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23 June 2013 @ 12:31 pm
Act of the Imagination  
I'm trying to imagine: If I belonged to an organization that contained actual Nazis (i.e., people who honestly believe (and say publicly) that it would have been better if the 25% of my extended family that survived the Holocaust hadn't), would I want to resign from the organization unless those people were expelled?

I find that my answer is not clear.  I know that I would be offended, frightened, and feel personally threatened, and  I wouldn't want to attend meetings where those individuals were present.  I  would not want to engage those persons in conversation.

But I belong to several very large organizations, with thousands or even tens of thousands of members.  I have not audited the politics of the members of any of those organizations (although most, it's true, tend to be more left-leaning than right-leaning, because of who I am).  Statistically speaking, it's nearly certain that there are Nazis in one or more of those organizations, but I don't have confirmation of it because they haven't announced themselves.  I have not resigned from those organizations, because the result would be that I would belong to no large organizations.

So the question isn't whether I want to belong to an organization that contains Nazis, but whether I want to belong to an organization that contains people who admit that they are Nazis.

Again, my answer is complex.  On the one hand, the willingness of a person to announce such vile beliefs feels more scary than the mere knowledge that Persons Unknown are thinking such things anyway.  The act of displaying them makes it feel as if they are more likely to be acted upon -- this may not be fully rational, although I'll bet if it were possible to do some sort of long-term longitudinal study, you'd find that people act on beliefs less frequently if they never speak them.  Also, the instantiation of the beliefs into words gives them an aura of (at least slightly) enhanced respectability and acceptance.  Finally, because I have studied MacKinnon and was a student of James Boyd White, I believe that words have power: I believe that the act of saying a certain relationship exists a way of building that relationship.  This is the very meaning of constitutive rhetoric, the discipline in which I have done much of my legal writing.  To say that I am inferior and should have been killed is a way of creating a world in which that happens.

But I also have an American phobia of shutting down speech.  Whenever I imagine sanctioning someone for saying something awful, I always imagine the converse -- that someday what *I* have to say will be viewed as awful, and I will be the one sanctioned.  I have the sort of "slippery slope" paranoia that thinks that expelling people for A today will make it easier to expel them for A & B tomorrow, and A & B & C the day after that; and I have the other sort of paranoia that thinks that expelling someone for A today makes it easier to blacklist someone for A tomorrow makes it easier to put someone on a surveillance list for A the next day makes it easier to.. and so forth.

What I find, ultimately, is that I am choosing between two kinds of fear: fear of the danger represented by someone who wishes me harm on the one hand, and fear of runaway institutions and the stifling of expression on the other.  Or I'm choosing between two different types of communities:  communities that tolerate (and therefore promote) harmful speech on the one hand, or communities that shut down opinions they don't like, on the other.  I am not so naive as to think that it's possible to have the best of both worlds.

And I am suspicious of myself in both directions.  Maybe I don't have enough imagination to know how I would feel in an organization that had vocal Nazis; maybe I'm deluding myself by thinking I'd have any reaction except terror, fury and a need to protect myself.  Or, on the other hand, maybeI wouldn't feel threatened at all, and would welcome the chance to argue with these morons in public for as long as they had the energy.  The thing is, I'm not in that situation.  Imagination and empathy are all I have to work with.

Ultimately I must decide what I think, and act on it -- because, of course, there is no such thing as true silence.  Qui tacet consentire videtur.  But I will be troubled by whichever decision I make.  The purpose of this meditation is not to announce my position; it is to explain why, even when I make the issue as personal to myself as I can, my position remains muddy and confused.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: "Labor of Love" from the Star Trek reboot film
girlspell: alarmgirlspell on June 23rd, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Lunatic Fringe is everywhere in any organization, even even something mundane like the scouting movement. Part of the risk of joining a organization with the intent of expressing views or changing something. I have libertarian beliefs but I won't join the Tea Party movement, something my like leaning husband has joined. They're plenty born again Nazi there, but just as many in the government of Norway. But Norway (sadly) and the Tea Party are not going away. They are there and they have every right to stay there. I'm like you. Suspicious of being in both directions. So I just stop listening. And really NOT say something. Political correctness still reigns. Because words have power.
amamamaamamama on June 26th, 2013 08:21 am (UTC)
Excuse me? Why would you say there are plenty born again Nazis in the Norwegian government, and why is it sad that Norway won't go away?
Ken: Hmmmmmken_schneyer on June 30th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Rachel.
girlspell: sports cargirlspell on June 30th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
LOL...you're being polite :) I can't help it. I love to irk people. I'll even book a flight to Norway.
asakiyume: mirokuasakiyume on June 23rd, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
I think, too, that it can be hard to try to come up with a general-case response because so much may depend on the specifics: the nature of the organization (its power, membership, purpose), the nature of the speech, the context, and so on. Ideally, organizations try to have clear rules about what they tolerate and what they don't, and clear consequences for infractions of the rules. However, there's still plenty of room for argument even when that ideal condition is met.... and in plenty of circumstances it may not be.

