Any organization not explicitly right-wing will over time become left-wing. -- Robert Conquest's Second Law of Politics
I'm not a big fan of contemporary notions about relations between the sexes. ("No, really?") By my lights, they teetered on the edge of terminally poisoned for some years, but recently appeared to be returning to an endurable state. The progenitor of the deterioration, militant / gender-war feminism, has been in retreat for about a decade, and more gracious conceptions have returned as it waned. However, there are some effects that simply refuse to be quenched. One of those is garishly visible in the occupational association that styles itself the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).
This article provides a peek at the carnage:
It wasn't until this week that I glanced at the Locus Online website to catch up on SF news and book reviews (I'd also been neglecting both the print and online versions of Locus) and saw a link to the Guardian Online article that I reference above, entitled "Science fiction authors attack sexism in row over SFWA magazine". Reading it, I learned that Mike and Barry were at the center of an online controversy over alleged sexism in SFWA, which focused both on several of their recent columns and the cover to issue 200 of the Bulletin, which featured an iconic image of a barbarian woman warrior/goddess in a chainmail bikini, brandishing her bloody sword over the corpse of a Frost Giant. The article provided a link to an online roundup of commentary from dozens of science fiction professionals, would-be professionals, and fans. Perusing this long selection of snippets, seventy-six of them at last count, I noted the following epithets being applied to Mike and Barry or to their words: unprofessional (the kindest of the lot), wankers, regressive, outdated, condescending, sources of "sexist douchebaggery," "misogynistic, irrelevant dinosaurs," "old men yelling at clouds," "majority men in power," "hideous, backwards, and strangely atavistic," "blithering nincompoops," antiquated, "deeply offensive," "at best stupid and at worst censorious," "sexist dippery," gross, "never ending stream of sexism," shitty, prehistoric, and, perhaps most colorful, "giant space dicks." Also linked to on this list was a charming blog post entitled, "Dear Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick: Fuck You. Signed, Rachael Acks" (which, incidentally, is the #3 search result of 187,000 results when you type in the words Barry Malzberg into Google's search bar).
Holy bejezzus, I thought to myself as I read through this list. What did Mike and Barry do? Had they gone all Westboro Baptist Church in one of their recent columns?
I went home that night and dug my most recent four issues, all previously unread, of the Bulletin out of my "to be read" pile. And I read all four Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues in order (the Dialogue from issue 201 plays no part in the brouhaha).
Never in my forty-eight years have I witnessed such an immense chasm yawning between an inciting incident and the level of vitriol it inspired....
The editor of the Bulletin, Jean Rabe, asked Barry and Mike to write a column or two on the history of women in science fiction. This request resulted in two columns, published in issues 199 and 200, entitled "Literary Ladies: Part One" (focusing on writers) and "Literary Ladies: Part Two" (focusing on editors and publishers). One of the pair (I suspect it is Mike) has a longstanding weakness for alliteration; thus, the "LL" of "Literary Ladies." In accordance with the titles of the articles, Mike and Barry frequently (but by no means exclusively) refer to their subjects as "lady writers," "lady editors," or "lady publishers" (there are a few "lady agents" mentioned, too).
This use of "lady" as a modifying adjective is one of the primary complaints the legions of critics online have hurled at Mike and Barry, a main plank in their contention that the pair are "reactionary, shitty, prehistoric, misogynistic, giant space dicks" (to mash up just a few of the pejoratives I've quoted in the list above). Now, maybe it's just me, but I have never encountered the use of the word "lady" as a pejorative or even as having a negative connotation. At least when I was growing up, it was a compliment, a label for those of the female gender to aspire to. Is the word a bit old-fashioned? Sure. Does it have a bit of a musty smell about it? A case could certainly be made. Is it mean-spirited? Hell, no.
I am not a member of SFWA and would not join if invited to do so. Indeed, I'm not a member of any group except my parish, and I sometimes get a queasy feeling about that. I simply don't join groups...and the effect the abovementioned brouhaha so vividly exemplifies is the reason.
Give that a few CPU cycles while I fetch a muffin to wash down my coffee.
It's an unpleasant fact that all organized groups, regardless of their overt purpose, are political in nature, and will ultimately be "taken over" by those whose foremost priority is power. As those persons are innately hostile to dissent and criticism, they will use such power as they acquire to suppress those things, by whatever means are expedient. When codes of personal ethics cease to constrain them, nothing remains to inhibit them from doing so.
I have no doubt that some of my Gentle Readers are shaking their heads vigorously at the paragraph above. They've probably missed the significance of the word organized. A sewing circle doesn't qualify. Neither does a "beer, belch, and bitch bunch" of the sort that "convenes" at the local tavern on Friday and Saturday nights. An organized group:
- Has members, and by implication, a procedure for becoming a member;
- Has a set of rules of operation, by which the group's resources are directed;
- Has a specific procedure for making decisions, and (in the usual case) some sort of hierarchy for effectuating them.
