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Sunday, April 14, 2013

To the Hugo Defenders: Check Your Financial Privilege at the Door

If you have been following the Hugo Awards discussion, then you'll be familiar with the various forms of this argument:  if you don't show up and do the work, then you should stop complaining.  In the Hugo discussion, it translates to the following:  you don't like how the awards work, but you don't bother to show up to the meetings, so your opinion is really irrelevant; if you don't like it, show up and change it...or STFU.

To illustrate, I present you some actual examples:

Firstly, the WSFS Business Meeting is entirely self-selected. It is not a representative body of any description : the people who participate are there entirely on their own recognizance, & the only opinions they can reasonably be expected to bring are their own. So, to expect them to “engage with wider debates,” when the people who consider themselves to be part of those “wider debates” don’t bother to come themselves, or to form committees & send delegates to represent their views (thus splitting among ten or twenty people what can be the problematic costs of attending a Worldcon), or to “engage” with the people who do attend in any other fashion than writing derisive comments about them on the Internet, seems a bit (to use your words) “self-serving”. 
And:
Want to be a SMOF? Volunteer to work on conventions. Come to Business Meetings. Get involved. Be competent. Convince others to vote for things you want. In short, cooperate with other people and show that you’re not a crank. But even that relatively low bar is too much for some people.
And (this one is actually ironic, since the WSFS system is not actually properly democratic):
I had complaints and gripes about the system. People told me how hard it was. They said, “Don’t bother.” I did it anyway, by the book and within the rules. Sometimes I lost, sometimes I won, but the fact that Democracy is Hard Work wasn’t by itself sufficient to discourage me. If you really think this is important enough, then do it already! Otherwise, I’ll continue to consider it whinging.
And:

So let me pose a hypothetical. You own an apartment in a building, or a flat for the British. And your complex has a management committee that sorts out things like communal gardens, upkeep, roof maintenance and the like. 
Typically these things are voted on and people take part. Would you feel just as entitled to moan about how decisions were taken if you’d never been to a meeting, never attended and done nothing other than write letters complaining about how everybody else did it? 
Because I’m sorry, that’s what I am seeing a lot of, and I see it pretty much every year, either complaining about the Hugos, or moaning about how expensive Worldcons are to attend and how unfair it is to charge so much. 
That can’t be helped. But as you point out, there’s a lot more to Fandom than the Worldcon and the Hugos. But just because you are a Fan, it doesn’t mean that that is a two way street.

These arguments are repeated over and over, defended ad naseum, and accepted by a select few as "the way things are, and the way things should be."  Jonathan McCalmont has called this a strategy of derailing and silencing.  I'm not convinced of the latter, but it is certainly a variation of the former.  At worst, it is a tactic used to devalue an entire subset of opinions by identifying them as "outside" a given arena of engagement, where only quality action occurs.  If you are not an attendee of that arena, your opinion is inherently worthless (or at least worth less than anyone who takes the time to follow the "proper channels").

These arguments should sound familiar in another sense, too:  they are often used against marginalized groups to de-legitimate civil disobedience.  I don't want to suggest that the folks speaking out about their frustration with the Hugos are a marginalized group; rather, I make this connection because I find it strange that a tactic of the immensely privileged has been re-purposed to marginalize "dissent," even when that dissent arrives from other privileged individuals (most of us are white males, after all).

The problem with this tactic is that it is completely impractical, and downright classist.  In an ideal world, you could easily verbally slap someone for bitching about something in which they take no part.  In that ideal world, we'd all have access to cheap and fast transportation.  In that ideal world, we'd all have Star Trek transporters in our living rooms.

But we do not live in that ideal world.  In a very real sense, we live in a far less ideal world than we lived in as little as 6 years ago, before the recession took its toll.  Many of us are making less than we ever did before, or aren't making anything at all.  Some of us are trying to get our degrees.  Still others live in parts of the world where the cost of transportation is prohibitively expensive -- hence why the World SF Travel Fund exists.

I happen to be attending Worldcon this year.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. I made more money in 2012 than I did in 2011.
  2. I will make close to the same amount in 2013, which means I won't have to stress over paying for summer this year or next.
  3. Worldcon is in San Antonio, which is reasonably close to where I live, and thus less expensive to fly to from my current city of residence.

If #1 and #2 weren't true, I wouldn't attend (and I'm not sure if I'd pay for a supporting membership).  For me, Worldcon is prohibitively expensive in general.  Maybe fortune will change that in the future.

Currently, I am both a graduate student at a major public university and adjunct faculty as a state college.  In terms of my finances, that means I receive a small stipend as a student and supplemental, non-guaranteed income from adjuncting (i.e., my course load is not fixed and I am paid by-the-class, rather than a standard salary).  Last semester, I worked roughly 80-100 hours a week to make enough money to qualify as lower middle class.  If you've lived as an LMC, you know that's not a lot of money (at least, not in the U.S.).  I am a fairly frugal person, so I tend to stretch my money moderately well to take small vacations and the like -- these are things I believe are crucial to keeping a clear head.  But even that is sometimes a little difficult to manage...

