribed to the hosts of a Science Fiction podcast or the creators of a popular semi-pro zine? I don’t think I need the certainty of the Noble Eightfold Path to say that Raytheon is ethically compromised. It sells weapons to many of the most aggressive and warlike militaries in the world. No country has as many extraterritorial military bases as the United State. Few states wage war as readily and egregiously as Saudi Arabia. That Raytheon partners with these militaries makes it obvious that there’s very little ambiguity at play with working in their employ or with deliberately selling them advertising space at your convention. A good Raytheon employee is an employee who quits.

But I think the “no ethical consumption” line creates more problems than it solves. Certainly it’s true in as far as capitalism is a system that pushes back against Beauvoir’s idea of a life of love on our own account and lived through others. It’s a system that depends, instead, on a zero-sum gamification of existence where every moment of joy we squeeze out of life must, at its core, be a moment of joy denied to another. But the moment of radical freedom we call revolution depends on a level of mass action that doesn’t reside with some atomized individual. Turning around and walking out of the Hugo awards upon sighting the Raytheon banner would have been a decent action. It would be what Buddhists call “right intention” but it would be ineffectual. It would not overthrow the rule of Capital; it would not unmake the missiles and the bombs. In order for it to be a truly revolutionary moment it would require a total desertion of Discon III – for every single person there to spontaneously refuse to cross that threshold. And absent that sort of spontaneous and revolutionary moment ambiguity rules here. Hugo awards make careers and it’s just a banner.

Ultimately the concom of Discon III has earned scorn. It was the height of irresponsibility to hold a convention in Washington DC in 2021. We all knew perfectly well the pandemic would not be over and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to assume most people knew the pandemic would not be over in the United States specifically considering the disorganized way it responded to the crisis. Frankly there should have been no opportunity to pose in front of a Raytheon banner at all. And even if we set aside the irresponsibility of holding an in-person fan convention during a plague year the concom should not have sold its sponsorship opportunities to a “defense contractor.” Awarding a sponsorship to Raytheon was an egregious lapse in ethics by the standard of the Buddhists, the Epicureans, the standards of Beauvoir and frankly even those of Kant who would have fixed upon the concom the duty of acting in a manner that advanced respect and dignity of all people. Death from above at the hands of missiles manufactured half a world away is, at its core disrespectful. It is a death lacking in dignity to be snuffed out like an unwanted candle.

Capitalism operates through a diffusion of responsibility. People who have worked within the IT divisions of defense contractors talk about jobs that center around entirely abstract snippets of code – work toward abstract benchmarks where they haven’t the first clue what their code is even intended to do. This sort of diffusion permeates capitalist organization such that, ultimately, no one person is ever to be blamed for the cruelties of the system. And the concom could argue, in their defense, that then never dropped a bomb nor asked one to be dropped.

Ultimately the question becomes: where do you draw the line? As Jello Biafra said, “I’m not telling you, I’m asking you.”

For me, the line is drawn not at being an audience for Raytheon but it is certainly drawn before collaborating with Raytheon to give them an audience. But each person must construct that line for themselves. This is the ultimate paradox of collective spontaneity. We must each, alone, decide to act together in the moment. If a spontaneous moment is lost to ambiguity we should, rather than ripping at those people who, enmeshed in ambiguity, may have made a wrong choice, aim toward building better preconditions to make the right choice in the future.

As such my final word is this: No more arms manufacturers at fan conventions. And if anyone violates this clear line by inviting arms manufacturers to participate, let’s deem them outside what we see as the genre community. In that moment of collaboration they have put themselves beyond the pale. But let’s stop there and work to build solidarity around this line.

How to poison a franchise

3-6-banthaThis isn’t about squicking anybody’s squee. Well, it is, but not in the way you might expect. With that being said, fuck Star Wars Legends.

I hate, HATE Legends. I have read a grand total of 0.5 Legends books, and that some decades ago. Usually I don’t hold passionate opinions about sprawling franchises that I’ve no investment in. So why the hate for Legends?

Because of the fans who won’t let that shit go.

These are the fans who are so convinced that their manic pixie dream villain Thrawn would be better than Hux, Snoke and Kyllo Ren for Reasons.

These are the fans who heap insults upon Chuck Wendig books that haven’t been released yet, up to and including one who said he hoped Wendig had an accident that permanently ended his writing career.