It's definitely also true that real-world decisions about real-world difficult matters are going to leave some contingent of people unhappy. Action in the real world is never innocent; you can *never* be all-good, all-pure, all-correct. If you're going to work to make things better, you have to accept the burden of sometimes being wrong, and even causing harm--though of course you try your best not to.
Ken: Happyken_schneyer on June 30th, 2013 03:01 pm (UTC)
Shauna RobertsShauna Roberts on June 23rd, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC)
Skokie 1978
Soon after I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I learned that Nazis were going to march in Skokie, Illinois. That was scary for me even without being Jewish. I'm sure the many Jewish residents of Skokie, many of them concentration camp survivors, were terrified. I struggled with my belief in free speech up until the Nazi march. The JPL rounded up lots of people to show up at the march, far, far more anti-Nazis than Nazis. The Nazis got to march and express their opinion, but they were booed and shouted at and made to look like pathetic relics whose ideas were obsolete. Since then—and now with the SFWA problems—I think the ideal solution is to allow everyone to express their opinion and not kick anyone out of a town or a club—but to organize opposition, point out flaws in a person's argument, mock the person, challenge the person, debate the person, and/or bring the person's views to light and examine them, whatever seems appropriate. My hope is that a good idea or belief (abolitionism, giving women the vote, equality under the law, human rights laws, protection of animals) will win adherents despite opposition, while the support for a bad idea or belief will crumble as opposition shows it to be stupid and untrue and reveals the believer's motives as bad. ---- I am staying in SFWA, and I am not calling for the expulsion of a certain person who has the hubris to give himself a nickname that sounds like Latin for "Voice of God." However, I am liking every Facebook post that speaks against him (which increases its circulation under FB algorithms, I believe), and I am also pointing people to blog posts against him as part of exposing the evil of his beliefs. ---- Another point to consider as you decide whether you will stay in SFWA is that if you and other likeminded people leave, there are fewer people with the credentials (SFWA membership) to speak against hate speech by SFWA members in a public forum. AND your departure would mean the percentage of racist or sexist white men in SFWA gets higher, making the sf/f community even more uncomfortable for those of us who belong to groups they believe are inferior.
Ken: Blowing Kissken_schneyer on June 30th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Skokie 1978
Thanks, Shauna. It's less about making a decision for myself, and more about trying to deal with the fact that I'm almost never the target of the crap that keeps happening at SFWA, SFF cons, etc.
amamamaamamama on June 26th, 2013 08:46 am (UTC)
One of my flisties, who's a teacher for challenged youth, had one of her students spout Nazi propaganda and went up to him and asked if he had thought this through? Did he really mean that? Should she be killed just because of the faith of her ancestors? Of course not, was his answer, he didn't mean to imply that. So there was a discussion that wore her out, but this young man got to see that his ideas were not about some nebuous group, or rather: he saw his nebulous group materialise into one of his favourite teachers. That changed something for him. And I think that's the problem with a lot of socalled born again Nazis. Have they really thought it through? Are they aware of what this "belief" they're spouting really means? I think it's too easy to put "others" in nebulus groups, be they jews or muslims, coffee party or tea party, vegans or meateaters, dark or pale skinned. Or whatever.

I do believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe in responsibility of speech and in thinking things through. Don't pour out the first thought that pops into your mind. Filter it a bit. If this was what would be left after you die, if this is how your family and friends would remember you, are you totally comfortable with that? If you are, by all means - go on. Be vocal about it, but the moment you do, you also accept that other people can be vocal about their beliefs. If this rule holds for you, it holds for everyone else. So if you're not willing to meet someone who opposes you and challenges you, then maybe you should shut up after all. You don't HAVE to speek up about everything, just because you have the right to do so.
Ken: Blowing Kissken_schneyer on June 30th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Berte!