Burdens of Proof

Brad R. Torgersen writes on the disinviting of convention guests of honor, based on what they might do.

I won’t devote too much time to rehashing this past week’s slanderous sabotaging of Larry Correia (at Origins) which bore an eerie similarity to the slanderous sabotaging of John Ringo (at ConCarolinas.) In each instance, it was a political hit job. And in each instance, there was no proof offered to substantiate the lies which preceded both Larry’s and John’s disinviting.

What’s concerning is that conventions — indeed, almost all institutions of various descriptions — are being placed in the position of either bending to the will of what are essentially mobs, or facing threats of both bad PR and, potentially, painful legal annoyance. In each case, the institutions almost always take the path of least resistance. It’s far easier to eject a guest who has attracted the mob’s attention, than stand your ground and endure the mob’s ire; as a “defender” of the alleged wrong-doer.

None of this — in 2018 — happens without social media, of course. One might argue that Social Justice Zealotry could not exist without the anonymity and virility that social media provides. Pick your target from behind the safety of your keyboard, light the digital torch, rally your friends to the cause, and off you go to pillory whichever offending party suits your fancy this week. Proof? A preponderance of evidence? P’shaw! Mere legal trickery by the hated cishet white male misogynist transphobic patriarchy! Everybody knows that villains use proof and evidence to hide from justice. It’s time for more direct and drastic steps to be taken, so as to ensure that the evil-doers are brought to heel!

I think by now the professional consensus is that Origins committed a huge blunder, by disinviting Larry Correia. The plaintiffs didn’t have to like Larry, nor did they have to like his politics. But Larry had done absolutely nothing to warrant disinvitation. There were no provable violations of any code of conduct Origins might have put forth. Larry was simply . . . kicked out, because a pack of SJZs wanted him kicked out.

That’s a rotten precedent for any institution — regardless of its mission — to set. Letting an unaccountable gaggle of shit-slingers decide who can and cannot be a guest at your convention?

During a separation board’s deliberations, the question must be asked: did the institution itself obey its own rules, regarding the gathering and presentation of evidence, and is this evidence in fact qualified such that it can be taken as legal fact — versus merely the say-so of specific individuals who may or may not have been under oath, when they said what they said?

I hope that conventions (going forward) might begin to ask themselves similar questions, with similar emphasis on the disqualification of rumor, speculation, political hatchetry, slander, character assassination, and other forms of dishonesty. Any institution which expects to enjoy the participation of guests and consumers alike, needs to be able to forge an atmosphere of trust.

At a recent LASFS board meeting, the topic of conventions responding very badly to complaints came up. I suggested the first rule of dealing with any complaint of this sort is, “Don’t Panic”. Perhaps the decision makers should be issued towels?

First they ejected the puppies

People are being banned from SF conventions for dubious reasons. At least according to the people being banned.

It seems that SJWcon is not the only place in speculative fiction where Orwell’s 1984 is being used as an instruction manual. One should of course note that SJWcon’s pre-banning was clearly inspired by the previous banning of Dave Truesdale by MidAmericaCon in 2016.

To quote from the link (but it is worth reading the whole thing):

Jim Hines gives a hilariously one-sided account of the panel (“Truesdale tries yet again to get back to the evils of political correctness. Sheila Williams shoots him down again.”) and then goes off on a tangent about how this was a “deliberate and preplanned hijacking” of a panel, as if that were the smoking gun the CHORFs needed to undermine Truesdale’s credibility. Howard Tayler went on a Twitter rant about panel moderation etiquette, as if people were booted from cons for being bad moderators all the time, and this was a good opportunity to review some helpful hints to keep that from happening.

Okay, reality check. Truesdale didn’t personally attack anyone. He didn’t swear. He didn’t lose his temper. He didn’t threaten anyone or throw chairs. He talked a little too long off-topic at a panel. That’s literally the worst thing you can say about what he did.

People hijack panels all the time. I have never heard of anyone being ejected from a con for hijacking a panel or being a poor moderator. As far as I know, it’s unprecedented. (Feel free to correct me if you’ve heard of this happening.) Is Dave Truesdale a jerk? Maybe. But being a jerk is not a crime, and believe it or not, scifi conventions tend to attract people whose interpersonal skills are sub-optimal. Writers tend to be opinionated and abrasive. If WorldCon is going to eject everyone who commits a social faux pas, they might as well just move the convention in the parking lot.

What it comes down to is that WorldCon ejected Dave Truesdale for voicing an unpopular opinion. You can call it what you want; If it makes you feel better to call it “criticism” rather than censorship, feel free. If you want to focus on Truesdale’s character, go for it. If you want to pretend this is all just a little misunderstanding about panel etiquette, that’s up to you. But the fact is that Dave Truesdale was booted because he said something that the people in power didn’t like. Dance around it all you want, but that’s what happened.