These are the fans who whined that there were two Star Wars movies, (In A Row!) with a woman as the main protagonist.

I am generalizing a group a bit here. I don’t think every one of the misogynistic SW fans is also a Legends EU fan, but the venn diagram kind of looks like this:

venn

Mostly overlap.

And here’s the thing: When, every time I hear, “but it should have been THRAAAAAAAAAAAAWN!” it’s accompanied by, “eeew, girls and gays all over my Star Wars!” I am less likely to want to read about Thrawn ever again.

I bounced off the EU books because they were crap.

Sorry fans.

They started off as bland corporate tie-in fiction, and they turned into a dog’s breakfast of bad plot decisions and shocking twists that failed to shock or twist much.

So, no, the Heir to Empire books should NOT be movies 7, 8 and 9. But what’s more, I’ve been re-examining a lot of Star Wars media because of how wildly successful the film was. I might have considered revisiting the Legends books. Except that fans who aren’t happy because the story they like isn’t the annointed official narrative for some reason that I’ve never been fully clear on have poisoned that well.

So congratulations Sad Banthas. You’re so worried about Disney taking Star Wars Legends off life support that you’ve killed the franchise yourself.

Meanwhile I still don’t understand why the fuck canon status matters.

Oh wait, it doesn’t.

I’m reading Star Wars: Aftermath

This is the first Star Wars book I’ve read. I don’t give a pair of dingo’s kidneys for Admiral Thrawn. I’ve only dug a small way into Part 2 so I can’t properly review it, but here’s what I can say with certainty:

  1. It is very Wendig. If you like him you will like this book.
  2. The jagoffs giving it one star for any reason other than they don’t like Wendig’s highly distinctive prose style are full of shit.

This is all.

Trolls Never Sleep

a-close-friend-1499922I’ve had it up to here with the culture wars.

This was going to be a post about what happened to Chuck Wendig. Jim C. Hines has a decent write-up on that up, and while I disagree with him ever so slightly on one point it’s a good general writeup.

Wendig himself also has some stuff to say on the topic.

And this would have been enough for a full blog post right here. The issue with Wendig’s books, and the response both of the culture warriors who I’ve taken to calling antisocial injustice warriors (after all, if they oppose what SJWs stand for…) and of the EU fans who will lash out at any change to the Star Wars canon dovetails so perfectly with Gamergate and the Sad Puppies on so many levels that it’d certainly be in keeping with some of my usual topics.

But then New Zealand went and banned a YA novel on the grounds that it upset vocal Christians. When I say they banned it I’m being literal. Give the book to a friend and you’re facing a $3,000 NZD fine. Sell it in a store and your store gets a $10,000 NZD fine.

So here’s a link to Amazon.com for anybody who wants to buy it. Because with state censorship that’s basically the only response I can make.

I just can’t with all this today. I want to talk more about how parts of fandom have become toxic with what Wendig poetically calls, “weaponized nostalgia.” This vile habit of longing for an imagined better time, and attacking creatives in the present for not adhering to the standard of this fantasy land has actually soured me on the very idea of nostalgia at all. If Michael Bay’s TMNT ruined your childhood, YOU HAD AN AWFUL FUCKING CHILDHOOD ALREADY.

But it’s not just the weaponized nostalgia. It’s the regressive taint-stains who can’t tolerate the idea that the world has moved on without them: that the average person under the age of 25 is so comfortable with the idea of the Kinsey Scale that only a quarter of respondents age 14 to 24 in a recent British survey self-identified as exclusively heterosexual; that books for teens should address the anxieties, conflicts and dangers faced by modern teenagers, rather than trying to sugar-coat the world; that marginalized people have gotten enough of a platform to point out institutional biases and try to do something about them.

But these trolls, these nihilistic dinosaurs so wedded to a past that never was, are just so relentless. I go away for a weekend and they’re attacking Scalzi, I get back they’re already on to the next raid, attacking Wendig. And then another group go after this Ted Dawe author. And that’s even ignoring perennial targets like K. Tempest Bradford, who puts up with more bullshit from these trolls in a week than most people should have to in a lifetime.

And I’m like: don’t these assholes have lives to live?

So I’m tired.

I’m tired of shouting into the void that life is changing and you can either learn to live with it or get out of the way.