That I'm attending Worldcon this year is the result of luck and hard work.  I probably won't attend in 2014, unless I do not fulfill any of my academic duties (conferences, travel-based research, etc.).  I'm hoping that I can save up enough to do so, but the only reason I have the luxury is because I happen to live in a certain part of the world, where my $ has greater value.  This is not so for people from other parts of the world.

What these "attend the meetings or STFU" arguments expose is a profound sense of financial privilege, if not in actuality, then in mentality.  I don't know if the folks who go to the business meetings are better off than myself (financially), but the way they speak about the wider community seems to suggest that they think everyone else has that privilege, despite the rare moment when they acknowledge that attendance is not universally possible.  I hope this is not the mark of a more insidious ideology within the WSFS community.  Yet I can't help feeling that these arguments are made as an excuse to ignore what members of the wider community are saying.  Since we cannot voice our arguments at the actual meetings, we aren't worthy of the WSFS committee's ears.

That mentality has done more damage than its defenders probably realize (in part because I suspect they don't think this is the argument they are making).  The problem, as I see it, isn't that nobody wants to take the time to make change happen; rather, it's that people who express their opinion publicly -- particularly one that conflicts with the status quo -- feel marginalized, excluded, and denigrated by a subset of the community who has made their opinions perfectly clear:  you're not one of us; your opinion doesn't matter.

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38 comments:

  1. Great article Shaun!

    When I had my monster discussion of the Hugo Awards, I did try to raise the question of financial privilege but it was brushed aside on rather questionable grounds.

    We are just creeping out of a global recession that has left many younger people in a very unstable financial position. Having been lured into college with the promise of decent jobs, they're in debt up to their eyeballs and yet there are few jobs to be had.

    For these people (as well as the people who live outside of the developed world) going to Worldcon is not financially possible.

    Given the financial barriers to taking part in Worldcon and being able to attend the business meeting, I think we can look at the 'Go to the meeting of STFU' attitude as one drowning in the privileges of class, age and race.

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  2. Great piece Shaun!

    The other day, I looked through a few past debates that have been had about the Hugo Awards and I noticed that Kevin Standlee used to demand that people vote before criticising the results.

    However, when people (like me) started buying supporting memberships and making their own nominations, the discourse changed from 'Vote or STFU' to 'Attend the business meeting or STFU'.

    I think what we're seeing is a privileged elite seeking to limit the discourse to people who are members of that elite and when one of the major barriers to entry into that elite is financial you have a very serious cultural problem.

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  3. Thanks, Shaun.

    I think the counter-argument is "$50" (for a supporting membership) "isn't that much money".

    That is true to an extent, but to change the rules of the game, rather than just voting, the barrier to entry IS much higher.

    Especially with the world economy as it is, as Jonathan rightly says.

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  4. Not to mention that the entire argument flies in the face of the whole "this is a democracy" thing. If it were an actual democracy, people could petition for amendments and have them put on the ballot...and they wouldn't have to pay for the right to vote, either.

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  5. Now I believe I'm a fairly active member of fandom, but $50 is not economically feasible for me right now since I'm one of those young people who was lured to college only to come out the other end with an apocalyptic job market (actually apocalyptic would be better; I could be a traveling bard or skull cracker then; they have a union). And unless Worldcon takes place in Minneapolis, I doubt I'll ever make one. There is a serious amount of elite speak going on right now, and it's very bothersome.

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  6. I'm fortunate that I get to vote again, since I payed for a membership this year (that's how I think it works). But I'm with you, Adam. In another year or two, I don't know where I'll be financially, since I will have graduated. It's likely I won't have a steady job, particularly since academia is changing so radically in the U.S. -- and not for the better.

    So, you and I are both bothered by the elite speak...

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  7. Unless we accept that everything that costs money is elitist, and that's not a position I've really held since I was a teenager, I have a real problem with your central thesis.

    I've been an 'out' SF fan since my university days 25 years or so ago. I've been attending conventions on and off at a local level for 20 of those, and in all that time I've done 4 Worldcons, 3 of which have been in the last 3 years. Mostly because I could afford to attend and business travel in 2 of those years put me in the right place at the right time. Some of the people I know who do attend are pretty damn far from being well off and survive at the conventions because the systems in place make sure they're fed and watered and looked after... why? Because that's kinda what fans are mostly like.

    Is it unfair that money is a gating criteria? Yes. Yes it is. As it is unfair that I can't have a Bugati Varon, or pay for a ticket on Virgin Galatic, or buy a house where I really want one. If you want to make a class argument that from a purely socialist perspective this is wrong, then go ahead, but the 1970s and 80s are over there and we lost.

    Participation in the organisation and operation of a body representing the opinions of thousands of people worldwide needs to involve physical presence. OTOH - its not outside the realm of possibility to come up with ways to extend voter participation in WSFS matters to those that can't physically attend. In fact, one of the people Jonathon accused of silencing and derailing has made a proposal designed to do that. But it does require engagement and interaction with all the people who've been quietly doing the paperwork and getting crap done for decades just for the shear hell of it.

