Surveillance State

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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May 21, 2015

People generally like hierarchies and taxonomies. We like to put people in categories so we don’t have to spend too much time looking at them as individuals. Sometimes this is useful, sometimes it isn’t.

Often it’s harmful.

It’s harmful to look at the targets of ongoing surveillance and decide that the surveillance is acceptable because of their (perceived) relative powerlessness in what you have deemed to be the wider community.

So when Eric Flint writes a post which adds a veneer of legitimacy to what James May does–which is ongoing surveillance of women, persons of color, and other marginalized voices in the science fiction and fantasy community–I feel sick.

For those of you who don’t know, this individual has a website.  On this website are hundreds of thousands of words where he attempts to string together a vast leftist conspiracy in science fiction. He does this by surveilling I don’t even know how many people on Twitter and other public places. I am among those he watches as are many people I know. May’s writing veers into what can be generously called crackpot territory, but there are people–mostly of the Sad Puppy variety–who listen to him and take him seriously. Like Larry Correia.

James May was specifically solicited by Larry Correia for a list of targets when Correia was gathering information for the G*merG*te/Hugo piece in Breitbart.

Since Correia didn’t actually name anyone himself, he was able to keep his hands clean in case G*merG*te did decide to go after any of the targets. Handy how that works, isn’t it? You get to have your jollies by training a hate group on a bunch of women and persons of color and you get plausible deniability.

(And am I worried that I am going to bring a world of trouble on my head with this post? Yes, I am. But James May’s behavior is a problem and that needs to be made clear.)

It doesn’t matter how much influence someone has or doesn’t have in a community for their membership, the price of them using their voice should not be ongoing and persistent surveillance by someone who is called an “archivist” by those who ally themselves with him.

It’s not archiving. It’s surveillance and it’s creepy.

So there’s really no other word but sick for the sinking feeling I had in my gut as I read Flint’s most recent post about the Hugo controversy this year.

I generally do agree with Flint that May is not presenting a coherent argument and that he is constantly contradicting himself.  Flint’s comments about May not substantiating his arguments are on point. I also really appreciate Flint’s perspective on the matter of reviews: as someone who used to curate the SFF section for RT Book Reviews, it’s a matter of including books that you think the magazine’s audience is going to want to acquire and read.

But.

It feels to me that in order to make the rhetorical point that James May’s surveillance is unimportant, Eric Flint also needs to emphasize how unimportant the majority of May’s targets are.

This is a problem.

This is part of the ongoing conversation about the importance of different voices in our community. About making space for people who have been told–explicitly and implicitly–that what they have to say isn’t worthwhile and that they need to sit down and listen and that someday, maybe, they’ll be allowed to speak.

Flint attempts to mitigate what he’s implied with this rhetoric, but it’s not enough to balance things out.  He may as well have said, “I’ve only heard of a few of these people and those are clearly the only ones saying anything worthwhile” and been done with it. It’s yet another way to silence people. I can’t imagine that was Flint’s intent.

So while I do believe that Flint’s post was well-intentioned and made many good points in the first half, I came away from it feeling like I’d been put in my place. Flint’s piece takes a paternalistic turn towards the end that simply doesn’t sit well with me. Flint is coming from a place where he expects that his opinions will be given a modicum of respect by his readers and yet he doesn’t seem to recognize that respect goes both ways.

If you want to prove that a creep like James May is chasing shadows you don’t do it by claiming that the people James May is surveilling don’t count.  Instead of dismissing James May’s targets as nobodies, how about we look at what is actually happening here: people are being watched, their words are being twisted out of context, and their names are being given to hate groups. And all because a few people are sad that they haven’t won a Hugo.

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