Nearly two years after attending Viable Paradise XIX, I’m still occasionally in touch with some of the attendees. Today was one such occasion as I joined a video chat (hangout). I want to briefly — or what passes for briefly in my world — touch on something I heard during the chat.
Apparently, one of the instructors, Steven Burst, was involved in a controversy stemming from his opening remarks at the 4th Street Fantasy Convention in June of this year. As I am somewhat removed (make that very removed) from the social and business aspect of writing and publishing, I’d not read or heard anything about it until now. My fellow classmates informed me in general terms that Steven did something bad and hence was not returning as an instructor at VP. Steven resigned for personal reasons, but I strongly suspect there’s a tie-in to the controversy. My guess — although I stress that I don’t know — is that Burst resigned not wanting to taint the workshop with a peripheral and unrelated issue to the mission of the workshop.
Burst and I don’t share many common views, but I respect him as a person
Lots of virtual ink has been spilled in often contentious discussions about what he said, so you won’t see me dissect and rehash what was said versus what was intended versus how it was understood. As an aside, if one enjoys going down the rabbit hole of circular arguments and the reiteration of the same points in two hundred different ways, one could read the comments at the bottom of that post. I read all nine pages of them.
What I read worries me both in a general sense and at a personal level, and I’m going to pull the same tactic as one of the vociferous detractors of Burst’s comments; rather than addressing the actual complaint, I’ll talk about something else and draw parallels. By the way, I think my parallel is more on target.
I speak, of course, of the football players kneeling in protest.
The detractors, people who took offense, purposefully mischaracterized the action by saying the players were insulting the flag, were insulting soldiers, and were “spitting on the graves of soldiers who died for their country.”
As some might know, I wrote a post spelling out why I thought it was dishonest and self-serving to ignore the intent of the protest and invent an alternate meaning and then being offended by it.
The funny — or, maybe, not so funny — thing with the two controversies is that, in general, people who would likely support one condemn the other.
Let me switch back to Burst’s statement and resulting controversy. Again, without going into an in-depth analysis of the arguments and counterarguments, I can give my opinion about the people who took offense . . .
. . . they applied the same logic as that used by people condemning the football players.
This is where I’ll likely make some enemies and effectively kill my chances of getting published, becoming a world-famous writer, cutting lucrative movie and product licensing deals, and having an eventual net worth that would make Uncle Scrooge McDuck envious.
You see, I think people objecting to the actions of the football players and people condemning Burst are of the same ilk . . . they cannot acknowledge the existence of the very issue being raised and so they, all indignant-like, deflect it by mischaracterizing it.
Understand, they might not do it on purpose, but that is the end result.
In the case of Burst’s words, some of the angry commenters admitted that very fact by saying that they understood what he wanted to say, but it could be interpreted a different way and hence, sacrilege!
Take a moment . . . Intent doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that someone might misinterpret the intent, misunderstand the message being conveyed, and as a result feel threatened.
Some might accuse me of the same thing; misinterpreting the objections and putting words into their mouths. That accusation might see me engage in a self-examination of my conclusions were it not for the voluminous words they wrote in support of my hypothesis. Their words, not mine.
Is there an argument to be made that the football players could have engaged in a different form of protest? Potentially, yes.
Is there an argument to be made that Burst could have worded things differently to make his point? Potentially, yes.
However, in both cases, I doubt it.
In both cases, I judge the people who got offended as not so much being offended by the actions and words as being offended that the issue even saw the light of day because it calls into question the construct of their worldview.
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Let me step back a moment and reiterate my intentions before they too get mischaracterized . . . I’m not taking sides here with regards to the underlying issue.
To be sure, I have opinions; hard fought opinions arrived through years of life and learning. I’m comfortable in them and given the opportunity, I would defend them. Know also that I’m ready to have my mind changed by better arguments than what I can muster. And, that’s the point. Make the case.
What I object to is laying the foundation for an argument based on the willful misrepresentation of what was said and then resisting any attempt to clarify it.
That’s dishonest. That’s self-serving. That’s dangerous.
I left a comment on Burst’s post about the matter (although the matter itself is months old) and wanted to quote some of what I wrote as closing for this post.
“. . . I understood the intent of the opening remark.
Then again, I would have understood the intent and meaning even if I’d never met or heard of you.
Like others have, I could voice my incredulity at the reaction by some, but instead, I’ll remark that my incredulity has been supplanted by sadness for — and acceptance of — the fact that as human beings we are poised to halt our intellectual progress as thinking animals and supplant it with the intellectual stagnation of emotional animals. That’s the optimistic view. The pessimistic view has humanity degrade, and not just stagnate.
It’s a harsh accusation to make and were I anyone of note, I would — without doubt — be subject to similar treatment that you have received.
I would defend it by saying that if human behavior could be changed by just refusing to hear it, we would already be problemless. We solve problems through open discussions. Anything else masks problems and allows them to fester past the point where they can be addressed.
That’s my general view of this, and in that regard, I wonder if in part my views are driven by the fact I’m old. I don’t know if that makes me wiser or senile.
There is a peripheral concern that this new attitude about speech and —by extension — writing is detrimental to my chances of ever getting published, but as that could also be due to a lack of talent, I won’t go into it here.
I will say this . . . more and more I’m thinking that instead of science fiction being the conduit for the exploration of the current and future human condition, I should look to other genres as possibly offering more freedom of thought and expression. I hope there is such a genre out there.”
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.
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