    I offered to help try to formulate something that could help bridge some of the problems and got shot down for it. If people don't want to get involved, don't want to try to work with people for a solution, then race, age and class have bugger all to do with it.

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  8. OTOH - its not outside the realm of possibility to come up with ways to extend voter participation in WSFS matters to those that can't physically attend

    Possibly, but to get that change done, people *would* have to physically attend to change the rules already in place. Which costs time and money. So its a nicely theoretical concept that can safely not come to pass.

    Yes, everything costs money, but the amount of money that this costs is at odds with what the Hugo Awards are held up and purport to be.

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  9. "Unless we accept that everything that costs money is elitist, and that's not a position I've really held since I was a teenager..."

    I didn't argue this point because it is absurd.. In fact, what I was arguing was that any individual who tells me that my voice has no inherit value because I do not attend the meetings without acknowledging that some of us are not financially capable of actively participating in them is elitist. It's fine if the people behind it want to admit that they are, in fact, classist, but they don't; instead, they frequently say that the system is a democracy and that it's hard work, etc. etc. etc. In its current form, it is not a democracy. It is an old boy's club where only those with some degree of financial means are able to attend. Sorry, but I could never have attended 4 Worldcons in the 10 years I've been seriously active in this community. I have never had the financial ability to do so. Why should that have anything to do with whether my opinions on the Hugos have any value?

    I realize that physical participation is important, and I agree that, in principle, one should actively work within the system to make changes. But that only works in an ideal world. In reality, when people say that you should put up or shut up, they are telling those who can't attend for physical and/or financial reasons, and thus cannot actively engage in the process to affect change, that their voices are without inherent value. Put up or shut up is little more than a derailing tactic to justify privilege.

    While you can say that folks at the conventions are full of niceness and everything, there's clearly no effort on their part to bring in financially disadvantaged people (or even folks who are disadvantaged because of distance) who want to participate. Instead, those people are told to STFU. That is elitist as hell.

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  10. It's also worth noting that the barrier to entry into the discussion has increased quite a bit since I started interacting with the field about 10 years or so ago.

    It used to be that WSFS people demanded that you be at least a supporting member because you dared to complain about the Hugo Awards Online.

    However, now that people are becoming supporting members and criticising the Hugo Awards the barrier to entry appears to be that you not only attend Worldcon in person but become involved in the WSFS.

    Setting aside the fact that people like Standlee are quite obviously moving the goalposts in an effort to silence absolutely everyone, the suggestion is that the Hugo Awards exist solely for the people who help administer them.

    I have no problem with this but if the Hugo Awards want to be a rinkydink con award then they should be completely up-front and cease all pretense that they are in any way central to the field.

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  11. I apologize if my injection of facts of which I'm aware and opinions of which are my own are "policing the discussion."

    I think that direct democracy does work the way WSFS is run. (Actually, WSFS is run like the provisional republic of Free Luna was in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I wonder if Heinlein ever attended a WSFS Business Meeting?) Perhaps you would like to replace it with a representative democracy, where the entire membership of the organization could vote on a Board of Directors (or other governing body), without having to actually attend the organization's meetings or conventions, and could participate from the comfort of their homes? I'm not being sarcastic. It's not impossible; it's just extraordinarily difficult, for historical reasons that go back before I was born and that I will explain if you want me to do so.

    I think that the proposal I have floated more than once to replace the ratification stage of amendments to the WSFS Constitution (including the Hugo Award rules) with a vote of the entire membership is at least potentially something the Business Meeting could be convinced to do. I'm not saying that it's easy; I'm saying that it's possible, and that I've worked out what I consider the practical details so that such a a process could actually work. It's not academic. In fact, it's based on one of the ways that constitution of the State of California can be amended: the legislature passes; the people ratify.

    Produce a workable, practical proposal and you will almost certainly be able to find people who will carry it to the Business Meeting for you. Whether it will pass is a different question entirely.

    Attacking the people most likely to be able to actually cause things to change is not a particularly practical way of getting things to change the way you want it.

    I personally will be opposing a proposal that I expect to be on the agenda this year to establish a minimum price for a membership that includes voting rights. Clearly, I'm invested heavily in keeping people with limited financial resources out of the game. (And yes, that last was sarcasm, unlike just about everything else I've said here.)

    If Jonathan can come up with a quote with my name on it that says that "anyone who can't personally attend the Business Meeting should STFU," as he claims, I will apologize here, on my LJ, and even on his blog if he wants me to do so. Since I didn't say that, I don't mind making such a promise.

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  12. Kevin: "If Jonathan can come up with a quote with my name on it that says that "anyone who can't personally attend the Business Meeting should STFU," as he claims, I will apologize here, on my LJ, and even on his blog if he wants me to do so. Since I didn't say that, I don't mind making such a promise."

    One of the quotes in my post is from you. I expect an apology.

