Letter to twelve rabid weasels

Now that she's stepped down from the board of the Science Fiction Writers of America after yeoman service, Mary Robinette Kowal is free to speak her mind about SFWA's small clutch of absolutely horrific trolls. She's called her post Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up. These people have dominated online science fiction forums since the 1980s, and appear to have taken up the cause of being rude and nasty as a permanent political ideology. It's not just SFWA, of course -- this is a microcosm for so many online worlds.

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  1. I just want to know who these assholes are. Any guesses? She said "pros" and some have been dicks for decades so I'm going with Niven and Pournelle.

  2. Indeed, an inability to banish the evil 1 percent from online communities is one of the major reasons I started the Discourse project. I wanted to create a free, open source forum with a built-in immune system that makes it naturally resistant to trolls, griefers, hateful people, and bad actors.

    Online communities, even in the total absence of any formal moderation and moderators, should have a natural way to drive out the rare few community members who are consistently hateful and negative -- because these people are poison. Left unchecked, they always kill the community. I've seen this pattern manifest itself over and over and over again in online communities and that's sad because I believe it is largely fixable through better software. (It's also fixable through skilled moderation, but rare is the online community that has skilled moderators present, willing, and able to do what is necessary.)

    This is not just my opinion; there's a bunch of science and research affirming the idea that bad apples spoil it for everyone:

    However in this case it sounds like some of the leaders of the SFWA are the ones poisoning the community with bad behavior? That's.. substantially more complicated. Cutting off the head to save the body is major surgery and shouldn't be attempted lightly.

  3. Just a heads up. If we're talking sensitivity here, "lynch mob" is often not the best term to use. If you care about such things.

  4. That, and the notion that I'm on BoingBoing, something that's been around for ages, and people are high-fiving each other for disparaging people with grey hair. Heck, I'm 38--14 years younger than Mark Frauenfelder, 3 years younger than Cory Doctorow and -- and thanks to some stressful years a few years ago, my hair is partially white. I don't know how old Jeff Atwood is, but guessing from his bio on Coding Horror, we're probably about the same age.

    No, we're not in our 60s yet, but neither are we young any longer. Our thought patterns are likely starting to ossify. And yet, I've met some lovely people who are in their old age. My Baptist mother-in-law just turned 73 today. She'll shock me by being fairly conservative one minute, and fairly liberal the next. And she voraciously devours books, when she can, so there's always new ideas flowing through her.

    And then there's people like an ex coworker of mine who's in her late 50s. She hates Mexicans. She wants Congress to pass a law making a national language. What an asshole, right? Probably just an idiot. Bigoted because her parents were bigoted. Well...that gets you partway there. I finally had to ask her, because my wife was working in a town at the time that had a large migrant worker population. She finally broke down and told me...sigh this is one of those moments when I have to put trigger warning in the text. She was an Army brat, lived in all kinds of places. Germany, Augusta GA, all over. She was born and raised in her early years in LA, before White Flight started kicking in. As she tells it, it was a nice neighborhood, and then some poorer Mexican folks moved in. Whatever the reason, whether it was racism that was keeping them from working, or whatever, a lot of the young men were in gangs. One night this lady's mother was walking home, and she was grabbed, beaten, and gang-raped. She kept it a secret out of fear her husband would end up in prison for killing someone (he had a temper.) So, apparently as part of her coping mechanism (my guess) she grew to hate Mexicans, and passed it on to her kids. So her racism was borne of trauma and a fear instilled in her by her mother, a rape victim. Is it right to hate all Mexicans because of a gang rape? Of course not. Is it wrong to discount her rape experience entirely? Of course. And here we are. Based on some of the comments here, she's old and in the way.

    OK, I realize I'm typing this in Professor Drunkard mode, so I'll sign off for now having made nearly no point. I just hope I'm not being too poisonous to the discussion. smile

  5. Within the context of sexism, racism, and homophobia -- exactly the kind of thing that we're talking about in the SFW, as I understood it from the original BB post -- I thought it was well understood that there's a strong correlation with age. As in, the older the person, the more likely they are to have these "old fashioned" notions that, for example, gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry.

    Are there progressive septuagenarians? Sure, maybe. But not many of them.

    Take same-sex marriage as an example.

    In one meta-analysis by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University, a majority of 18–29 year old Americans in 38 states support same sex marriage while in only 6 states do less than 45% of 18–29 year olds support same-sex marriage. At the same time not a single state shows support for same-sex marriage greater than 35% amongst those 64 and older

    From the same Wikipedia article, with data citations:

    Support for same-sex marriage in the U.S.

    18 - 29 years old    65%
    30 - 49 years old    54%
    50 - 64 years old    45%
    65+ years old        39%

    To me, failure to support same-sex marriage is as inconceivable as failing to support interracial marriage. Which was not that long ago, to the tune of the late 60s and early 70s. If you want some truly hair-raising reading, try Loving v. Virginia on for size. Because, y'know, Virginia is for lovers. Just not those kind of lovers, and not 46 years ago. I am 42 years old, and I graduated from the University of Virginia.

    Just like failure to support interracial marriage, failure to support same sex marriage is – statistically speaking – driven by old people who can't let old prejudices go. As Bruce Hornsby once so eloquently said, that's just the way it is. So pretty much this:

    I like old people just fine. I'll be one soon enough. But I'm really glad, in the big scheme of things, none of us lives too long.

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