Surveillance State

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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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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15 Comments

  1. Paul Weimer (@princejvstin)

    Yeah, I see your point, Natalie. I think Flint’s intentions in his post are good, but I do see how diminishing the value of the targets to diminish the value of May’s surveillance is not an entirely benign approach.

  2. Laughingrat

    I’m only slightly familiar with the situation you’re discussing, but I’m sorry you’re dealing with this kind of creepy surveillance, and that you have to worry about harassment or worse. I think it’s brave that you posted this.

  3. J. R. Tomlin

    You know, I do sympathize because feeling that you have been disrespected by someone you respect is an unhappy feeling. However, I also feel that you are pretty majorly over-reacting. Let me quote Mr. Flint from that same piece:

    “My point here is not to sneer at minor authors, podcasters, panelists, or any of the rest. Like almost every author, I was once a minor author myself. (Oh, and such a wee tiny minor author I was, too, for more years than I like to remember.) My point is simply that, objectively speaking, people in these positions are not the great shakers and movers in the world of SF awards.”

    I do not see any way that Flint is saying that the surveillance (which was not the point of his article) is acceptable, but that the comments May lists do not prove that the people surveilled have great influence in the world of SF awards. (This may hurt your feelings, but not many people really DO have much influence really) The two issues are not the same at all. Stalking someone, which is what this so-called surveillance is, is wrong. That is an entirely different topic than that the listed quotes just don’t prove a damn thing about the people quoted having great influence.

    Now maybe you should yell at Flint for not pointing out that the stalking is wrong, but Flint not raising the point doesn’t equate to his saying that the people May stalks don’t count.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @J.R.: Thanks for letting me know how I really feel. This actually is not about my feelings. I read the part you quoted several times–and in fact it is that precise paragraph I was referring to when I indicated that Flint attempted to mitigate his dismissal of–what, a dozen people? On no criteria other than that provided by James May–which Flint admits is lacking context–and on whether or not he’s heard of someone or not. There are other measures of someone’s importance besides whether or not they’re someone who can influence awards. But of course: this must be about my emotions.

      It is entirely possible that Eric Flint did not know that James May is a creepy stalker who likes to surveil women and who has been encouraged in this by the very same group of people who ran slates during the Hugo nomination process and who have jumped up and down and begged G*merG*te to notice them.

      I read through the comments on Flint’s piece last evening and of the 100+ comments, not one of them mentioned that James May is a creepy stalker. I felt that was an oversight. I’m not yelling at Eric Flint. I am attempting to let him know that he engaged in good faith with someone who absolutely is not engaged in same and that by doing so, he sent a message to James May’s targets that he may not have intended.

    • J. R. Tomlin

      You made your feelings pretty clear in your piece; I was merely paraphrasing you. However, you don’t seem to be capable of having a civil discussion so I will leave you to it.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Of all the times I’ve been accused of incivility, this time might be my favorite. Thanks for the laugh!

  4. JC

    I thought it was an excellent post, as usual.

  5. Jonathan M

    I hear you.

    One of May’s screeds mentions my name 35 times and while his accusations and interpretations of what I have said are witless, toothless and positively dripping with bad faith, it’s hard not to be unsettled by the extent of his obsession and the fact that he seemed to have tracked down, read, stored and hate-read everything I said about science fiction over a period of about 18 months.

    May’s ‘findings’ are unimportant because bad faith interpretations based on selective quotations from more nuanced pieces prove nothing other that the fact that May is a jerk.

    I also share your disappointment at Flint’s patronising tone. Flint has been using the Hugo debacle as an opportunity to grandstand and flaunt his leftist credentials and I’m sure his posts have won him a number of new fans. However, despite his historical ties to the labour movement, he seems amazingly clueless about the class structure of fandom and how things have got noticeably worse on that front over the last 10 years.

    When I first fell into genre fandom’s orbit, fandom was very big on the idea of egalitarianism and recognising the fact that while fans might not make much money from fandom, their contributions are what kept the institutions of fandom ticking over so that authors would have places to see their work discussed. Hence the fan categories at the Hugo Awards.

    Over the past 10 years, this egalitarian ethos has all but vanished and been replaced with a vision of fans as unpaid interns for the publishing industry. People who are useful for free PR as long as they know their place.

    Flint’s comments suggest that while he may once have been an ickle wee writer, his recent success has completely blinded him to what it is like for people in genre culture who don’t have the support of publishers, agents, and hundreds of loyal fans.

    I don’t know how effective Flint was as a labour leader but re-inforcing the class divide by minimising the contributions of people who give their time and passion to genre culture for free is very disappointing from a man whose experiences and convictions should have helped him to know better.

  6. Merrian

    Wow, mansplaining, tone-policing and concern trolling all in one comment. You won the trifecta there Natalie. Of course being a woman means it’s all about feelings and not a rational assessment of how the stalking/surveillance by one man and the addressing of those affected as being minor beings by another actively controls the boundaries of who is allowed to be heard, who is entitled to speak. Being a ‘minor’ voice actually means being highly vulnerable and being at risk in a way Mr Flint is not.

  7. Justin

    I’m so perplexed by JR’s incivility comment that I’m wondering if a comment got edited or deleted.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Justin: Nope, that’s how they came in. No editing or deletion on my part.

  8. Justin

    OK, then that makes me really scratch my head.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Justin: Mild sarcasm! So uncivil!

  9. Justin

    You monster!

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Well, you know. I am pretty terrible. (Ba dum tish.)

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