Monday, February 9, 2015

Unfriend Me Now

Over the past few years, I have noticed a trend where people will post on Facebook a status to the effect of, "If you believe X, unfriend me now."  If you're going to vote for this candidate, if you hold this political position, if you don't agree with me on this issue.  These posts seem to peak in the run-up to national elections, so thankfully I haven't seen any recently.  That's why I'm bringing it up now, where I'm purposefully not calling out one particular individual.

When I see one of those posts, my (unspoken and untyped) response is, "Why would you want to live in an echo chamber, where you never hear people express diverse opinions?"  Wouldn't it be better to hear what other people have to say, even if you disagree with it?  Even if it infuriates you?  Especially if it infuriates you?  How else will you ever find flaws in your own positions if you don't listen to others trying to poke holes in them?  At the very least, coming up with counterarguments to their statements, even if you leave them unsaid, can strengthen your own position.  And who knows, you may actually learn why they believe something so alien to you, and you may learn to understand their position better.  You may still not agree with them, you probably never will, but isn't it better to understand them?  Segregation, ostracism, banishment, and isolation all lead to insular subcultures that grow increasingly hostile to any opinions that stray even slightly from their increasingly narrow doctrines.  And if you do want to live in an echo chamber, with no opposing voices, don't ask me to do your dirty work.  Do your own purge.

I bring this up in the context of the latest "Sad Puppies" Hugo controversy.  For those who are not immersed in SF culture, the Hugo is an award given to the best SF & F novel, novella, short story, etc., each year.  Anyone with a Worldcon membership can nominate and vote in all categories.  (I know, there's more to it than that, but this is the abridged version.)  Lately SF fandom, at least the literary part of it that frequents Worldcons, has been dominated by liberal voices, and so many of the awards have been going to stories with explicitly leftist themes.  Whether people are voting for these stories because they truly believe they are the best stories or because of their politics is a matter of much debate.  I'm sure there are some who vote based on merit, independent of the author's political views, and others who cast their vote politically, and I have no idea how the percents break down.  A group of right-wing writers has taken it upon themselves to propose a slate of stories that they consider to be award worthy and encourage like-minded individuals to vote for these stories.  The idea is to create a voting block to counter the left.

Are the Sad Puppies people right?  I don't know.  I do know that their confrontational approach can easily alienate the very people they seek to convert.  It's important to understand that, whether or not you or I think they're right about the Hugos, they believe that they have a legitimate grievance.  Why not let them air it in their own way?  I know it's considered bad form to actively campaign for nominations, but I also know that unofficial campaigning has been happening on the DL since long before I've been a part of the SF community.  Yeah, I know, this is different in that it's a coordinated effort, but nothing is stopping other groups from proposing their own slates if they want to play the same game.  All I ask is that it be done respectfully.  It's one thing to say, "I prefer these stories because reason X," it's quite another to say, "Those stories are trash and not worth reading."  I've seen message threads on both sides berating the opposition, ridiculing their views, and disrespecting them as individuals.  I've seen members of one side butt into threads on the other in order to troll.  I've seen respectful dissent shouted down.

If you're going to do that, if you're incapable of controlling your outrage at someone who doesn't share your views, I guess maybe you could unfriend anyone who is different and live in ignorant isolation.  But I would humbly suggest a better approach.  Read what the other guys have to say.  Listen to them.  Disagree with them, but do it with respect and acknowledge that they have a right to their beliefs.  And please understand that they are under no obligation to change their minds just because you disagree with them.  Before throwing around words like stubborn, obstinate, and closed-minded, think about what it would take for you to change your views to agree with theirs.  Would a few snide Facebook posts be enough to change your core values?  Would a condescending diatribe packed with cherry-picked statistics do it?  Why would you expect it to work on someone else?

I've seen people suggest that the Sad Puppies list be taken as a list of works not to read.  I've seen the same suggested for the list of Hugo winners.  These attitudes strike me as narrow-minded at best, and purposeful intimidation at worst.  Both sides have aggrieved and have been aggrieved.  We can keep bickering forever, or we can embrace each other's differences and learn from them.  You know where I stand.  If you disagree with me, don't unfriend me.  Rather, to paraphrase Niven's Law, use it as an opportunity to learn about a mind that thinks as well as yours but differently.  Return the favor and tell me your opinion.  I will thank you for sharing your views and be glad that I live in a world where a wide variety of opinions are tolerated.

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