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  13. Produce a workable, practical proposal and you will almost certainly be able to find people who will carry it to the Business Meeting for you

    Well, possibly, Kevin, but without actually having boots on the ground, that is admittedly harder to get something done and realize change. Possibly to the point of it being a barrier qua barrier to avoid change.

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  14. Shaun: I never said "STFU." Nothing I said told him (or you) to "shut up." That you choose to interpret my trying to show you where the levers of power are and how you can affect change is not, in my opinion, telling you to "shut up."

    Quote my my exact words where I told you (or anyone) to "shut up." (I think I may have said, "Oh, grow up," however.) Considering what someone says is whinging isn't telling them to shut up. It's saying that I don't consider the opinion very worthwhile. Can't you see the difference?

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  15. Paul: Actually, I'm more sympathetic to what you say there than you my believe. Second-order actors (such as you) have a harder row to hoe than those who can show up in person and represent themselves. Similarly, as I'm relocating to Nevada, it's going to be much more difficult to have much of a voice in the affairs of the Bay Area Science Fiction Society, which meets in person every Monday night in the Bay Area. Part of that is just life, and life is not fair.

    What I called above "second-order actors" can only make change happen by persuading those people who are going to be boots-on-the-ground that they should Do Something. And if you think that's not possible, then I point you at the work done to not only prevent the removal of the Semiprozine Hugo category (which included people who couldn't go to Montreal for the vote talking to people who could and persuading them to show up and vote down the proposal's ratification), but also working (online, even) to come up with a proposal that, while not perfect, is probably better than what we had before.

    Key point: Practicality. It's okay to pontificate about ideal situations, but when it comes down to it, you have to refine lofty statements (e.g. the United States Declaration of Independence) into something that actually works (such as the United States Constitution). This requires hard and sometimes rather boring work and trying to work with people with whom you don't necessarily agree. I'm more than willing to work with people who want to try that, but they have to learn things like "compromise" and "practicality," and "reasonableness." I swear that I don't mean this sarcastically.

    I guess it's hard for people to look at me and believe that I was the Angry Young Fan once, but I was. And in fact, I have worked to make a whole lot of changes that make the process more open and easier to access. But it's all been incremental changes, not revolutionary ones, and therefore they're a little hard to see.

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  16. "Considering what someone says is whinging isn't telling them to shut up. It's saying that I don't consider the opinion very worthwhile. Can't you see the difference?"

    Thank you for proving the content of my post as accurate.

    That you cannot tell the difference between a de facto implication and a word-for-word utterance is not surprising. This goes back to the foundation of this entire discussion. Unless we become involved in the inner sanctum, our views are inherently worthless, despite the unrealistic nature of such a barrier to entry. Thus, accusations of people just "whinging" because they "don't want to get involved" or don't know "where the levers of power are" are, in effect, little more than gestures implying that one should be quiet if you can't put your "money" where your "mouth" is.

    Thus, pay up or STFU. Or, more accurately, pay up or you're just a whiny bitch. The effect is not really any different, considering the historical use of the latter to de-legitimate the opinions of others. Jonathan may not be so incorrect when he calls this an act of silencing...

    Hopefully the irony of all of this is not lost on everyone...

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  17. Shaun:

    I understand what you're saying without agreeing with it, which is a distinction I hope you understand.

    In fact, I respect Jonathan for having decided to put up or shut up by actually joining WSFS and participating in the Hugo voting process. To me, that gives his criticisms of the results more credibility. I hereby apologize if anything I wrote could be considered otherwise.

    As a member of WSFS, Jonathan actually has the right (which is unusual for many societies that govern themselves primarily through what the British would call an AGM) to submit proposals to the WSFS Business Meeting of the Worldcon of which he is a member, assuming that out of 5000 or so other members he can get one of them (who also need not be present) to second it. But, and I agree that it's a high procedural barrier, when you're not there to debate your own proposals in person, it's pretty difficult to persuade the people who are there. The best you can do is to try and convince enough people who are going to be there to go and support your position. I've been on both sides of that, both as the person doing the persuading and the one that someone is trying to persuade.

    The structural barriers are large, but the are not insurmountable if your idea is sufficiently persuasive If it were impossible to have any change at all, there would still be only one dramatic presentation category, no graphic story category at all (flawed as the current one may be to some), and only two or three (or maybe only one) written-fiction Hugo Award category.

    I would not say that "[your] views are inherently worthless." I would say, however, that showing up in the discussion and demanding immediate and dramatic change and expecting everyone who has already been involved to take you seriously is, shall we say, a touch idealistic. That's not a specific characteristic of Worldcon; that's just human nature.

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  18. It's fine if the people behind it want to admit that they are, in fact, classist, but they don't; instead, they frequently say that the system is a democracy and that it's hard work, etc. etc. etc. In its current form, it is not a democracy. It is an old boy's club where only those with some degree of financial means are able to attend.

    And that hasn't changed in the 25 years I've been active in fannish things, and probably isn't going to change in the next 25 years either. As long as the Hugo Awards remain tied to the Worldcon, and that is something that honestly isn't going to change, then this will ALWAYS be the case.

