lydy: (Default)
[personal profile] lydy
Slightly edited from comments I posted on File 770:


The biggest objection to Steven's statement at Opening Ceremonies was not about content, but about context. Context controls meaning. "How are you?" can be a polite place holder, the opening to a bit of small talk, or an invitation to talk about something serious going on in your life. Opening Ceremonies is a time for the staff of the convention to welcome people, thank people, provide some administrivia, and set the tone. It is not a time for conversations. Those happen later in the convention. It is supposed to be a feel-good half hour to ease people into the space that Fourth Street wants to create. What Steven did was an abuse of power in several different ways. In the first place, possibly inadvertently, he made it sound like his particular issue was, in fact, Fourth Street policy. I'm not sure what it says about Steven that he didn't understand before it was pointed out to him. I can think of both charitable and uncharitable explanations, but it really doesn't matter. What matters is what he did.

Although Steven claimed to be trying to start a conversation, everything about his action was designed to shut down conversation, rather than open it up. He spoke from the dias, at an event which is designed as a presentation, from a written speech. It should also be noted that Fourth Street has a single track of programming, most of the convention was at Opening Ceremonies, and probably 20% of the attendees were new to the convention. The fact that several people questioned Steven and pushed back at his behavior is not to his credit. Instead, it underscores how completely outside accepted norms his behavior was. It was sufficiently upsetting that numerous people broke the semiotic frame to challenge him. Alex, also sitting on the dias, could see people being visibly upset, some in tears. Her decision to shut Steven down was probably based, in part, on watching the damage he was doing happen in front of her eyes. If she did it less than gracefully, again, think about the frame. And think about the fact that this was completely unexpected. It is rare for the Safety Coordinator to have to operate in crisis mode. Usually, we are notified of harassment well after the fact, well after the actual crisis is past. This, this was happening right in front of her eyes.

The specific language that Steven chose, most especially "safe space", appeared to be carefully designed to undermine an entire department of the convention. Fourth Street uses the safety model, they have a Safety Coordinator, and they are doing a pretty good job of addressing issues of harassment and bias in the convention. To have someone, from the dias, in a presentation, essentially say, "These are not really Fourth Street's values," was shocking and unacceptable. If, as I gather elsewhere, this was the result of Steven losing an internal political battle, my god was this not the appropriate response.

I prefer to use consent as a model for dealing with crappy behavior in conventions. Using this model, what Steven did was completely beyond the pale. He foisted on an unsuspecting and unconsenting audience and incredibly complicated and uncomfortable topic, and did it in such a way that objecting was very hard, and conversation nearly impossible. Let's say you want to, for example, have a conversation about whether old white guys should be allowed to bang on about cultural appropriation. If it is on the schedule, clearly marked, and the panelists identified, a body could make an intelligent choice about whether or not one wanted to have that conversation. Or a body could decide that they don't have enough spoons for that particular conversation, and not go. It is not ok to try to force other people to talk about the things you want to talk about.

It should also be noted that there are conversations that are not valuable. No one needs to have another conversation about whether or not the Nazis were right about the danger of Jewry destroying Western Europe. No one needs to have another conversation about whether Jim Crow was maybe a good thing for colored people. These conversations give oxygen to toxic concepts, and yield no light. Fourth Street may well decide that some conversations are not likely to yield much enlightenment, but likely to cause actual hurt to attendees. This is not avoiding difficult concepts, this is properly budgeting time. There's a limited amount of Fourth street, an infinity of really cool things to talk about, and I get down on my knees in gratitude to editors who are good at their jobs.

Terms of Art:

I would like to point out that “safe space” is neither a literal nor a metaphorical phrase. It is a term of art, coming out of various complex discussions about how to deal with racism, sexism, and kierarchy. Like the term “positive reinforcement” which, in operant conditioning, doesn’t mean what you think it means, “safe space” has a specific, technical meaning. And the attempt to treat it as either literal or metaphorical completely misses the point. Deliberately so, in most cases.

I have problems with using the term safety to discuss harassment and its attendant issues. However, I am really, really annoyed at the people who use the term “safe space” as a stick to beat people doing real work. And seriously, pretending I don’t know what metaphor is is just not on.

