Monday, February 29, 2016

The Egalitarian Fairy is Well and Truly Dead

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana

It's time for Americans in the SF/F community to admit that the great Egalitarian Experiment has failed. 

Stop. Wait. [deep breath] Let's start with the beginning...

Substantive change happens in waves. It cycles--particularly when that change involves larger, more complex, more entrenched issues like oppression. From the outside, this looks like humanity takes three steps forward and two steps back. We seem to be repeating the same mistakes. That's disheartening when you work for positive change. However, I've come to realize that progress is not a straight line. Progress is a loop. This is an important aspect of the learning process, and since we're discussing painful, harmful, problems, it's important to the healing process as well. Why I think this has to do with some of my core beliefs.

I choose to believe the Universe is beneficent and wants humanity to grow. (Think of it as enlightened self-interest.) Therefore, life is school, and the Universe is the teacher.  Each person has unique and valid lessons to learn in life.[1] Humanity learns best via trial and error. As a result, mistakes are an invaluable part of our education.[2] When we don't learn it the first time, the lesson is repeated. That repetition comes in a slightly more powerful form each time, until the Universe sends the Mac Truck of DOOM. And let me tell you, that truck can and will kick into reverse gear and back over you if you still refuse to learn. And that's why I look for patterns in my life and in the lives of others. I prefer to avoid DOOM.

Pattern recognition is essential to the function of the human brain.[3] As I see it, if I recognize the pattern, I can learn the lesson faster, and thus, avoid the DOOM. (No one likes DOOM.) I used to think I could see the pattern once and avoid repetition. Sadly, it doesn't work like that. The more complex and important the lesson, the more often it will repeat. This is because there are multiple distinctions to be gleaned--multiple layers surrounding the problem. And in my experience, sometimes that lesson will re-appear even after you're sure you've learned all there is to know. Sometimes the Universe checks your homework to make damned good and sure you remember what you were taught.

This learning process doesn't only happen on an individual level. It happens on the topmost level too. This is why history repeats itself. I used to think it was only because of the stupid people in the back of the class who didn't get the fucking memo.[4] I was wrong. Humanity is learning important distinctions. Progress is a loop. 

One of the lessons humanity is working on right now is oppression. Oppression is a system. As I've said before, it's not even a terribly creative one.[5] This leads us back to  the SFSignal post about Edgy SF. You know what's missing from that list? Every novel and story ever written by anyone who is not a white CIS male. That is a huge problem--not just because I'm a woman who writes and is sick of watching women who write and POCs who write and QLTBAG folks who write be dropped off these lists. I mean sure, I am angry about that but this is a bigger fucking problem. Let me repeat the statement at the very start of this post.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

That's the bigger problem. 

The larger issue isn't about one lone white dude with a beard who wanted to be seen as an expert didn't care enough to notice that his attempt to write about fiction he enjoys is filled with personal bias. It's a part. Sure. But it isn't a whole. The problem isn't only about how SFSignal failed to curate the post and fact-check it and that maybe it should start doing that.[6] Again, it's a part. But it isn't the whole. It's about the environment in which that post happened. It's about how Wikipedia has a bias. It's about how that bias is dangerous because Wikipedia is seen as an authoritative source among those who don't know any better.

With influence comes power and with power comes responsibility.

And this is why we have these creatures called 'professionals.' This is also why all information and entertainment can't be free. I know American Libertarianism worships the concept of self-starter voluntarism. "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!" You know what? I'll steal a retort from Donwon Song--that phrase used to mean doing the impossible. Since when did we start demanding the impossible as a matter of course? The first response from supporters of Wikipedia is "Don't like it? Volunteer! Change it yourself!" But creating positive change is hard, scary work. People who say that shit know it, otherwise they'd do the work in the first place without being asked. Doing things very, very well is hard to do--even things that one loves to do, and maybe now you see why there is a need to pay people for their work. Maybe now we can admit that this is why amateurs cannot hold the same level of respect as professionals. The work of expertise is too exhausting to do for free.

There's another, more awful, problem. One I'll point out now. The response: "Got a problem with it?! Fix it yourself!" puts the burden of change on the shoulders of the oppressed. It's a particularly vile variant of blaming the victim. This is why the traditional response to that statement is frustration, anger, and [gasp] NO CHANGE. The truth is, the oppressed group has enough on their hands merely coping with a system every day that is weaponized against them. They're fucking tired. They do not need the oppressor to sit on top and scream down about how they must work harder. That's like riding a platform being propelled by underlings and screaming that they belong under the platform because they can't both carry the platform forward AND work for their own freedom at exactly the same time. That's lazy, privileged, CRUEL, bullshit.

Egalitarianism does not exist without effort, regulation, and strict care from a neutral power. It's time to admit that. Sure. It should. But it doesn't. And pretending it does exist only makes the inequality worse whether you intend it to do so or not. This is why quotas were created. It isn't a perfect solution, but it is a hell of a lot better than nothing as we are relearning nowBias exists. It's time to not just admit that--it's fucking time to remember that. 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Wikipedia and sites like it are part of the collective memory. They have a responsibility to remember the truth.

One more helpful link, but I'm going to stop here and give credit where credit is due first. Charles Atan is my source for the main links for this post. He's one wise human. I recommend listening to him. Now, the last link for this post. It's called the Parable of the Polygons. Read it all the way through. Play with it. Think. Stop. And think some more.

We're all smarter than this. We all can get the memo. Our community doesn't need the DOOM. We need to make this change now. You know what? All the grumbling? That's the sound of the Universe's Mac Truck engine revving.
[1] My lessons may look like your lessons, but they are not exactly the same. Therefore, while I can learn from your lessons, and we can share helpful information, I cannot learn your lessons for you, nor you mine. 
[2] This is why it is unethical to take away a person's choice. You cannot stop people from making mistakes, nor should you. Life-threatening mistakes? Sure. Put a guardrail there. But any attempt to create 100% safety by outlawing all mistakes will inevitably end in evil.
[3] Don't believe me? See the science of perception.
[4] And this is why the Internet is such an important tool, y'all. We're getting the memo faster. We're sharing information in larger numbers.
[5] Keep in mind that the same philosophy about mistakes applies here. Individual groups are unique. Their individual group lessons surrounding oppression are valid and distinct. Dismiss that at your peril.
[6] Yes. They're volunteers. However, the piles of important rewards demonstrates that SFSignal is not just a small group of people playing around. IT'S BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY. And with that respect and POWER comes responsibility. It's time to own up.

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