Category Archives: Hugos

The Hugos – stop playing an unwinnable game

holdfast

We can end the Hugos mess. I’ve posted a way here. tl;dr — mediation. If you have a better idea, I’m eager to hear it. 

You’re on a tennis court. Your opponent serves a ball directly into your racket. You hit back hard. Instead of lunging to return the ball, your opponent ignores it, takes a new ball out of their pocket and serves it at right at you. This keeps happening over and over. Your opponent never returns your balls, just keeps hitting new ones. That’s unfair, so you start taking balls out of your own pocket.

How long would you keep playing an unwinnable game?

We have to stop this. Stop the hyperbole and invective, bad arguments and incendiary insults. Stop pretending we’re fighting a holy war. Stop casting ourselves as the victim. Stop saying he hit me first.

We need to ask ourselves what we want out of this. Stop hitting me isn’t an answer.

Why I’m pushing mediation

Most of us — those who don’t get a thrill from conflict — are sick to death of the Hugos mess. It’s taking away something very important, far more important than an award — our time and energy. Not to mention the time and energy of the writers we love to read. If the Hugos mess has taken one page of fiction from the lifetime output of one of my favorite writers, that’s too high a price to pay. It has to stop.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about why mediation wouldn’t work. But I haven’t heard one suggestion for a better plan that doesn’t include waiting for the three years it would take to change the Hugos rules.

Arguments about why mediation won’t work

What is the benefit in assuming a mediation would fail? What is the harm in challenging the other side to drop their insults and hyperbole to engage in an actual face to face, mediated discussion? It’s easy to be a naysayer. Much, much harder to lay down the poison pens and work toward a resolution.

1. It won’t work because there aren’t two sides.
Sure, there are factions, but there are clear leaders on both sides. Some of them could be trusted to be honorable and reasonable in a face-to-face situation.

2. It won’t work because both sides have to agree on what the problem is.
Untrue. All we have to agree on is the desire to find a fair resolution.

3. The puppies don’t want a fair resolution, all they want is to keep fighting.
Maybe. I bet they would say the same about us. If they’re offered a fair resolution process and reject it, then we’ll know for sure.

4. It won’t work because the puppies are [fill in your favorite insult here].
Some of them are unreasonable and behave badly. Some of us are unreasonable and behave badly. Arguing over who behaves worse doesn’t solve anything, it just digs us deeper into the shit.

5. It won’t work because it’s an ideological battle on the mythic level.
Okay, but it’s a holy war of our own making. We can unmake it. Holy wars end when people get sick of the massacres. Or when everyone’s dead. Which would you choose?

6. It would give too much credence to the other side’s ideology.
No, it would require both sides to work around ideology to find a resolution. It might even expose the weak points in cherished ideologies. We might be better for it.

Who wins if this goes on?

If this goes on, the only winners are the people who enjoy the fight — the holy warriors who post insults and bad rhetoric on their blogs and then pop some popcorn.

Are we smart enough to solve a tough problem? If so, it’s time we started acting like it.

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The Hugos and the problem of competing narratives

holdfast

Hold fast. I want to tell you a story. It’s about something personal and important, and you are not allowed to deny the validity of my story. When I’m done, you will tell me your personal, important story and I am not allowed to deny its validity.

Do you think we can do this? Good. There’s hope we can live together in peace. It doesn’t mean we have to like each other, but we can co-exist.

All right. So. Now: The Hugos.

In just over a week the Hugos will be done. But it won’t be over. This shit storm we’ve been living through will go on. It’ll probably get worse. I’m sick to death of it and you probably are too.

There’s no end in sight because both sides are telling stories — personal, important, urgent stories, but stories nonetheless, told with apocalyptic rhetoric and elevated language, using energy that would be much better spent on fiction.

It’s not surprising. We are fiction writers. We are very good at making stirring narratives out of chaos.

But there’s the problem. These stories aren’t true. They’re important but not true.

What we have is a standard conflict resolution problem: competing narratives.

Narratives are explanations for events (large and small) in the form of short, common sense accounts (stories) that often seem simple. However, the powerful images they contain and the judgments they make about the motivations and actions of their own group, and others, are emotionally significant for groups and individuals. Narratives are not always internally consistent. For example, they often alternate between portraying one’s own group, as well as an opponent, as strong and portraying them as vulnerable.
The Political Psychology of Competing Narratives
Marc Howard Ross, Department of Political Science, Bryn Mawr College

The puppy narrative is that they’ve been discriminated against for 30 years. Nothing will move them off that narrative because it feels true to them. Our narrative is that the puppies are out to destroy the Hugos. Nothing will move us off that narrative because it feels true to us.

The validity of these competing narratives cannot be denied. But they’re not facts, they’re stories. We cling to them — it’s hard to stop clinging to them — prying myself off my narrative is taking quite an effort, in fact.

Narratives are comforting. Everything that happens adds to the story. It builds and builds until the story becomes more important than the problem. As the stories build, bad behaviour builds and rhetoric swells, until each side has an entire orchestra behind it, spurring it on to heroic deeds.

Each side complains that the other won’t give up, won’t see reason, but neither will acknowledge the fact that what they call reason is just another story.

If we keep arguing over competing narratives, the only possible end is mutually assured destruction. Neither side wants that. I assure you, they don’t.

So what do we do to resolve this? We have to move off our narratives — set them aside. Instead, we have to talk about what we want.

The puppies might say, “We want want the stories and books we value to be recognized.”

We might say, “We want the Hugo awards to be fair.”

Now we can strategize about how to get what both sides want. This is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to keep from sliding back into our cherished narratives. When that happens, both sides have to stop, back away from the stories, and rededicate themselves to solving the problem.

It can be done. It’s done all the time, around the world, in situations far more dire and serious that this — in life-and-death situations like worker’s rights, environmental disasters, and land claim conflicts.

Here is the call to action: We need to engage in a formal conflict mediation process that actively avoids competing narratives and focuses on problem solving. It would look something like this:

  • Each side raises funds to hire a conflict resolution specialist for two days (one day for the specialist to prepare, and one day for the mediation). They’re not expensive.
  • Each side puts forward two representatives to participate in the mediation process.
  • Each side participates with good will and in good faith, doing their best to rein in their rhetoric, and puts in a solid eight hours of work toward a solution.

Does this seem naive to you? Perhaps a bit unrealistic? Great — then you must have a better idea. I’m eager to hear it. Because if we keep throwing bombs at each other, someone is going to get hurt.

There is no better idea. If there were, someone would have come up with it. I’m telling you now: This is our only way out. If we don’t do this, we’re doomed.

And — honestly — if we can’t resolve a conflict over a fiction award, then mutually-assured destruction is what we deserve.

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