In its most basic sense, “safe space” just means a place where we don’t have to have 101 conversations. A safe space for women means not having to constantly explain why we are fully human, not having to do the work of explaining why harassment is bad. A safe space for people of color means much the same, a space where people of color don’t have to explain their life and experiences and reassure the anxious white people around them. Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is, in point of fact, a “safe space” for fantasists, a place where writers and readers don’t have to explain why this stuff is important, don’t have to justify their passion for fantasy. That conversation is very much off the table.

Term of art, for fuck’s sake. It really chaps my ass to watch people attempt to abuse language in this fashion, especially people who claim to be professional writers. Sententiously insisting that they are speaking metaphorically, while simultaneously insisting that other people are speaking literally.

Language does weird shit, especially when you try to create precise terms. Writers do weird shit to language; it is their stock in trade. Pay some fucking attention. The language is going at right angles again. Like it does. All the fucking time.

Date: 2017-06-28 04:37 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

"Free speech and expression of ideas," as it is being pushed by some free speech nuts, is a red herring. 4th Street Isn't supposed to be an open marketplace for all ideas on all subjects. "Political ideas" that the free-speech fanatics are afraid will be suppressed? Not only are they not typically part of 4th Street, they are mostly irrelevant. There's nothing in the concept of a safe, respectful space that, so far as I can tell, that would have remotely inhibited the free expression of ideas about fantasy nor even politics, as 4th Street has practiced it in the past.

The "conversations" that the free speech nuts claim that we are trying to protect ourselves from? Well guess what, we can't. We all have to deal with that every day back in the real world, there's really no avoiding it. Not unless one turns off all social media, radio, TV, and newspapers and becomes a societal hermit. So, you know, if we decide that we want to have a weekend free of all of that, where we don't have to deal with the shit of the world, where we get a vacation from it, WE GET TO DO THAT. For all of three days, because Monday we will all have to be back in the thick of it.

Finally-- the "process police" (as in "tone police") seem to have two (s)talking points. First is that Steve should have gotten a vote on the Code of Conduct and didn't. If true, it is worth noting that it wouldn't have changed anything, as the rest of the board was united. While this may be a process fail, it did not produce a content fail. Regardless, it does not give Steve the right to piss all over it from the bully pulpit of the convention. Even if he had had no other ways to voice his objection (and he did, several) that in no way makes what he did okay. The ends do not justify the means… unless you think there was nothing wrong with the means in the first place.

Second, the free speech nuts feel that Alex shouldn't have cut Steve off, that he should have been allowed to complete his statement. To which a single word response is sufficient — WHY!?!?!?!

Like the first point, it assumes that Steve's behavior was justifiable and acceptable. It was neither of those. No one holds the unilateral right to commandeer a captive audience.

Pax / Ctein

Date: 2017-06-28 02:17 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I am fairly sure they would demand to be protected from the idea "white men should shut up and listen, because they have nothing worth saying about feminism, race, or any other political issue" and would have been furious if that had been the focus of the opening ceremonies at Fourth Street. I can make good arguments against "white men should shut up," but there is no free-speech-absolutist argument that would stop someone from saying it. (By the "whoever gets up first can say anything" fallacy of freeze peach, they wouldn't even be justified in objecting if someone used that forum to make the statement "it should be illegal for white men to speak in public." Opposing a law enforcing that, yes, but how dare they censor a political statement about race?)

[I will stop here, because I think you and Lydy agree with what I'd say if I went on, and I don't need to raise any of our blood pressures.]

Date: 2017-06-29 02:37 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

Oh sure, dear, ask me an easy one. Because you know how linearly my thoughts run [grin]. I will give it a try.

And so the unreliable witness takes the stand…

Okay my very first thoughts were around whether I should join you in walking out. I decided against it for a couple of reasons. The first was that the two of us going out together would only count as one "vote" because people would assume we were a couple. If anyone even observed it, as we were seated in the last row near the doors. If I'd seen any substantial number of other people getting up to leave, I would've joined the group, but I didn't.

The second was that I was already way into "strategic mode" and thinking how to shut Steve down. What was concerning me was the newcomers in the audience, which looked to me from the earlier show of hands to be about 25% of the attendees (correct? Idunno). Those of us who've attended before and who know Steve, we know what kind of an asshole he can be at times. If the convention had been entirely veterans his assholery would've been discounted, and later we would've taken him behind the woodshed later and smacked the stupid out of him.