I’m tired of bigots being given platforms because they’re good old boys who remember when men were men and rayguns were chrome.

I’m tired of backward religious fanatics trying to cram their holy books down the world’s throat.

I’m sick of all this shit.

Hi, I’m Simon. And here’s what I pledge: if you say don’t read women or people of colour I’m going to. I will because there are some amazing people in those groups writing amazing books.

If you one-star Wendig for putting gay characters in Star Wars, or even if you do it just because you’re angry his books aren’t about Admiral Thrawn, I’m going to buy his book, read it and then give it the fucking rating it deserves on Amazon (which, considering how much I liked every other Wendig book will probably be 4-5 stars).

If you ban a book because it hurts conservative feels I’m going to bloody well put a link directly to its sales page on my blog.

These fucking trolls may never sleep. But at the very least we can make sure all they’re doing is ramming their thick skulls into the wall of historical inevitability.

No, actually I just really liked that book.

There’s a situation unfolding right now that has me pretty steamed. But I’m not convinced that I can really add much to the conversation that hasn’t already been said by people who are both more affected and more involved.

In light of that a quick suggested reading list:

A storify to bring you up to speed on the key argument

A link to the comments which precipitated the situation

An extract on File 770 quoting the comment

Alyssa Wong’s blog (she hasn’t written about this situation there as of posting, but it’s still worth adding to your reading list).

A backgrounder on fail_fandmanon

I’m happy to add to this list if anybody knows of other places its being discussed. Priority will be given to Chinese voices.

Again, I’m pretty outraged about the comments, but the worst of them (certainly the actually slurry part) were pointed firmly at Chinese people, so for the most part I’d rather just shut up and let the affected people speak for themselves.

There is one thing I do want to mention: I voted for the Three Body Problem. I’ve publicly said that it not only deserved the Hugo but also deserves some serious consideration in the big literary fiction prizes. And I don’t say this hyperbolically. When I reviewed the book long before it was on the Hugo ballot, I mentioned how it incorporated themes regarding chaos and stability in multiple levels and ways, creating a wonderful thesis about the shape of history with a deft touch that belied a depth of introspection and of reading.

I’m jumping the gun a bit since I haven’t finished, but I see similar signs in The Dark Forest despite this book having a rather different central thesis. What’s more, one of the first parallels that stood out to me is with Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain, which won the Nobel Prize. Gao’s assessment of how we construct ideas of the identities of the people in our lives is a brilliant part of what makes that book special, and the same key questions are explored with Liu’s book as part of a multi-leveled question regarding the boundaries of communication.

When you combine Liu’s deftness with thesis construction and exploration with the evident depth of his reading you already have something worthy of serious academic recognition. Adding in the exceptional translation artistry of Ken Liu in the first volume just is icing on the cake.

So, no, I didn’t vote for the Three Body Problem to support communism. And anyone who would default to that suggestion is an asshole. That being said, the suggestion that one must either A) repudiate all communism or B) love the cultural revolution, is such an obvious example of both Black or White fallacies and Loaded Question fallacies that this construction alone is kind of insulting.

I am an anarcho-communist. Being communist is a big part of that. So is a large anarchist streak. This is an admittedly utopian view, which is why I generally default to positions not THAT far off of social democracy for practical discussion, BUT, it is one that is antithetical to the authoritarian excesses of the stalinist and maoist states.

Look at it this way: if I said you must either repudiate Capitalism entirely or love Augusto Pinochet, you’d say I wasn’t being fair. But that’s what this construction is proposing!

Furthermore there’s a lot of arrogance in the assumption somebody knows what Liu’s thoughts are about the Chinese state entirely from his writing on the Cultural Revolution in one book. Spoiler alert: plenty of people in China are both patriotic and think that MUCH of what happened between the ’50s and the ’70s was wrong. And some don’t. And others aren’t patriotic. Because China is a huge, massively diverse place. And for the most part people are able to form opinions about stuff there subject to no more propagandist control than the average American. And history is inherently complex, which lends nuanced and complex perspectives on nationhood strength, not just in China but pretty much anywhere people actually spend the time and effort to think about the question in more complex terms than, “how many tea bags can I staple to a tri-corn hat?”