    This is hardly unique to SF. You want sticker shock, get involved in a web standards body or a professional technology organisation and get back to me. You mentioned academia - try doing that without an institution behind you and it's even worse. Are those things classist and elitist? Yes, I suppose they are. But they are for pretty good reasons.

    Sorry, but I could never have attended 4 Worldcons in the 10 years I've been seriously active in this community. I have never had the financial ability to do so. Why should that have anything to do with whether my opinions on the Hugos have any value?

    In the first 10 years I was seriously active in the SF community I attended exactly zero Worldcons, I did 3 or 4 local conventions where I'd skip sleeping or use a friendly piece of floor.

    In fact, I didn't attend a Worldcon until nearly 19 years after I first got involved in SF Fannish stuff. I couldn't afford it, wasn't practical, even though in that period there had been 2 UK Worldcons that theoretically I could have got to, I couldn't afford to stay at the them or pay the membership. In that period I was left almost bankrupted by a divorce and homeless by a business failure. I couldn't do much convention stuff then either. OTOH I know people who make almost every Worldcon who are extremely tight for money but they organize their entire lives around them.

    Kevin is correct, there are those that do attend that are prepared to 'carry water' for those that don't attend. Is it ideal? Nope, is it the best that can be done? Yes. Assuming you actually want to work within the existing framework of the Awards and not have something completely different that isn't the Hugos.

    Yes, everything costs money, but the amount of money that this costs is at odds with what the Hugo Awards are held up and purport to be.

    It is? The Hugo Awards are the award of the Worldcon. I think the problem is that other people are placing something more on the badge and getting annoyed about it.

    But that only works in an ideal world. In reality, when people say that you should put up or shut up, they are telling those who can't attend for physical and/or financial reasons, and thus cannot actively engage in the process to affect change, that their voices are without inherent value. Put up or shut up is little more than a derailing tactic to justify privilege.

    Two things occur. First: Several people, Kevin Standlee and Andrew Trembly to name two have offered to help and 'carry water' on this subject. I have not offered. When I do go to Worldcons I don't do the Business Meeting and don't want to start and as I don't think the Hugos are anymore broken than they have been at any point in the last 50 or so years, I don't want to.

    Second. Unless you try to engage, however you can, you don't have a voice in the management of the Awards. That isn't a derailing tactic, it is not a justification of privilege, it is a statement of fact.

    The WSFS is under zero obligation to you and your status as a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy gives you zero entitlement to anything in return. I'm sorry if that is harsh. But it's also a fact.

    I'll say something else harsh too. Even if you engage, you might not get what you want. But at least you're more likely to.

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  19. BTW - some people I linked your blog to are getting a JS malware error from Windows Defender. You might want to look at that.

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  20. Dave: Fred Kietsche said he got the same warning, but his search came up with nothing. I have no idea where it is coming from. Google ran a check and came up blank.

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  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. If anyone gets any more information on the malware thing, please let me know. I will respond to other comments in a few hours, as I need to go do this weird thing called vote :P

    Will respond with a more measured voice, as new comments have a lot more going on in them that I think are worth considering. Sorry for the inconvenience of time and the weird malware stuff.

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  23. Kevin:

    "In fact, I respect Jonathan for having decided to put up or shut up by actually joining WSFS and participating in the Hugo voting process. To me, that gives his criticisms of the results more credibility. I hereby apologize if anything I wrote could be considered otherwise."

    You do realize that with this particular section of your comment, you've just contradicted what you said earlier, yes?

    I also think you misunderstand what much of the bluster is about. Most of us aren't demanding immediate and dramatic change. We're identifying problems, new and persistent, that the Hugos present, often without much in the way of punch pulling. Because at the end of the day, this is the award that represents the fields, and if you disagree with the function of that award, you likely fundamentally disagree with its representative function. Some of us don't have solutions, because we don't have the inside scoop on how the award functions, but that doesn't make our voices less relevant (unless, of course, we are admitting that the Hugo is not a fan award, but a club award, in which case its representative function is technically false advertisement). Attacking dissenters (to use that word loosely) for not getting involved on the "legislative" level, or otherwise trying to de-legitimate their criticisms through the kinds of things that have been discussed in my post and in the comments, is unlikely to convince people to get involved.

    But the point I'm making, which you say you understand, is that all this talk about showing up and doing the work is nice, but it is not a reasonable expectation, even if by "showing up" you have someone else represent you. These are barriers to entry, and difficult ones to manage when your financial means limit your access to both the spaces for action or the individuals themselves (Internet access not being quite as ubiquitous across the globe as we would like). Even where Internet access is easily accessible, I think the tone and content of your comments on this subject have made it clear that unless you are actually actively involved in the "proper channels," you're unlikely to affect change anyway. That perception is perhaps why Jonathan has said, multiple times, that the committees that manage the Hugos appear openly hostile to the notion of change.

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  24. Daveon:

    Just a note on academia -- it depends which field you're in. In my field, you can function outside of an institution well enough. This is obviously less likely in the hard sciences.

