No Fucks Given

Jake's conscience given free rein

Category: SFWA Bulletin

Laziness, the Truesdale Petition, And Slacktivism

I’ve finally put my finger on why I am so bothered by the Truesdale petition regarding the SFWA Bulletin–it’s the laziness of it all. Obviously I find the writing appalling, but it’s what that poor writing means that is sad. Maybe it’s because I was raised in Pittsburgh in a working class family, but the way the petition was created and delivered smacks of the worst in Internet slacktivist laziness, where the participants are so minimally engaged in the cause that they can’t even make the minimal effort to contribute to the damn thing they’re signing.

Wikipedia defines slacktivism thusly:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed… Slacktivist activities include signing Internet petitions, joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services.

And that’s exactly what we have here.We have Truesdale so little invested in the cause that he doesn’t even belong to the organization, let alone not contributing to said organization. The signers are even less invested. I mean, having an extraordinary essayist like Harlan Ellison sign this sad excuse for an essay makes me wonder if he even read it. One can picture Truesdale running in, yelling “censorship,” and then adding names to his list.

The signers of this petition are doing the equivalent of sharing a post on Facebook that one of their friends put up that said, “Share on your wall if you want to raise awareness of this thing.” They share the post and feel good, because, gosh darn it, putting the pink ribbon sticker on their car takes a bit too much effort, let alone actually donating time or money.

If I was informed that an organization dear to my heart was establishing censorship panels, and I actually cared about it, you’d think I’d write the president or someone on the board. I sure as hell would follow up if presented with Truesdale’s meandering emails to Steven Gould. But, no, all of that was just a bit too much effort for the people who signed this abomination of a petition.

If any of these writers really gave a shit about this petition and weren’t just pressing a metaphorical share button then they’d have rewritten the damn thing. But, no, Ellison didn’t think censorship of words was a topic worthy of actually having quality words behind the message. Nancy Kress didn’t. Brin? Nope. And when the petition was questioned for multiple reasons, with the exception of David Gerrold, there was nothing but crickets from the signers. Even engaging in a dialog was too much work.

Like I said, it’s the worst in 21st century slacktivism. Sign my name, press the share button, and then let me go back to what’s really important in my life.

And you know what bugs me about this even more? I actually would love to see that dialog. I’d love to see Harlan Ellison get off his ass and rage about having his words excised by some Hollywood hack and having to fight for the dignity of his art as an illustration as to why the respect for words are important today. I’d love to see Gregory Benford talking about where SFWA bulletin content crosses over from historical fact and into irrelevant sexism. I’d love to see David Gerrold lecturing people on both sides about decorum. Heck, Gene Wolfe could just write a bunch of metaphors on censorship with his amazing talent for language. At least then I’d get new Gene Wolfe writing, and that shit is priceless.

But did we get this? No, we got some hack writer putting together an incomprehensible treatise that muddied the point so much that everyone is claiming to have “won,” and we got a significant number of important¬† writers too lazy to actually write about what was concerning them. They pressed the fucking share button and went back to playing Candy Crush.

Feel free to share this on Facebook. I’d enjoy the irony.

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The Most Interesting Science Fiction Story You’ll Read This Year

So I’ve spent a day poring over this petition to SFWA about the bulletin editor position, and I’m still trying to make sense of it. Seriously–I can’t make sense of it. This thing is so badly written I can’t believe Gene Wolfe signed it without a little piece of himself dying inside. This is presumably a petition of some sort, yet includes such passages as the author’s positive opinion of the Jumper novels and a short biographical note on a Scottish lawyer from the eighteenth century (He settled in Philadelphia!). Then you have pages of email exchanges included verbatim. (The concept of a footnote being perhaps a bit too highbrow for Mr. Truesdale).

Since the subject of this morass of email exchanges, anecdotes from the eighteenth century, tangential conversations on political sensitivity, and assorted other pieces is ostensibly the illegality of editorial oversight, I was rather intrigued with the idea that this was all some kind of textual performance art to prove the opposite: Truesdale illustrating that you actually should edit words by writing something so hilariously bad that editing it would be self-evident to anyone reading it. How cool would that have been? I can see John W. Campbell smiling in Heaven right now.

But then I saw the final few words of the title of the document: “…2nd version.” Holy shit. There was an even worse version of this thing? Dave, you’re doing yourself no favors commenting on the job of an editor by releasing something so horribly edited.

Okay, I know what you’re saying: There must be a petition in there somewhere, right? After all, a petition, by definition, is a request to do something. Let me see if I can find it in this thing. Okay, I’ll admit it. I skipped to the end. You know, because in a well-written petition you end with your call-to-action. You clearly elucidate what it is that you’re requesting. Shockingly, there actually was some kind of call-to-action at the end. So what’s this petition everyone is so up in arms over?

[a] call for SFWA President Steven Gould to kill any proposed advisory board or any other method designed to censor or infringe on any SFWA member their First Amendment right to freedom of speech in the pages of the SFWA Bulletin.

Well, shit, I am down with that. But why did it take Truesdale over one-thousand fucking words to get to something so simple to understand? It’s like he was getting paid by the word and his mortgage was due. Anyway, I’m a big believer in the first amendment and freedom-of-speech. That’s why I support the ACLU like I’m sure all the other signatories do. In fact, with SFWA being incorporated in the United States, our members are constitutionally guaranteed their freedom of speech. It would be illegal for SFWA to limit that.

Wait. So why the fuck does this petition exist? This shit is already illegal. What is Truesdale going to do next, write a two thousand word petition to make sure that no SFWA board members commit murder?

I know. I know. I missed that the signatories want to kill any “method designed to censor or infringe” on those first amendment rights. Yes, this is a petition against future infringement of constitutional rights. The only thing more ridiculous than a petition to tell an organization to follow the law (rather than, you know, actually sue in a court over it) is to petition an organization to follow the law and to also follow the law in the future.

And that’s when it hit me. Wow. This actually is textual performance art. That genius Truesdale was being so cagey that he didn’t want to give it all away by putting Phil Dick’s name at the top of the list of signatories. This is the most science fictional petition of all science fiction petitions. It is petitioning SFWA not to do something it hasn’t even done yet.

Hey, Truesdale may be a shitty editor, but I kind of like this avant-garde piece of fiction-written-as-a-petition. The only thing that would make this more entertaining is if the entire subject of this petition turned out to be serious, and that Truesdale and the signatories never passed fifth grade civics. Actually, no, that would not be entertaining. That would just be sad.

So I choose to believe that this is actually an homage to Phil Dick. A poorly written one, sure. But an homage none-the-less.