Ok, so that went on longer than I intended. Basically, short form: if somebody says, “that’s a slur, don’t call my people that,” then apologize and find different ways of describing those people in the future. It’s a fucking slur. And if you’re only doing this to try to score a weak rhetorical point by proposing that readers of an exceptional novel that is very worthy of awards on literary merit alone, notwithstanding politics, only awarded the book because of what you view as their misreading of that book’s author’s politics, perhaps you should get your head out of your own ass.

Fandom is not a family

happy-family-1316701-639x797Ok, I know this one will probably get me some flack but it needs saying, because it’s an idea which has impacted the frames of reference for our current conversations: Famdom is not a family. What this means is that it’s a cop-out to say, “I put up with homophobe uncle John and besides he doesn’t know any better,” as a justification for why we should just accept that our sub-culture will always include bigots.

But what is Fandom if not a family?

Fandom is a loose-knit collection of communities

Seriously, even calling Fandom one community, let alone one family, is a misnomer. There is a professional organization called SFWA, another called the HWA, there are various convention boards and membership lists, and each of these things could be called a community. And some people cross between these groups, some people might be in dozens of these groups, but that doesn’t mean the groups are all one polyglot community.

And this is important, because people can choose who they want in their communities. Part of the core of all this year’s kerfuffle was when, a while back, a certain individual was invited to leave one community (SFWA) after a public meltdown.

Fandom is a sub-culture

With specialized language (mention a SMOF to one of your non-fannish colleagues and see the look of complete unrecognition), dress (not just cosplay either, the ribbons, the pins, they’re dress markers), and interests (obviously) fandom is almost the textbook definition of a sub-culture. And, looked at in this sense we don’t have much choice about who adopts those cultural markers. Anybody can like genre fiction if they want. Anybody can learn the Turkey City Lexicon and the acronyms that get tossed around at cons. Anybody can learn what the in-jokes are and what those damn ribbons mean.

But here’s another example of a sub-culture: punk rock. Now both Jello Biafra and Michale Graves are very much part of the punk rock sub-culture but they probably have almost entirely different takes on politics, philosophy and well… everything. There’s probably nobody who would suggest that the former lead singers of the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits are not real punks; and yet Biafra is a left-anarchist, while Graves is a staunch conservative.

And yet, I doubt anybody would try to talk those two into touring together either.

Fandom is a workplace

Not for everybody, but for lots of people: writers and actors, makers and booksellers. For these people Fandom is where they work. It’s simultaneously built of their suppliers, colleagues and customers, sometimes all in one body.

Now here’s where we can make some progress between the wide-open, anybody can sign on nature of a sub-culture and the much more exclusive nature of specific communities. Because we have a pretty strong understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable reasons to invite somebody to leave a workplace. And it’s not because you don’t like their politics. But when it crosses a line from, “I disagree with this person,” to, “this person is harassing their co-workers,” then we’ve got a pretty good reason to exclude them.

And this is a pretty good litmus for how to decide what people we want in the Fandom tent. We want the people who don’t:

  • Touch inappropriately, stalk and sexually harass people
  • Threaten people with violence or incite other people to violence
  • Advocating for the extermination of a sub-set of people or for discrimination against people on the basis of inherent traits
  • etc.

And I’m going to say right now that there’s plenty of conservatives who don’t do any of these things. And there are leftists and centerists who do some or all of these things. And how we treat them should not be dependent on their position on a political spectrum but on their actions.

And besides, why do you tolerate bigotry from your relatives?

My relatives are pretty cool so I don’t have much experience with this, though I have to remind certain relatives on occasion that Conservative does not equal stupid or evil; and the thing is I do that even though I disagree entirely with everything Conservativism stands for, because I understand that it’s possible for decent people to disagree wildly.

But if a relative told a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say, “that’s racist. Why would you say that?” Progress depends on us, personally, having the courage of conviction to confront outmoded and harmful discourse.

If you say, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Jane, she’s from another time / some specific place / this or that faith; she doesn’t know any better, bless her heart,” you’re letting that particular thread continue unchallenged. And bigotry should be confronted by all decent people wherever it’s found.

Fandom is my workplace. I come there to network, to sell and to buy. I come there to learn and to teach. Many of my friends are members of the communities that compose fandom, and I’m happy to use the elements of material culture that signify membership in the sub-culture. But it’s not my family. So while I’m happy for the big tent to include communists, anarchists, socialists, liberals, centerists, conservatives and libertarians, I won’t tolerate harassers and unrepentant bigots. A big tent is great, but we can choose what is acceptable behaviour in our group. And if somebody violates that behaviour we can invite them to leave.