    On that front, I think you misunderstand my use of the terms, classist and elitist. In the context of this discussion, it has become apparent that the managing body of the Hugos is imagined as democratic -- similar sentiments are held for the Hugos themselves. Kevin has stated this numerous times as support for his position. The problem is that it is not democratic except in the most rudimentary, meaningless sense. The general voting populace gets no say about the rules or function of the Hugos ("legally"), as it does not vote on these matters (or even some of them), and the general voting populace itself is made up only of those who paid for entry. Additionally, to become a part of the legislative body of this group, one must take on further financial burdens, and, thus, an additional barrier for entry. Thus, someone like myself, who is not physically capable of attending any which way I please, is immediately denied entry to a supposedly democratic body for classist reasons. This would be like levying a poll tax that would prevent mostly poor people from being able to have a say.

    If this perception is a false one (i.e., Kevin is false to identify the Hugos and its managing body as democratic), then we can go to the default position: it is an elitist club (in the traditional sense) and the rather vehement pushback by members within it are markers of a legislative body seemingly openly hostile to criticism from the outside (or at least from criticism from the semi-outside, as the position of voters would change in this new dynamic). I'm find with that, as long as we're honest and up front about it. But so long as there is the pretext of democratic function, whose primary mode is discussion, then the only reasonable criticisms of the positions being taken by me, Justin, Jonathan, and others are ones that directly address the criticism themselves. As it currently stands, that is not the discursive method being used.

    "It is? The Hugo Awards are the award of the Worldcon. I think the problem is that other people are placing something more on the badge and getting annoyed about it."

    The Hugos are routinely discussed within and outside our community as the single most important award we have to offer. From what I can tell, there is no effort on the part of the Hugos-in-action or the committees that govern it to change that perception by publicly declaring something counter to the public perception. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The Hugos seems perfectly content as the single most important award in our community -- as a representative of the "best" and "a fan award" and so on and so forth.

    I suppose it is fair to say that the public at large has sufficiently clouded this issue, though.

    "Second. Unless you try to engage, however you can, you don't have a voice in the management of the Awards. That isn't a derailing tactic, it is not a justification of privilege, it is a statement of fact."

    This presumes that none of us are engaging by writing blog posts, having podcast discussions, and so on and so forth. So long as the above holds true -- Kevin's notion of democracy -- then all of what we're doing is a form of engagement.

    "The WSFS is under zero obligation to you and your status as a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy gives you zero entitlement to anything in return. I'm sorry if that is harsh. But it's also a fact."

    And if this is the consensus among WSFS people, then Justin Landon's opinion on the Hugos is not far off the mark, to be honest.

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  25. "You do realize that with this particular section of your comment, you've just contradicted what you said earlier, yes?"

    Only because you insist on willfully misinterpreting what I said and imposing your own meaning on them.

    Look, let me try another analogy, although I realize that these analogies seem to go right over people's heads:

    As a citizen of the USA, if I don't vote in my elections, I think that I have given up my moral right to complain about my government. But since I always do vote (and don't always get the candidate or issue I want), I can complain all I want. That's what you might call "level 1."

    To affect a lot more change requires a vast amount of extra work, starting with interacting with my elected officials, and working clear up to spearheading initiative drives (assuming I live in a jurisdiction that allows them) or even running for office myself. Every one of those steps requires progressively more work. The same is true of any organization.

    Jonathan is on the first rung of that ladder by actually voting.

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  26. "...we are admitting that the Hugo is not a fan award..."

    Here's where you are making a completely fundamental mistake of assuming that because you are a science fiction fan, it is the absolute requirement of The Hugo Awards to represent All Science Fiction Fans Everywhere in the Entire World Absolutely And Without any Reservation whatsoever. You're wrong. You're categorically and absolutely wrong.

    I wrote about this at extensive length in my LiveJournal, but the conclusion is what you're missing:

    "Being a resident of Science Fiction Fandom does not make you a citizen of the World Science Fiction Society."

    (I was making the analogy between residency and citizenship in mundane politics.)

    The "citizens" of the World Science Fiction Society are all "residents" of SF fandom, but not every "resident" of SF fandom is a "citizen" of WSFS.

    The Hugo Award is not and never has been and I don't think ever can or will be "an award selected by All Science Fiction Fans Everywhere in the Entire World." It is an award presented by the World Science Fiction Society. It's probably one of the most prestigious awards in the field of SF/F, and among the oldest, but it's not an award that's selected by anyone in the entire world who considers him/herself an SF fan. And you're being completely unreasonable if you insist that it should be such an award.

    Anyone who thinks that s/he can create an Award Presented by Every Science Fiction & Fantasy Fan en the Entire World is welcome to go out and do so. WSFS has never tried. I sure would never try, because it's utterly impossible to do so.

    What I really don't understand is why this makes you so unhappy? Is it because you somehow assume that "prestige" and "number of people participating" are directly related to each other? If that were the case, the People's Choice Awards would be far more prestigious than the Oscars. "Prestige" and "Size of Electorate" are different descriptors, like "size" and "color."