But the newcomers? They didn't know that this wasn't official nor approved, and they didn't know that this wasn't the way 4th Street worked.

[Expository lump here for people who haven't been to 4th Street. Former attendees may skip —

Because it wasn't! 4th Street conversations are rarely of the form, "I need to grind your idea into the dust so I can present mine," and that includes the way Steve presents his ideas about fantasy at the convention. Almost always they are cooperative disagreements of the sort where one idea is the springboard for the next, which is the springboard for the next, and we leapfrog and build upon what the other person has said, even if we're disagreeing with them. Very geek fashion. It's **cooperative**, not confrontational and competitive. That speech that Steve gave was not about the way the intellectual process at the convention has typically worked.

Okay, lump over.]

I decided not to shut Steve down. You know I could. And you know it would've been really ugly — it would have been the verbal/intellectual equivalent of lobbing hand grenades into the room. (Aside to those who don't know me: I am barely literate in reading Minnesota nice. I don't speak it worth a damn.) That did not strike me as the best way to start off 4th Street.

I stood up, interrupted Steve and went with a loud, short statement of distinct disapproval. It was something along the lines of, "Steve, stop speaking for all of us. You don't get to tell us all what to think and how to behave." Because, that is what he had been doing, his speech wasn't presented in terms of "I's" and "me's," it was almost entirely "you's" and "all of us's" not only telling us what we all should expect from the convention but how we were all expected to behave.

I figured that would do to show the newcomers that Steve was not, in fact, speaking for all of us. Or even many of us, 'cause I was playing the silverback card. I was working off of superficial appearances, using the privilege thing — older, white, decently-dressed (which implies some amount of money, which implies power) man, so obviously I have, nay, am entitled to some authority in this matter.

Ahem. Yeah.

I really was thinking about that at the time,. Seriously. It's why I went with the short firm declarative statement, the masculine thing. No arguments, nothing drawn out. And being an auslander, I can get away without couching it in Minnesota Nice, because people don't expect that of me and cut me some slack.

More privilege. Not afraid to use it.

It got Steve to pause momentarily and say something like, "I'm sorry. I'm not speaking for the entire group, just what I want out of 4th Street." And within two sentences he was back to talking entirely about "all of us."

It wasn't too long after that that Alex shut him down. I don't remember if I was trying to think of the next move or had decided that was sufficient to show he was being an ass.

Okay, was it difficult… Hmmm, I honestly don't remember how I felt at the time. I don't think it was. I think the most difficult part was deciding exactly what to say rather than simply letting loose. There were a whole bunch of things I would've liked to say going to the content: how he had sabotaged the safety message, how he was demanding that it was his ball, his toy, and we all had to play by his rules, and more. It was practically a land speed record for Steven putting his foot in his mouth. But all of that would've just given him a foothold to argue and then I would've had to bury him. See hand grenades, previously. Disconnecting enough from how pissed I was at what he was doing to go sufficiently process-y, that was probably the hard part.

I would've been happier if someone else had forcefully challenged him and let me be a "What they said!" chorus. I think it would've been a more effective message. But when no one did after a couple of minutes (which I think goes to the difficulty you asked about), I figured it had to be me, even if that was less than ideal. Wielding that privilege sword cuts two ways. It gives me the authority to challenge the silverback and be heard by everyone, but it reinforces the notion that you have to be another silverback to challenge a silverback.

Not optimal; it was the best I could come up with at the time.

- Pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery. 
-- Digital Restorations. 

Date: 2017-06-28 08:35 am (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
re: safe anything

I rather like the term "safer space", because it acknowledges (better, anyway) the context of the real world. No place is safe; safer is a goal. And a worthy one.

Because, y'know, context matters.

Date: 2017-06-28 11:16 am (UTC)
evilrooster: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evilrooster
An interesting discussion, but right now the term of art is what it is.

And I'm not convinced that fine-tuning it would have made any difference to of the actions or reactions under discussion. This isn't one of those cases where better phrasing was going to build a bridge or unblock someone's understanding.

Date: 2017-06-28 09:27 pm (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
Yes. Mostly I was just trying to acknowledging that context matters with the first example that came to mind.

