Freedom, Responsibility, and the Three-Edged Sword


(DISCLAIMER: The incident described in this blog entry is based on second-hand knowledge, either posted online publicly or provided to me in confidence (“off the record”, if you will) by people whom I know and trust.  I was not at Worldcon, nor the panel in question, and I have NOT watched the video described below, nor will I link to it.  The other panelists have stated that they did not give their permission to be recorded, and as such the recording and posting of the video of the panel was, in my opinion, unethical, and I will not watch it, nor will I post links to it.  Also, I will not be naming names.  If your ethical position permits you to watch it, then you can do a Google search and find it online yourself.  I, however, will not promote this sort of behavior.  Also, I am speaking solely for myself, and not for Philcon, nor any other business or organization to which I may have worked, volunteered for, or done business with.)

(Picture and quote via AZ Quotes.)

This past weekend at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), something controversial happened.  (I know… you’re totally shocked, aren’t you? :-/ )

It seems, and has been reported, that at a panel with a topic regarding short stories in SF, a prominent SF editor, who was also the moderator of the panel, started the panel by reading a pre-written statement regarding how a small group of SF writers, editors, and fans had hijacked the genre in order to advance their own liberal political agenda.  Starting at 10 minutes into the panel, other panelists began asking him to stop, as this statement was off-topic in regards to the panel topic (the term “shouted down” has been used in some reports, as opposed to “asking him to stop”, but most of the reports I’ve read have used some variation of the term I’m using, so I’ll use that here).  He continued on for at least another 10-15 minutes, during which time he refused to stop, and continued reading his statement.  According to many reports, the panel turned into a shouting match after that.  This editor then posted online a recording (there is conflict over whether it was audio only, or audio AND video) of the panel, for which he did not ask, nor did he receive, permission from the other panelists (all of whom are clearly identified in the recording) nor the audience members to record or to post online.  Later that day (FRIDAY), the editor in question had his membership to Worldcon revoked.  A number of people claim that he was “thrown out” of the con due to his views, and the fact that he spoke up about them.  Others claim that his membership was revoked because he violated the con’s CoC (Code of Conduct).

The above seem to be as far as reports on the issue agree… and I’m stretching the definition of the word “agree” in saying that!

So, here’s the thing… I don’t give a damn about this editor’s politics, his views, or his opinions about SF, liberalism, misogyny, racism, or anything else.  I mean, I don’t necessarily agree with them, but otherwise, I have no dog in this fight.  The man can believe what he wants to believe, and he is free to express those views (in fact, I think that it’s important that he DOES express those views… but that’s another topic for another post, at another time).  The important thing here is that he is free to express his opinion… that’s the whole point of that “freedom of speech” portion of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  By airing out his”dirty laundry” as it were, we get to see it for what it is, whole and unvarnished.  And we can then choose to agree or disagree, as we will.  And the same is true for those who hold the exact opposite politics, views, and opinions.  To quote J. Michael Straczynski, from an episode of Babylon 5, “Understanding is a three-edged sword; your side, their side, and the truth.”  Let the ideas be expressed, and we can find the truth between them (unless, of course, one side is TOTALLY WRONG… but again, that’s another post…).

However, with that freedom, as with all freedom, comes something else… responsibility.  In this case, with freedom of speech, it’s important that it be used at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, and in the appropriate manner.  From all appearances, this man did all of the following:

  • Pre-planned the hijacking of a panel that he was moderator of (thus limiting other panelists ability to stop him, or mitigate his actions),
  • Delivering a statement that had nothing to do with the panel topic at all, and derailing the panel, to the determent of the panelists who had prepared for that topic, as well as the audience members who had come to see a panel on that topic, as opposed to a manifesto,
  • Pre-wrote the statement/manifesto he delivered, as opposed to delivering it off-the-cuff, thus showing his prior intent to disrupt the panel, and the con,
  • Showed no sign of stopping, or pausing in his delivery/diatribe, even when asked to by other panelists and audience members,
  • Recorded audio and/or video of other panelists and audience members without their permission,
  • Posted said recording online, again without permission,
  • Bragged (it’s the only word I can find that I feel is appropriate based on what I read regarding statements he made on his blog) about planning to disrupt the panel, preparing the statement, make the recording, and posting it without permission,
  • Stated that he was “thrown out” of the Worldcon due to the political content of his statement.

Several of those items are clear violations of Worldcon’s CoC (like recording people without their or the con’s permission, thus violating privacy and creating a hostile environment).  As such, Worldcon had every right (and, in fact, the duty) to revoke his membership, regardless of their personal feeling about his opinions or politics.  They could have agreed with every word that he said, and they STILL should have tossed him out.

But, on top of that, it was inappropriate behavior on his part.  Just because he felt he could deliver a manifesto doesn’t mean that he should have at that panel.  I mean, I don’t know if Worldcon had a panel on that topic, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t… many cons, including Philcon, the one I work with, have panels on topics just like that, and if Worldcon did have a panel like that, he could have delivered his statement, or hopefully a shorter version of it (apparently the editor needs an editor… physician, heal thyself) at that panel, or at a similar one at another con.  Also, planing in advance to disrupt a panel that one is moderating (thus violating a position of trust), recording people without their permission, and then bragging about what you did… all of this is completely inappropriate.  Perhaps he wouldn’t have his membership revoked for some of those things individually, but by God, I certainly hope that the SF fan community shuns him, puts him into his place, stops providing hits on his blog and buying his work, and doesn’t invite him as a participant at future cons.  Because he’s shown everyone that he can’t be trusted with the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech.  When I ran programming for Philcon (and again, I am not speaking for Philcon, or any current or any prior committee members, but only on behalf of myself), if it was reported or I witnessed a program participant acting inappropriately, I would do anything from not assigning them to certain panels, all the way to not inviting them back the following year, and might take these actions for even less egregious behavior than this supposed professional engaged in!

Freedom gives you great power.  And, as that great thinker Stan Lee wrote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Perhaps one of the things wrong with the world today is that we’ve forgotten that, and we need to re-learn it.

That’s all for now.  Have a great day, and a great weekend!

By wearehugh