The problem of engagement

Toni Weisskopf, the Baen Books editor and one of the voices of sanity in traditional SF/F publishing, provides her perspective on the inevitability of war between the rabbits of Pink SF/F and the rationalists of Blue SF/F in a guest post at Sarah’s place:

The latest fooforaws in the science fiction world have served to highlight the vast cultural divide we are seeing in the greater American culture. SF, as always, very much reflects that greater culture.

It is also nothing new. When fandom was first starting there was the “Great Exclusion Act” when a group of young, excitable, fanboys attempted to spread their political/fannish feud propaganda at the first Worldcon in New York, and were not only prevented from doing so but not allowed back into the con. All fandom was aflame with war! (The fact that this line is a cliché is also a clue that fandom is not, and never has been, a calm peaceful sea of agreement.)

The reason we have a fandom to disunite now, is because calmer heads prevailed. Bob Tucker in particular, with intelligence and humor, led fandom to the idea that it ought have nothing to do with greater world politics, but should concentrate on the thing we all loved, that being science fiction. (Mind you, his sympathies were with the ones who were excluded, but he was able to overcome his own political inclinations for the best of fandom.)

The fact that fandom as an open culture survived more than seventy years is a testament to the power of that simple, uniting concept. That we are once again looking to be rift by a political divide was perhaps inevitable. But as fandom has grown, expanded and diluted itself, we may have won the überculture wars and lost our heart.  We have not been able to transmit this central precept to new fans. Geeks are chic, but somehow we’ve let the fuggheads win.

And, from my observations, this is an inevitable consequence of the creation of any kind of fandom, from tattoos to swords to us. There is a thing people like. Thing people make initial contact with each other to discuss things and thingishness. At some point a woman (and it’s usually women, no matter what the thing) organizes gatherings, and thing fandom grows bigger and better. At some point, the people who care not about things, but merely about being a big fish in a small sea, squeeze out the thing people. Sometimes thing fandom just dies, sometimes it fissures and the process is recreated. So the fuggheads always win. The only question is how long can we delay their inevitable triumph?

Forget delaying them. I agree with what she is saying about the inevitability of the attempted infiltrations, but I very much disagree that their triumph is inevitable. We don’t have to let them in. We don’t have to let them oh-so-helpfully volunteer to make things easier for us and take those weighty responsibilities off our shoulders.

And most of all, we don’t have to sit back and lament the fact that they’ve taken over and ruined the organizations and institutions that we used to love. We can walk away without looking back, leave them to their inevitable implosion, and build new and better ones. But we have to learn from the failures of our predecessors. When the bureaucrats and the activists and the whiners start in with their usual routine about access and fairness and reaching out, we need to kick THEM out, not foolishly listen to them and let in the destroyers.

Don’t throw pearls before swine. Don’t attempt to engage rationally with madmen and fools.