Post Hugo Roundup

Another roundup of links related to the fallout of the Hugos. Again, sharing link doesn’t imply either endorsement or chastisement of the contents.

Let’s start with the absolute craziest as John C. Wright produces an absolutely unhinged screed claiming that us not awarding him, the greatest gift to writing since clay tablets, lets Patrick Nielsen Hayden (also the gays?) win.

Brad Torgersen says he’s afraid he’ll never be allowed to forget his leadership of the Sad Puppy campaign and also that the Hugos really aren’t that big a deal anyway.

Larry Correia claims that Fandom is both monolithic enough to require Sad Puppy slate voting and so fractuous that the slate voting isn’t really needed to push names onto the ballot.

Vox Day probably said something too but I don’t care what he thinks.

John Scalzi suggests that acting like a jerk doesn’t pay.

This tumblr thread discusses why the Alfies were not the secret SJW Hugos.

Black Gate suggests that the failure of the Puppy slate might have to do more with the quality of the work than any political consideration.

Nick Mamatas also invites Sad Puppy partisans to defend the quality of the nominated works.

The Guardian reports on GRRM’s reaction to the Hugo results.

Tobias Buckell mocked up an alternate world ballot for the Hugos in which the Puppy campaigns hadn’t overrun the nominations.

Wired provided a moderately measured piece on the entire affair. Which was justifiably criticized for striking a tone as if women and people of colour were new to SFF (which they certainly aren’t).

Flavorwire attempted a brief summary of the whole mess.

Asia Times (and the China Daily) mostly just concentrated on the Best Novel win for Liu Cixin, entirely ignoring the puppy kerfuffle in their coverage.

NPR warns that this may not be a loss for the puppies, depending on how their goals are defined.

The Nielsen Haydens hosted a discussion thread on their blog which is mostly interesting for some otherwise quiet big names who popped in to leave their five cents.

Aliette De Bodard saw the Hugos as a win for a global vision of SF/F between the Liu Cixin / Ken Liu and Thomas Olde Heuvelt wins.

This is from before the awards but it is still relevant so I’ll include it: Kelly Robson suggested mediation between Puppy and other interest groups would be more productive than fighting.

Mike Selinker proposed a suggested fix for the Hugos based on video game testing methodology.

Abigail Nussbaum argues against the Hugos being seen as elitist or progressive to begin with, suggesting they tend to be populist and middle of the road.

Adam Shaftoe seconds Kelly Robson’s proposal for mediation and discourse.

Frank Wu suggests puppies abandon block voting in exchange for some big-name authors providing exposure to some Puppy-favourite work.

File 770 published a thorough collection of quotes from all sides.

An exceptional analysis from Eric Flint.

Arthur Chu suggests that the Sad Puppies really only exist online, thanks to the ability of the internet to favour those willing to burn the most time on an issue, and are effectively absent from physical spaces.

I may add to this as I see new things of interest. I moderate comments with a light hand but I too have a copy of Scalzi’s mallet of loving correction which I will use as I see fit. Please feel free to share links to either side of this discussion, except for Vox Day. No link to his blog will get out of moderation.

There Was Never A Conspiracy

Sad dogThe Hugo awards are over and it was, as many anticipated, a banner year for that amazing content creator: No Award.

So, of course, this has led to the usual round of recriminations and accusations, with many of the central puppy figures proclaiming that their failure to receive awards in the categories they so thoroughly gamed is proof of a conspiracy. Some accuse specific individuals in the publishing industry of being the insidious masterminds of this terrible anti-christian (apparently) plot. Others claim that they were actually the masterminds of a cunning plot wherein they couldn’t possibly lose, because all they really wanted was to smash as much as possible.

Brad Torgersen, who sadly represents the most reasonable reaches of official puppydom simply cherry-picked his examples to make the big take-away that “organized” fandom “threw women under the bus.” But, of course, this implies by its formulation that there was an organized response to the puppy slate.

This is simply and fundamentally untrue. There was no conspiracy to overthrow the puppies, hell the vast swath of people who were blogging regarding the whole puppy mess couldn’t even agree on the best way to respond.

