Over the past three weeks, Amazing Stories has offered up three guest editorials. Each has touched on the subjects of diversity and inclusion and the ways in which these subjects impact our literature and our community.
Elsewhere on Facebook, a post that I wrote saw discussion from multiple Amazing Stories members regarding the current political circumstances in the United States. The majority of comments were from folks who largely seem to share my own personal views, while a distinct minority offered views that are diametrically opposed to my own.
In both cases, everyone involved presented their views as views, not as holy writ, addressing the subject, refraining from getting personal, keeping the discussions at a level of discourse that allowed the subjects to be examined, rather than shouted about.
I would like to commend Chris Nuttall, David Gerrold, Chris Barkely for their presentations, and I would like to thank the Facebook participants for demonstrating in reality what I had theorized: it IS possible for fans of the genre with diametrically opposed views to discuss issues without rancor.
Astonishment? Incredulity? Checking in with reality after reading what someone said? Walking away with a very low opinion of an individual’s views? Certainly. But not rancor.
It is possible for someone to hold views that are, in reality, monumentally stupid. It is possible for someone to hold views that are ignorant. It is equally possible for someone to hold views diametrically opposed to your own that resemble stupidity or ignorance, but that are, for the person holding them, as valid for them as yours are for you.
In our daily discourse of opinion, discussion is rarely, if ever, based entirely on the facts. Emotion, personal experience, personal values, the accordance of more or less weight to given facts, the degree to which someone relies on received information, the sources of that information, all of these and other things are at play.
There are only two ways that I know of for someone to change their views on a given subject: personal introspection and social dialogue. I include education, in all of its forms, in the latter.
Each of us is responsible, to ourselves, for the former.
As for the latter? Here is one fact that I think we can all readily agree upon: there is Zero chance of changing someone’s mind if you aren’t engaged with them. There is some chance that is greater than zero, however small it may be, of changing their mind if you are engaged with them.
As Spock would say, “Captain, logic dictates that we take the course of action that offers some chance of success.”
This is not to say that we must tolerate all views because they are all equally valid (the hoary old “you’re not living up to your ideals if you refuse to validate my odious opinion”). Not all viewpoints are valid. Some viewpoints are stupid, or based on ignorance, or are mean spirited, or are held for personal gain.
We are not obligated to strike the match for those who want to watch the world burn.
But we do have obligations. I think that we are obligated to engage when the opportunity arises, I believe we are obligated to give each other the space and time to accommodate ourselves to new ideas, especially when those ideas are opposed to our own, and I believe that we are obligated to offer apologies and accept them when required.
For those who want to engage in the discussion of ideas and concepts for which there are widely varying positions, it is imperative that we remember several things if that discussion is to avoid derailing: we can’t change someone’s mind. Only they can do that for themselves. Changing one’s mind often takes time.
More important than that – the goal of discussion is not to change someone else’s mind and achieve agreement, it is to offer your view point (in the hopes that a different perspective may give the other person some food for thought, and that works both ways).
Your position may be the “correct” one; the other individual(s) may have their facts wrong. So what? What they believe doesn’t change reality and it isn’t anyone’s job to make everyone conform to it. All we can do is offer our experience and hope.
Further, it isn’t necessary for everyone to be in agreement on all issues in order to have a good relationship, to be friends. We’re all a stew of differing ideas and experience; if we want to get along we find those things we share in common, we learn to respect each other’s no-go lines, we find ways to de-escalate disagreement – because we value the relationship and want to.
As for those who want to “watch the world burn”? They’re not engaging in discussion. None of the preceding applies to them. They’re not respecting the unspoken rules of relationship between peers. Their goals are not designed to foster community. They can be discounted.
When someone offers you the opportunity to communicate, respect the fact that they’ve opened a door. Keep it open by being a mensch.
One final thought. We’re all here (on this site, reading this editorial) because we already share something very important in common. As elitist as it may sound, we’re all part of something special, this love of genre, one that embodies tremendous ideas and ideals that we have shared for going on 90 years now, ones that the rest of the world has just started to become aware of. WE taught the world those things. Our community of dreamers was once reviled, discounted, belittled, ridiculed and now? Now we’re the mainstream. How about that?
Remember that. Remember that at rock bottom, we’re all in this together. Remember to be nice to each other, courteous and understanding. And remember that if things are starting to go south, you can always talk about science fiction.
I’ve taken some criticism from a certain element, accusing me – which those same people seem to think is synonymous with Amazing Stories – for being an SJW (Social Justice Warrior).
I am. I make no bones, nor excuses about it.
But I wish to make two points in regards to those accusations.
The first being, Amazing Stories is not me. Amazing Stories is history. Amazing Stories is the nearly 200 contributors who have shared its pages since December of 2012. Amazing Stories is the 40,000+ individuals who have signed on as members of the site. And Amazing Stories is the untold number of fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror who have visited the site.
I consider myself to be holding the website in trust for the genre community. Yes, I get to make the decisions, but I do so after talking with and receiving information from thousands. I try to do my best for everyone. I won’t always achieve that goal and there are plenty of people who will take the time to let me know when that happens. That’s the way it is supposed to be. If you don’t find yourself here, the only way to change things is to get in touch and let me know.
The second being: Over the course of nearly five years, I think I have dismissed a total of two individuals – both for not doing their jobs as I thought they ought to be done. Never have I dismissed anyone over political differences. I’ve rejected a handful of articles (for what I believe to be good cause), I’ve suggested that contributors might be opening themselves up to tremendous pushback and might want to make some changes from time to time, but I have never stifled the viewpoints that our contributors wish to express.
Several others have left of their own accord, generally claiming that the political environment at the website was anathema to them. In each and every case I have asked them to stay, pointing out that the only way the website could reflect their views was if they expressed them.
You can’t change someone’s mind if you aren’t engaged with them.
I’ll also say that this tactic of self-isolation puzzles me for the exact reason stated above, though I suppose that there are a lot of people who find that retreating to a walled enclave that allows them to preach to the choir and receive 100% acceptance and agreement a satisfying way of going about their lives. It may not be mature, it may be intellectually stultifying, but it must be satisfying.
That’s not what Amazing Stories is supposed to be about. We’re not isolationist, we’re attempting to be inclusive. If that isn’t your cup of tea – so be it.