Part of what got the Worldcon folks really upset was that DaveT had recorded what he said and the rest of the panel personally. As a result it became very easy to compare the over the top reactions (see above) with what DaveT actually said, which was perhaps off topic and certainly annoying to certain factions of fandom but could only cause “significant discomfort” to people more sensitive than “the Princess and the Pea”. Sadly of course it seems the SJW faction of fandom are indeed more sensitive than said fictional Princess and they have gained significant power within the greter SF community to its great loss.

Before DaveT, and indeed inspiring him, was the Sad Puppy Hugo award controversy which boiled over in 2015 when it became clear that the SJW parts of fandom would do pretty much anything to ensure that Wrongthink was verboten. And Wrongthink was defined as anything that wasn’t sufficiently SJW to pass muster. Moreover, it turned out that anyone with associations with Wrongthink, such as being nominated by Wrongthinkers, were in trouble.

….

Before DaveT, and indeed inspiring him, was the Sad Puppy Hugo award controversy which boiled over in 2015 when it became clear that the SJW parts of fandom would do pretty much anything to ensure that Wrongthink was verboten. And Wrongthink was defined as anything that wasn’t sufficiently SJW to pass muster. Moreover, it turned out that anyone with associations with Wrongthink, such as being nominated by Wrongthinkers, were in trouble.

Then it turns out that they also came for Will Shetterly, who certainly is neither right wing, nor a gamergater nor anything like that, and Steven Brust (ditto). What got Brust in trouble was this:

Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space. Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind. But other than that, it is not safe.

Your beliefs about writing, and my beliefs about writing, and what is good, and how to make it good, should be sufficiently challenged to make us uncomfortable.

The interaction of art and politics is getting more and more in our faces. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point (although I think it’s good); it reflects changing social conditions, intensification of conflicts. Anyone who thinks art is independent of social conditions is as hopelessly muddled as someone who thinks there is a direct, simplistic 1:1 correspondence between them.

The result of this is that political understanding, unexamined assumptions, agendas, are very much present in the art we create and thus in the discussions of that art.

If no one feels unsafe, or threatened during these discussions, we’re doing them wrong. […]

It was said in defense of Shetterly who was declared unwelcome by certain snowflakes:

When the seminar page went up, we received many complaints, and I brought these Safety concerns to the Board. Your long history online and on certain panels at 4th St. are the issues. Of particular concern is your pattern of refusing to drop arguments despite direct requests and pursuing people on various social media platforms when they do not want to engage with you.

Your reputation and mode of discourse are such that the Board decided that having you represent the convention as seminar leader wouldn’t be in line with the kind of inclusive culture we want to promote at 4th St. Fantasy. If you were to behave in person the way you have online–by refusing to back off when the other party was done conversing–you would not be welcome at 4th St. at all. At the moment, we have only instituted formal safety procedures as of last year, and we haven’t received any formal complaints that would lead to you being banned from the convention.

Shetterly is well know for holding strong opinions and not being keen on being told to STFU. He also famously “doxxed” a person who used a pseudonym that was not exactly very hard to work back from to identify the real person (her user name was her extremely rare first name). However he was also one the founders of the 4th St Fantasy workshop and had been a participant in (many? all?) previous years and in fact was originally asked to be a “seminar leader” as a favor by one of the current organizers, so the idea that people who would attend the event would feel unsafe to have him be a “seminar leader” is unconvincing (hence Brust’s speech above which went down like a cup of cold sick).

Anyway that was last year.This year he was in fact banned:

On April 27, 2017, as part of an email conversation regarding your removal from a programming item at the 2017 4th Street Fantasy Convention, you wrote “Someone has suggested this decision to imply I’m unsafe in public might be actionable.”

We cannot disregard this implied threat of legal action, particularly combined with your lengthy and detailed public criticism of the convention on multiple platforms. Despite your reassurance in correspondence dated April 30, 2017 that “I just want to reassure everyone that Emma and I have less than zero intention of suing anyone”, the Board of Directors has decided that we are unwilling to open ourselves to liability through further association with you.

We are therefore banning you from Fourth Street Fantasy.

We would like to resolve this privately. These are the practical steps we have taken:

• As stated above, you are banned from Fourth Street Fantasy. You will not be allowed to register for the convention or attend convention events. Please do not come to the Doubletree Hotel during the weekend of the convention.

 

So apparently now just mentioning that a statement could be legally libelous/slanderous is enough to get you banned if people don’t like you because you hold strong opinions. Official SF Fandom seems to be delving ever deeper into the “Brave New World” of 1984.

This is can only make their appeal more “selective” and seems highly unlikely to lead them to the sort of mindshare in the larger world that they might hope for.