Such groups in the United States almost all have a majoritarian basis. That is, their rules and procedures make reference to majority consensus at the base level: the admission of members, the adoption and modification of rules, the election of officers, and the process by which the group decides what it will do with its resources. That basis isn't always visible. Neither is the effect it has on persons whose principal drive is power.
The implication of group organization is that he who acquires influence and / or authority within such a group will have a degree of power over its membership and resources. If power is what he wants most in this world, he will seek more of it, for power is a drug that doesn't sate. And as Friedrich Hayek has told us, the "race to the top" will over time be dominated by persons of that sort.
Yes, Gentle Reader, Robert Conquest's Second Law really, truly does apply to all organized groups. In my fond and foolish youth I was involved in a number of groups -- how do you think I got all these scars? -- and I can testify to the inexorability of the dynamic. Remember that you read it here first.
And if that unsettles you, buckle your seat belt, Bubba, 'cause you ain't seen nothin' yet.
One of the intrinsic differences between the sexes is that between men's and women's interest in power over others.
Historically, the great political figures -- good and bad -- have overwhelmingly been male. But then, it wasn't until about a century ago that women were permitted entry into politics in Western societies. (In most Eastern ones, they're still excluded from full participation in political processes, whether candidly or by covert means.) Yet it is women, beyond all argument, who are more concerned with the acquisition of power over others. That women have not yet risen to the pinnacle of political power in these United States is mainly due to the short span since the institution of female suffrage.
The female psyche is oriented toward collective decision-making. All those nights squatting around Cro-Magnon campfires complaining about their mates' ingratitude and the impossibility of keeping a neat cave when Ug simply refuses to put his antelope femur away at the end of the day have left an indelible legacy. There are some female individualists, of course, but they tend to be a minority, and are generally shunned by their more collectivist sisters. She who thinks sitting around and kvetching about the menfolk is a waste of time cannot fail to let the attitude show, and so will be made unwelcome in the larger circle.
Collectivism -- the assumption that "we" trumps "I" -- is indispensable to power politics.
Women who seek power will naturally attempt first to gain consensus support from other women. It's a female politician's fundamental "constituency." Within explicitly political women's groups, you will find few consensuses that are not near to absolute, for women are also naturally inclined toward the sort of emotional manipulation -- indeed, emotional brutality -- that's on display toward Malzberg and Resnick.
Even women who don't seek power for themselves are passionate about power for women, which of course translates to women's power over men; they see it as the one and only way to "straighten out" the rest of us. Thus, when a sister begins to "climb the ladder," they will rally behind her to an overwhelming degree, hoping that she will acquire the stature needed to beat some sense into our thick male skulls. The suggestion that this is more likely than not to evoke an adverse reaction tends to upset them; most women will dismiss it without giving it any thought. (Cf. women's reactions to Helen Smith's recent book Men on Strike.)
Here we come to yet another ugly truth: the one that's forcing me ever closer to absolute anarchism:
The SFWA dustup is a perfect example of the way women seek to use power of any sort to impose their preferences on others. Fortunately for Malzberg and Resnick, the sort of power that can be deployed against them is collective nasty denigration, nothing more. They can ignore it in perfect safety; their reputations as writers are proof against female slanders. But of course, the women attacking them can't see the matter that way; to them, this is about promoting their sex and its "interests" above the "patriarchal" survivals of past eras, and thus is obligatory if "women are to make progress."
It's twaddle, of course. Sexist twaddle, at that. But most women are blocked, emotionally, from grasping that. Even some very intelligent women are unable to come to grips with it; their genetic predisposition toward viewing relations between the sexes in collectivist terms prevents their intellects from functioning in that arena.
The Wendy McElroys, the Christina Hoff Sommerses, the Ann Coulters, and the Helen Smiths are a minority, and are destined to remain so for at least a quarter-million years...if the race, which appears to be headed for extinction due to power politics, should last that long.
There is no solution, no cure, nor even a palliative for a man determined to go his own way, value what he prefers, speak his mind as he pleases, and choose according to his own tastes, except for one: Ignore the screechings of women. Let the harridans rant and rave; for now at least, they have no actual power over you, so don't give them any by allowing them to make you ashamed of your words or preferences.
There are some women of a more agreeable sort, but you're not guaranteed to encounter them, especially given present trends. Worse, some of the seemingly agreeable sorts are trying to "pass," for reasons that surely need not be elucidated here, and will drop the disguise as soon as they get what they want.
Above all, don't be a "joiner." Avoid organized groups, especially groups that admit women as members. Remain an individual unbound by others' rules. Remember always these words of wisdom from the late Keith Laumer's iconic diplomat Jame Retief:
Retief stood up. "I'm taking a few weeks off...if you have no objections, Mr. Ambassador. My pal Whonk wants to show me an island down south where the fishing is good."
"But there are some extremely important matters coming up," Magnan said. "We're planning to sponsor Senior Citizen Groups."
"Count me out. Groups give me an itch."
"Why, what an astonishing remark, Retief. After all, we diplomats are ourselves a group."
"Uh-huh," Retief said. "That's what I mean."
Magnan sat quietly, his mouth open, and watched as Retief stepped into the hall and closed the door gently behind him.