What really happened, at its most simple, is that fandom, as a whole came together and pushed the sad puppies collective noses in the wet spot they’d left on our kitchen floor. We saw a broad, thorough and entirely grassroots repudiation of the slate stacking that the puppies got up to.

And yes, that meant a few deserving people didn’t get awards. I voted “no award” for most of the puppy categories, but I voted for Sheila Gilbert in #1 for editor, the only editor I put above “no award.” I also ranked Abyss and Apex highly on my ballot – it was a very tight category and while I ultimately ranked Lightspeed first I kind of questioned them being listed as semi-pro rather than professional.

Had they not withdrawn I would have voted for Black Gate highly and the same of Marko Kloos, Kevin Anderson (edit: I know he didn’t withdraw, I put him above No Award) and Annie Bellet (I haven’t read Kloos’ book yet though I intend to but from what I understand of it I’d likely have placed it just below Ancillary Sword on my ballot which, prior to the Three Body Problem entering the ballot with Kloos’ departure was my first pick).

As you can see, despite voting “no award” for almost all the short fiction categories, I was not one of the, “if they’re on a puppy slate vote ’em below no award unread” types. I’m not saying nobody was, obviously many people took that position. But I think they did so for a variety of reasons, and not out of some sort of unified political objective.

Frankly there were probably quite a few people who voted “no award” because the quality of the selected work was poor. I mean, I have been a long-time Jim Butcher fan, but Skin Game was possibly his worst novel, and was definitely his worst offering in the Dresden Files series. As much as I have enjoyed his past work, that was the book that almost made me stop buying his books, and that’s not something that’s really Hugo worthy. (I still ranked it above no award.)

And frankly, the novel category is where the Puppy slate was at their most reasonable. The cranks and would-be Ayn Rands who comprised the majority of the short fiction articles deserved to be ranked below No Award. I can’t even get through one of John C. Wright’s unhinged blog posts without fighting the urge to wretch, let alone his fiction.

I’m an openly marxist, politically active, bisexual author who frequently calls himself an anarcho-communist. I am effectively a living, breathing avatar for the SJWs that the puppies seem to believe rule fandom in secret. And yet I seem to have missed a memo. Because my influence extends, at most, to a small group of small press affiliated genre writers in Toronto. That’s if I’m being generous. I met the Nielsen-Haydens once. They seemed like nice people. I met John Scalzi a few times. He gave me some writing advice which later benefited me. If these people are masters of some fell conspiracy you’d think they’d give me a shout-out to act as a foot soldier for them. But… nothing. Not even a dog whistle.

There is no conspiracy. There is just a diverse collection of fans who rejected the Puppy’s vision of the genre. So let’s lay this tired beast to bed and get back to building the future.

Hollywood and Fan Creator culture – copyright isn’t as simple as pirates and police

sad youtubeI’ve always been a fan of the Addams Family, as such it isn’t surprising that I found Melissa Hunter‘s fanseries, “Adult Wednesday Addams” to be absolutely adorable.

So I was sad a few days ago when I found out it had been pulled. Speculation on the internet was  that it was brought down because of backlash over the cat-calling episode (which I really wish I could link to because it was absolutely brilliant, sadly, it is now gone).

This does not actually appear to be the case. Rather the issue is an entirely different one, and one which is much more complex than yet another blow in the ongoing culture war would have been.

When I heard about the copyright strike against Adult Wednesday Addams I immediately visited the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation, the rights-holder for the Addams Family, and the organization which had brought the copyright strike against Hunter’s series.

I located the contact information and wrote the following letter to them:

I’ve always been a fan of the Addams Family in pretty much every one of its iterations. And I was a huge fan of the Adult Wednesday Addams webseries, which was funny, intelligent and tonally in keeping with the character. As such, I’m distraught over the news that your foundation has forced its removal from Youtube.

While I understand that you are the copyright holder, and legally you are acting within your rights, I think in this case you are sorely mistaken to have taken this action.

I ask, as a fan, please do not obstruct this wonderful little webseries.


sincerely,

Simon McNeil

I didn’t expect any response, but I figured letter writing campaigns have been successful in the past, and the best way for them to be successful is for somebody to start writing letters.