My initial response to all this conversation was the Steve Brust has always been a jerk, but that's clearly not news. In theory, he might have known better, but he kinda sees Fourth Street as his party, so why should he have second thoughts?
Edited (added a few more words for better clarity ("clarity" being a goal, not necessarily achieved)) Date: 2017-06-28 09:35 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-06-28 11:05 am (UTC)
mrissa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrissa
Thank you again, Lydy.

Date: 2017-06-28 02:08 pm (UTC)
calimac: (Default)
From: [personal profile] calimac
Thank you. This, especially the last section on "Term of Art", clarifies a lot, and acts as a mouthwash to clear away Will Shetterly's defense that 1) either people didn't realize Brust was using a metaphor or 2) that the subject is too toxic to use metaphorically. No, what I read you as saying is that it was an inept metaphor, and that his misunderstanding of what safe spaces are safe for was so great as render the whole thing offensively clueless.

I guess what disturbs me most about Brust's speech is that he's using the language of "speaking truth to power" against the principle of safe space. That's just grotesque. And I'm reminded that somebody - can't remember who - recently said that when people who use language like that in claims to be presenting dangerous ideas, it usually turns out that their "dangerous ideas" are warmed-over rehash of Heinlein and Ayn Rand.

On a more positive level, I am reminded of the conference I attended at UMinn several years ago which was titled "Fantasy Matters." This title incorporates what you're saying about "a place where writers and readers don’t have to explain why this stuff is important, don’t have to justify their passion for fantasy." And, it should be needless to say, unlike the phrase "Black Lives Matter" which has generated a lot of heat from those who don't understand it, nobody ever objected that "Fantasy Matters" meant that nothing else mattered.
Edited Date: 2017-06-28 02:11 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-06-28 03:30 pm (UTC)
vom_marlowe: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vom_marlowe
I've also been thinking of this in terms of consent, and holy shit, but that was a breathtaking bulldozing over consent.

The other thing that I keep mulling over is how, it seems to me, that there is a bizarre upside down or inside out thing happening here? (I considered the word irony, then rejected it as too pat.)

That the whole of the speech was in favor of the concept of challenging a person, that Brust says he *wants* and is eager to be challenged.

And yet, was actually vociferously upset at having been challenged with particular ideas (safe space, listening, etc). So upset that he acted out, and in a way that shut down the very challenge he was getting. That closed conversation instead of opening it.

I don't know. Maybe I'm misreading. But it really struck me, the way these two aspects intersected, exploded.

Date: 2017-06-28 07:59 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
Traditional[0] masculine virtue is demonstrated through conquest. "Challenging" is a sort of compressed cultural shorthand for "provided with an opportunity to demonstrate masculine virtue".

"Safe space", "listening", etc. is in that context an assertion that there will be no traditional masculine virtue.[1] This is not an incorrect interpretation; the set of ideas producing "safe space" as a term of art is opposed to the traditional construction of virtue because it's opposed to the social legitimacy of conquest.

There are a lot of low-introspection, low-self-awareness people who have a reflexive "that's completely wrong" response to the idea that there shall be no traditional masculine virtue. There's an increasing tendency to produce a cloud of rationalizations to avoid the niggling insistence that some increased self-awareness would be in order. (This is certainly much easier than figuring out what to use for virtue instead.)

(I am not in favour of traditional masculine virtue, gendered conceptions of virtue, or the utility of conquest.)

[0] "traditional" is a way to avoid going off sideways into a lot of cultural definitions; settler/colonial European mostly-Protestant "we're so good it's OK if we're pirates" conscious ethnogenesis from 1600 forward, lots of specific patterns of contribution

[1] participation in masculine virtue is how you assert that you are not in the possessable category. (that is, socially human.) There's a lot of seldom-conscious reflexive connections and rationalizations between the traditional demonstrations and necessity because of this.

Date: 2017-06-28 11:59 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
Glad it's useful!

That one's part of the whole cloud of "this stuff can't be patched, a new narrative substrate is required" issues around social expectation.

Date: 2017-06-28 10:13 pm (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Vom,

I'm not sure this is a fruitful path to go down:

First, because it rapidly devolves into trying to read Steve's mind and divine his intent. As it happens, my "reading" of his mind is considerably different from yours and doesn't require or produce any contradictions.

