This needs to go at the top of the post, even though it’s the last thing I wrote.
A few days ago I read a blog post by Elizabeth Moon, in a random act of Googling. I don’t normally follow her livejournal, and I wasn’t aware of any controversy surrounding it at the time. Later I heard that yet another “fail” incident had been stirred up over the post, which honestly ticked me off. In the past I had seen people taking the anti-racist side act like total assholes in a way that made me embarrassed to agree with them, so I was predisposed to assume that this was another tempest in a teapot. I started writing this post with that in mind.
However, when I went to actually look at the content of what had been said in the most prominent venues, I found something different. People were expressing disagreement, often vehemently, but the argument was largely free of the name-calling and egregious ad hominem that had characterized Racefail. Some people were losing it–somebody, somewhere is always losing it–but for the most part the discussion was actually constructive. Strong opinions, forcefully expressed–this is not a problem, even if the opinions are ones I disagree with. This that was the meta-point of my whole post, so where was I getting off criticizing Moon’s critics?
So I decided to leave the first half of this essay as-is, but not to finish it. Instead, this brief note acts as apology and conclusion.
Here’s some responses to Moon’s post which illustrate what I’m talking about:
- The response of the Wiscon concom, which did the right thing by keeping Moon as GoH but expressing their disapproval.
- K. Tempest Bradford is more strident than the comcon, and way more strident than me, but she makes some of the best arguments for her position in Why I’m going to Wiscon next year and Reasonableness.
SF Author Elizabeth Moon had a very interesting post up the other day about citizenship and the obligations of immigrants. She started off with an observation so true and pithy that I almost just want to quote it and leave the rest of it alone:
[T]he person with no loyalty to anything but his/her own pleasure is not a noble hero of individualism, but a pathetic failure as a human being.
From there she goes to riff on the responsibilities of citizenship, the particular ways in which those responsibilities impinge on immigrant communities, and the position of the Muslim immigrant community in the US. Along the way, she makes some very thoughtful and cogent points, including this one:
The point here is that in order to accept large numbers of immigrants, and maintain any social cohesion, acceptance by the receiving population is not the only requirement: immigrants must be willing and able to change, to merge with the receiving population…. Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream. This is not just an American problem–this is human nature, the tribalism that underlies all societies and must be constantly curtailed if larger groups are to co-exist.
This is true as a description of how societies actually work. While it might be nice to suggest that everyone be perfectly tolerant of others regardless of how different they are, this is not likely to happen on any world inhabited by actual human beings.
That said, in the conclusion to her post, Moon goes off the rails in a few different ways:
- First, immigrant groups shouldn’t have to conform if they don’t want to. Self-isolation, as Moon calls it, should be allowed, though it remains inevitably true that such groups “will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream.”
- Moon suggested that the Muslim immigrant community (most of which assimilates just fine) has been shown “much forbearance” in the wake of 9/11… which is true only insofar as it could have been a lot worse. But Muslims aren’t obliged to feel grateful that they haven’t been persecuted, and the rest of us don’t get a gold star merely for not oppressing the innocent.
- I don’t see why the construction of an Islamic cultural center a few blocks from the former World Trade Center should be considered a breach of the civic duties of the Muslim community, or why it should be seen as “forbearance” for us to allow them to do so.
So I clearly disagree with major points made at the end of Moon’s post. Nonetheless, this is the sort of thing that reasonable people should be able to argue about without needing to call for the other’s head on a pike. Speech that you disagree with or which critiques a group that you belong to should not be called “hate speech” just for that reason. These sorts of issues are complicated and admit multiple points of view, and Moon clearly is thoughtful and sensible enough for me to give her the benefit of the doubt and engage her constructively.
But I forgot: this is the internet! Time to get your outrage on!
[And this is where I stopped to google, which resulted in the retractio printed above.]