    If you really dislike the Blue Award because it doesn't weigh 20 kg, you're welcome to go present the 20 kg Awards yourself.

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  27. "Only because you insist on willfully misinterpreting what I said and imposing your own meaning on them."

    It's quite difficult to willfully misinterpret words that are so direct. If you don't mean what you say, that's one thing, but it's impossible for me to know what you actually mean to write. I can only go on what is in your words.

    "As a citizen of the USA, if I don't vote in my elections, I think that I have given up my moral right to complain about my government. But since I always do vote (and don't always get the candidate or issue I want), I can complain all I want. That's what you might call "level 1.""

    This analogy only works if I have to pay for my voting right in a U.S. election. I don't.

    Likewise, even if we take this analogy as relevant, it falls apart once you take into account that no aspect of the Hugos short of voting for what appears on the list is ever made available to the voting body at large. In our own democracy, I frequently get to vote on Amendments, laws, and so on. That does not exist for the Hugos.

    Regardless, comparing the Hugos to a democracy is already fallacious, as it does not operate as a proper democracy from the very beginning. At best, this is an equivocation.

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  28. Shaun, you go on at length saying that the fact that the members (who had to pay) are the only ones who get any voice in the World Science Fiction Society's affairs isn't "democracy." You have a fundamentally different view of the world if you think that only bodies where anyone, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstance whatsoever should be given the franchise.

    Do you think it would be reasonable of me to demand the right to vote in British parliamentary elections? (I am, as I write this, a citizen of California, USA, although in a few weeks I'm moving to Nevada and will re-register there.) After all, by your lights as you seem to state them, unless anyone anywhere, anytime gets to have a vote, then it's not "democracy."

    If you really believe this, and aren't just winding us up, I would say that you are hopelessly idealistic. Again, see my LJ post On Democracy for an even longer elaboration of how I think the real world works.

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  29. "Here's where you are making a completely fundamental mistake of assuming that because you are a science fiction fan, it is the absolute requirement of The Hugo Awards to represent All Science Fiction Fans Everywhere in the Entire World Absolutely And Without any Reservation whatsoever. You're wrong. You're categorically and absolutely wrong."

    This is not my narrative, Kevin. I was pretty explicit about that. I reject that narrative on its face, because it is absolutely false.

    "Being a resident of Science Fiction Fandom does not make you a citizen of the World Science Fiction Society."

    That's fine, then it is neither a "fan" award, nor a reflection of "the best." It is simply a reflection of what the people who happened to pay to gain entry to the "voting pool" happened to like that year. In which case, we're back where Justin's post took us when he started all this.

    "What I really don't understand is why this makes you so unhappy?"

    I think the content of my post makes my discomfort with the whole situation quite clear. I have nothing against the way the Hugos are managed, in general, except insofar as I see issues with certain categories, how the voting blocks function, etc. My problem is with the tone of the conversation when people express their dislike or discomfort or annoyance or whatever with the results, the function, and so on (in regards to the Hugo).

    While I take you on faith that you in no way intend to present a negative tone throughout the conversation, that is the general perception most of us have felt with regards to the criticism offered by Justin, Jonathan, and, to a lesser degree, myself. Rhetoric is important for engagement, and when the rhetoric is off-putting, well, you can understand why people who see that get a sour taste in their mouths.

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  30. "Likewise, even if we take this analogy as relevant, it falls apart once you take into account that no aspect of the Hugos short of voting for what appears on the list is ever made available to the voting body at large. In our own democracy, I frequently get to vote on Amendments, laws, and so on. That does not exist for the Hugos."

    Believe it or not, I'm in sympathy with this. I hope someday to convince WSFS to give the ratification stage to a general vote of the membership.

    "Regardless, comparing the Hugos to a democracy is already fallacious, as it does not operate as a proper democracy from the very beginning."

    Nonsense. You're using "democracy" to mean "anyone, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances whatsoever can participate." That's not true and it never has been true of any democratic society.

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  31. 'then it is neither a "fan" award, nor a reflection of "the best."'

    By your criteria, then there is no such thing as a "fan" award, nor can there ever be anything that could ever be "the best," because there is no objective criteria for either of these things.

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  32. "Believe it or not, I'm in sympathy with this. I hope someday to convince WSFS to give the ratification stage to a general vote of the membership."

    Personally, I think this would be a very good thing indeed.

    "Nonsense. You're using "democracy" to mean "anyone, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances whatsoever can participate." That's not true and it never has been true of any democratic society."

    Not quite. I take democracy to mean exactly the same basic concept you have cited numerous time: as it relates in the contemporary moment, in which one's access to the voting booth is not determined by their pocketbook. This is how a great many of the democracies (we're using this word in its contemporary meaning, of course, since there are no real democracies today) function.

    A democratic analogy just doesn't hold, because it never approaches a 1-to-1 relation. One doesn't get to vote in the U.S. unless they are a citizen, sure, but the Hugos are voted on by people who buy their membership, as nobody is, as you've already said, naturally a "citizen" of the WSFS. In its current form, I don't think the Hugos can ever be properly democratic.