Second, because the state of his mind is irrelevant to the conversation. Even if we took the extreme (and unlikely) position that his speech served his needs perfectly and did exactly what he wanted and needed to do, it still didn't make his actions right or appropriate.

Consequently, I don't think trying to psychoanalyze the speech accomplishes anything useful.

- Pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery. 
-- Digital Restorations. 

Date: 2017-06-29 12:53 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

Vom's fourth paragraph is centered around supposition about what Steve actually wanted and intended (vs his stated intent) which they are in no position to know.* As I already said, my "theory of Steve's mind" is considerably different from Vom's.**

Going down that rabbit hole leads us nowhere productive. For so many reasons.

* I trust that no one is going to suggest with a straight face, "Well, why don't we just take Steven's word on that" as the starting point for any sort of reality-based discussion.)

** (In case there is anyone reading this who does not know of my part in this affair: this is not an attempt to divert criticism from Steve. My "theory of Steve's mind" is considerably less complimentary of Steve than Vom's.)

- Pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery. 
-- Digital Restorations. 

A process meta

Date: 2017-06-29 01:03 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

I'm throwing out the idea that it would be useful for people to indicate, at some point in their messaging here, whether they attended this year's Fourth Street and whether they were present for the (entire) opening ceremonies. Everyone doesn't know everybody, especially not everybody's pen-names, and posters should not assume this is known information.

I'm not suggesting this to silence or denigrate discussion from people who weren't there, but their experience is different from that of people who were in important ways.

In some subconversations, the different experiences might, not necessarily will, prove pertinent.

I'm offering this up with the notion that it will add clarity to conversations.

If you think it's a really crappy idea, feel free to wipe this post.

pax / Ctein

Re: A process meta

Date: 2017-06-29 01:51 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

I've been writing up a response to your request for what I was thinking during the whole affair. It takes a helluvva lot longer! Why are you busting my chops?

(Your requests made it entirely clear that we were both there, so no hidden information. And so, WTF?)

Ditto the "You disagreed with Vom but not with Graydon?" Because, really, you want me to comment on every single comment I might have any disagreement with and make this all about me? When a single comment to the top of the subthread will serve?

I'm gonna turn this around: what are YOU trying to do here? 'Cause it reads like trying to pick a fight.

If you wanna edit out your crap towards me (and wipe this reply) and take this to email, I'd be good with that.

pax / Ctein

Edited Date: 2017-06-29 02:59 am (UTC)

Re: A process meta

Date: 2017-06-29 03:37 am (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

Well, yeah, you were, kinda.

Me, I'd scrub, because I don't think the squabble's anyone else's business. Just because the internet can preserve everything forever doesn't mean I think it should. But, it's your page.

I'll tally it all up to post-trauma stress about this whole mess-- I had to stop myself from snapping at a (probable-future) girlfriend in an email when she asked a non-confrontational question about it all a few nights back.

pax / Ctein
Edited Date: 2017-06-29 03:42 am (UTC)

My response to Steve

Date: 2017-07-08 03:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Lydy, I've been so appreciating your reflections on this incident; they are good for me to think about as both the Safety Coordinator of 4th Street and as a person.

I just wanted to chime in about how I felt about my handling of Steve's speech.
1) I wish I'd interrupted sooner. Honestly, I'm so sorry everyone at opening ceremonies had to listen to him, but I'm also glad they could see that I had good reason to shut him down. I'm still relatively new to the 4th Street community.
2) I wish I'd more precisely followed the "How to interrupt an active harassment situation" guidelines:
a) Name the behavior.
b) State the effect the behavior is having.
c) Say what you want the person to do.
I named the behavior and said what I wanted Steve to do (stop talking), BUT I also said I'd throw him off the stage if he didn't (if I remember correctly: bit of a blur), and I didn't state the effect the behavior was having.

In all, handling the situation imperfectly was better than not handling it, and in fairness to my self, I was absolutely blindsided, but I thought extensively about what I did not do so well and will try to do better in the future.

Re: My response to Steve

Date: 2017-07-09 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
<3 Thank you. I am *also* glad I interrupted him, and the overwhelming reaction (of people I've heard from) has been relief. I'd just like to do better next time and to acknowledge that I have room to do improve.

Re: My response to Steve

Date: 2017-07-09 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
(I also wish Dreamwidth would let me edit comments without glitching. I've been feeling very typo-y.)


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