However I was mistaken. A mere four hours after I wrote to the foundation, I received a response from Kevin Miserocchi, the Executive Director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

Here is what he said to me:

Dear Simon McNeil,

Thank you for your comments concerning Charles Addams and his Family and the suspension of Melissa Hunter’s on line series titled The Adult Wednesday Addams. Perhaps this will help to enlighten you about the situation that has caused this to happen rather than assuming we don’t care. Unfortunately for all involved it is not as simple as you may be thinking it is: The Moneyed Establishment versus The Artist – on the contrary.

We have a contract with MGM to produce a full-length animated feature film of The Addams Family® to look exactly as Charles Addams originally painted them. That contract prohibits anyone from portraying those characters in any media during the life of the contract.

Regardless of her talent or the breadth of her audience or the entertainment it gave you, the online series is a violation of that contract, something for which both Melissa Hunter and this Foundation could have been sued heavily. You can thank Melissa Hunter for not having understood the need to contact us so as to obtain a license to protect her show. Now it is too late and she will have to wait to resume her career as the Adult Wednesday Addams© until a year after the film has been released. Hopefully, she realizes that she already has an audience and merely needs to change the title of her show and her appearance.

With best regards,
H. Kevin Miserocchi, Executive Director

So what we have is instead what appears to be a pretty awful contract. Apparently, MGM has purchased an exclusive license to the Addams Family in all media. Furthermore, according to Mr. Miserocchi, the foundation is liable for enforcing copyright on behalf of the license holder (MGM) at risk of lawsuit.

That’s all rather odious.

Now I will note that the substantial snark in the last paragraph is not very nice; and comes off a bit disingenuous. If the contract is as strict as Miserocchi describes previously, it wouldn’t have mattered if Hunter had come to the Foundation first, they would have been required to say, “no.” And I rather doubt her webseries could provide sufficient revenue to beat out MGM if it came to a competitive bid. Whatever MGM paid the foundation for this license I’d suggest they invest some of that money into a PR coordinator because there would have been much more diplomatic ways to communicate the message above.

And here’s where things get complicated. Adult Wednesday Addams is a perfect example of a fanseries. It was created by a single person (or a very small team), it has a very limited cast, episodes are based on a straightforward simple premise, riffing on something the creator / star / director / writer obviously loves.

But videos on Youtube are monetized, and the Adult Wednesday Addams videos, based on the number of views they had before being taken down and the average payout for ad-views on Youtube, might have made as much as $13,770.

Now that’s not much money, but it’s not nothing. And it’s money made through the unlicensed use of a copyrighted piece of IP.

There are two main camps on this issue. On one hand, some people will say that copyright in this case is just established industry players cutting out small-scale creatives. Considering it’s posthumous IP (Charles Addams died in 1988) they’d probably argue for some flexibility. And besides, Adult Wednesday Addams wasn’t hurting anybody and certainly wasn’t stealing any bank from MGM.

The other camp would argue that what Hunter did was technically illegal, and that the Foundation acted both within their rights but also within their own best interest pulling the plug.

I come down somewhere in the middle. My personal opinion about copyright terms would, if it were magically converted into law, put the Addams Family in the public domain – just barely (I’m a proponent of lifetime + 20 years). And 13 grand (or less) is really not that much money. And honestly the Adult Wednesday Addams webseries wouldn’t be likely to impact MGM’s revenue in the slightest – the enforcement of such strict contract terms on the foundation by MGM seems a bit overreaching.

On the other hand, the state of the law in the United States is (very loosely speaking) lifetime + 70 years, and Adult Wednesday Addams was a potentially revenue-generating product making use of that IP. And there’s a reason that Fan Fiction writers don’t sell their stories.

So I do see both sides of the argument, and both have some merit. I think, ultimately, our current copyright climate is poorly designed to handle technologies like Youtube, which can automatically take a piece of fan fiction and convert it into a profit-generating product. This isn’t even the first time this year that we’ve seen this problem.

I think we need to reexamine copyright law within the bounds of new technology. Doubling down on penalties through things like the Digital Milennium Copyright Act hasn’t worked; the vast grey area between fan product and professional product demonstrates that clearly. But copyright is also important; as much as I might like creative commons licensing and as much as I might call for a shorter than average copyright period, I’m not against copyright as a concept.

But studios and rights-holders suing or threatening to sue fans for their enthusiasm over IP isn’t cool either.

I don’t think I have an answer for this one guys. But if you do, please let me know.