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  33. "By your criteria, then there is no such thing as a "fan" award, nor can there ever be anything that could ever be "the best," because there is no objective criteria for either of these things."

    No, there is no objective criteria for "the best." The statement always requires qualification. "The best according to X" or "The best according to these sets of core values, which our selections reflect." You'll never get anything entirely objective, of course, but there you go.

    I treat "fan" the same way I treat "science fiction." There's no proper definition, except a necessarily broad one. I know a fan when I see one, as it were. Or, rather, I know a fan when they tell me they are a fan...

    But I'm wandering, so...

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  34. "The statement always requires qualification."

    Fair enough. Would it make you happier if the Hugo Awards were billed as "The best works in the field of science fiction and fantasy as determined by the members of the World Science Fiction Society who participated in the selection process"?

    (Don't expect many people to use that long description, though.)

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  35. I'm not convinced there's an easy way to fix the perception of the Hugos except by opening up the nominations process to a wider selection of people, which will, I think, mitigate the apparent conservatism in certain categories. But that's a big change that I'm not convinced will ever take place.

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  36. "I'm not convinced there's an easy way to fix the perception of the Hugos...."

    I won't dispute that: it's a statement of opinion, not fact, so not subject to refutation.

    But if that's the case, those people who think that:

    (a) there is a need for broad-based award for SF/F and

    (b) The Hugo Awards neither fill this need nor ever will do so as currently constituted

    will fill this need should go forth and create their own award. I'm not being sarcastic and never have been on this subject. I used to be one of the associate editors at SF AwardsWatch, and there are plenty of awards in the field, but there's nobody out there saying, "You can't set up a new one." You just can't call it the "Hugo Award" because someone else owns the name.

    I want people who think the Hugos are irretrievably broken to go out and do better if they think that they can do so. More power to them.! What I don't want is for them to go trading on the work that other people have done for 60 years. Do you see the distinction I'm making here?

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  37. Kevin --

    "Those people who think that:

    (a) there is a need for broad-based award for SF/F and

    (b) The Hugo Awards neither fill this need nor ever will do so as currently constituted

    will fill this need should go forth and create their own award."

    It sounds to me as though you're quite content to have the Hugo Awards be seen primarily as a club award on the understanding that the club is seen as being open to anyone who wants to get involved. Would that be a fair assessment?

    My problem with a lot of this discussion is that I see the Hugo Awards as being central to the field in the sense that they're a shared cultural space that draws the attention of all the various sub-cultures and cliques that make up the field.

    Because the Hugo Awards occupy a central place in the field, I think it's unavoidable that they're going to attract negative opinions and that people in less central sub-cultural pockets will not be happy with various aspects of it. However, because the Hugo Awards are central to the field, that negative attention is unavoidable... it's the price you pay for visibility and prestige.

    If you, personally, are quite content with the Hugo Awards being seen as just one of many fan awards then your behaviour makes perfect sense because if I'm not a part of your sub-culture then it's really none of my business what the Hugo Awards do and there are plenty of awards out there as you say.

    If you are accepting this vision of the Hugo Awards then that's fine but would you not also accept that not everyone sees the Hugo Awards as just a regional fan award voted for by a bunch of aging trad con-going fans? The language of the Hugo Award itself speaks of universality and the posts on my blog spoke of fandom hunting me down across continents and press-ganging me into greater levels of involvement, hardly an attitude commensurate with the more isolationist stance you seem to be adopting.

    My fear is that you're wanting to have your cake and eat it too: When it comes to discussing the Hugos, you want everyone to treat it as a small regional fan award that's really not any of the wider community's business. HOWEVER, when it comes to the cultural prestige of the Hugo Awards then OF COURSE they are absolutely central to the field.

    I don't think that those two positions are coherent. You can't be inclusive when it comes to praise and exclusive when it comes to criticism... either you allow the wider community to be invested in the Hugo Awards or you don't.

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  38. Kevin: Sorry, one of your comments got lost in my queue for some reason (it's the earlier one that is a response to my response to your democracy thing -- round and round). No idea what happened there.

    As a brief response to that:

    The problem with your use of the democracy line is that almost all democracies have a naturalistic function for its originating voting population. I can vote in America, without cost to me, because I was born here (others were granted citizenship because they were refugees, etc.). While there are processes one must go through to be able to vote in another country, those are external, cross-pollinating processes.

    So the problem with your analogy is that the WSFS has _no_ naturalistic function for determining citizenship. The _only_ way to become a citizen is to pay, which means we've gone from a proper democracy to a club. If the WSFS were a democracy in the sense that we mean here, you would have to go through a number of processes:

    1) Provide a set of conditions that determine who is naturally a part of the WSFS.
    2) Open voting to all those individuals with no fee to entry.

    I think it's clear from our discussions that these are unlikely to happen, perhaps for good reason.

    If you think I believe democracy is "anyone anywhere, anytime," you misunderstand what I am talking about.

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