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.
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”.
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.
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:
- I made more money in 2012 than I did in 2011.
- 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.
- 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.