As y’all might guess, I’ve been reading a lot on the PuppyGate controversy, including some attempts from moderate voices to call for civil discourse on both sides–and some very justified pointing out that no matter where you are in this particular brouhaha, death threats, harassment, and personal attacks are never acceptable. I would like to emphasize that. I don’t like to think that people on the liberal/progressive end of the spectrum might stoop to such tactics, but I do have to admit to the possibility that such a thing could happen. We are all human, and none of us are immune to the urge to post in anger.
However, there is one point here that I want to address, and that is this: there is no civil discourse, no “agree to disagree”, when one side of an issue is attacking the other side on extremist grounds.
Cases in point:
If you are anti-queer because your religious beliefs dictate that queer people are filthy sodomites, and you actively support or work in favor of legislation that enables discrimination against queer people, there’s no way a pro-queer person can have civil discourse with that. There’s just not. There is nothing polite or civil that a queer person or queer ally can say to someone who not only fervently believes that someone is going to hell because they’re in love with a person the same sex as they are, but who is also prone to associating queer people with pedophilia or incest or bestiality.
If you’re convinced that the only proper response to feminists is to deluge their online presences with rape and death threats, there is nothing polite or civil that a feminist can say in response to that.
If you are convinced that your religion is the One True Religion, and you are dead set on driving anyone who practices some other religion out of your neighborhood, city, or state, there is nothing polite or civil that practitioners of those religions should have to say to you.
If your only answer to people who aren’t the same color as you or who speak the same language you do is to scream at them to go back where they came from or to learn to speak English (or whatever your local language happens to be), sorry, those other people are not obligated to be polite and courteous to you.
Because here’s the thing.
People who are extremists don’t want to hear your dissent. They will dismiss you if you try to be polite about it. If you express your dissent in more forceful terms, you will be attacked. You will be accused of being the real racist/sexist/bigot, even if all you say is “Look, this is wrong and it needs to stop.”
To bring this back around to the whole Puppies issue–in reading a bunch of George R.R. Martin’s posts and quite a few of the comments on them, I’ve been seeing conservative claims that liberal extremists are attacking them. Notably, I’ve seen Martin responding to Correira’s claims that he has been bullied and harassed for his beliefs.
I am not in a position to judge the veracity of Mr. Correira’s claims, and I’m not going to try to do so here. But I will say this. If there are liberal extremists stooping to the same tactics I describe above, then yes, that is wrong and that needs to stop. Likewise, I would also like to express my agreement with Mr. Martin’s own assertion–that if the conservative side of this whole mess really wants to have civil discourse and work towards a resolution, then we need to see some solid action on their part. We need to see some denunciation of racist, sexist, political, ideological, and religious extremism.
For my part, I will say that I very much appreciate my Christian friends who are willing to stand up and say, “No, actually, acts of extremism in the name of Christ are still wrong and you are shaming our religion, stop it.”
Likewise, acts of extremism in the name of defending SF/F–from whatever you think it needs defending from–are also wrong. They are unworthy of the literature of ideas, and they need to stop. Whether you are liberal, conservative, or anywhere in between.
But I must also emphasize–I’m still not going to be cordial, civil, or polite to people who want to deny my right to exist. To have autonomy over who I choose to marry and how I conduct my health choices. To write stories that can be taken seriously, and not dismissed out of hand just because there’s an obviously female name on the cover.
To, in short, kick me out of the clubhouse.
Civility on all sides presupposes that all sides agree that they have the right to be there. Civility means that all sides are willing to support each other’s presences, and that they’re not going to turn around and exult over terrorizing the other side when their backs are turned. Civility means that if you’re called out on doing something bigoted, you don’t automatically lash back and scream, “I’m not the bigot, you’re the bigot.”
And right now, I ain’t holding my breath that this is going to happen.