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Have you noticed, Gentle Reader, how annoying people are?

No, not like that. It’s that conversations amongst people are, like everything else, more complicated than that, impossible to control, incoherent, fractal, unherdable. And what really gets up YHB’s nose is that they are like that because people are like that, and all that can be done about it is to learn to—what—not enjoy it, certainly, although there are aspects to be enjoyed. Control one’s frustration, then, enough to enjoy the enjoyable, to partake of what is edible, to find nourishment in what is nourishing without insisting it be a properly balanced diet.

What I’m on about (of course, YHB was about to add, then realized that not all Gentle Readers read what I read, people being different, one to another) is the foofaraw following on Harlan Ellison’s ... act ... at the Hugo Ceremony. I don’t want to discuss the act itself (although that reluctance should be looked at in the light of what I am discussing), but the conversation afterwards in some of the blogs I read. For those just starting ... well, I won’t fill you in. Look elsewhere, or (probably better) just move along, nothing to see here. What I do want to talk about is the field of discussion following, and some general observations, using the specifics of the event.

So. The thing itself was certainly surprising and (in some sense) worthy of discussion. Many people—most?—found it offensive, and thought it was a good idea to (a) say that they found it offensive, and (2) say why they found it offensive. I agree with those people. Discussing offense is, I think, a generally good idea. The discussion of that topic, then, can focus on things like Was the act offensive? Who was harmed, and in what way, and to what extent? What would be appropriate reparations? What would be appropriate punishment? What would be effective deterrent? What would constitute a sufficient apology? People (being different, one to another, remember) will come up with different answers for some or all of these questions.

And then, because of the different answers, more questions come up: Who gets to decide whether the act was offensive? What are the criteria for offensiveness, and who gets to decide what those criteria are? How are we to tell if the apology is sufficient? Who has authority in this matter, and what do those with authority say? People (being different, one to another, remember) will come up with different answers for some or all of these questions.

Now, offense is pretty much by definition tied into larger social matters. And, of course, discussion of the offense and the criteria for offensiveness will bring up those social matters. What can be done about the underlying social problem? What is the nature of the problem? Is the underlying social problem actually a problem? Who is to blame for the underlying social problem, or for the perception that there is one? Who is responsible for addressing the problem (or perception) and how should the problem (or perception) be addressed? People (being different, one to another, remember) will come up with different answers for some or all of these questions.

Then, of course, there is the question of priority. Are we spending too much time talking about, for instance, the interesting question of authority for criteria of offensiveness, and not enough talking about the existence (or lack thereof) of actual harm in the social problem alleged? Can we address the social problem even if we disagree about the harm that allegedly occurred? Is the discussion or some aspect of it offensive in itself? And, of course, it will be, it must be, because of the social matter underlying the initial offense and a variety of social matters underlying conversation generally.

So. My nature, analytical, cries out for separation of all these questions, and warns against getting sidetracked. Surely, says YHB, the issue is, as Mine Gracious Host puts it Safe spaces in/at conventions and that all the other issues should be addressed as they feed into that. But, hey, who went on a bathroom break and left me in charge of prioritizing focus? If I want that to be the focus, then I have to persuade people that it should be the focus. But as much as the discussion of what should be the discussion has an eerie, dark fascination for me, surely nobody can be blamed for skipping that part and going to the discussion itself. Only, um, what is the discussion itself?

David Moles (is his blog gone? Good Grief!) was sufficiently offended (I’m guessing) by the nature of the discussion in a private-but-large group that he exposed the quotes that gave him offense. Out of context, say some of the quotees, but of course quoting somebody necessarily takes her out of context, and one of the things that (I think) he was on about was taking these little creatures out of their natural habitat so we could see them more clearly. And, of course, people were offended by his violation of social norms; Mr. Moles presumably felt his violation was justified by their violation of other, more important social norms. But—hey, look at that! We’re talking about something else, now!

Reading the discussion there (and at Benjamin Rosenbaum’s, and Jere7my’s and some other people’s besides) frustrated me beyond my capacity to articulate. Not only were people talking past each other, not only was Dan P.'s precept about making a position clear rather than correct missing, but the frustration of various people that their perception of what is important wasn’t being addressed made all of Outer (Space) Blogovia feel very hostile for a while. And, as happens, people on opposing sides of one question found themselves presumed to be on opposing sides of the other questions raised. Sometimes presumed themselves to be on opposing sides. Sometimes seemed to choose sides based on those presumptions.

And mostly, there was the overwhelmingly depressing drive to make one’s point, to get it through their thick heads. Only, of course, they are trying to get their point through my thick head, and she is trying to get her point through his thick head, and he is trying to get his point through his thick head, and, really, wouldn’t it be easier if everybody just listened to me?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


David Moles isn't gone -- he says "only a billing mixup". Online now.

Whew. But I'm still getting a buy-this-domain page at his site.


His blog is up.

Fuck, people!

(PS responded to your post over at holychao if you're interested in having that conversation over there...)

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