SFWA’s Orwellian and Hellish Philosophy

Disclaimer: I am the current president of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.)  The below is a mixture of my opinion and some statements about the official policies of SFWA.  I will bold those things that are SFWA policy.

Recently a member of SFWA resigned and gave as their reasons that they were being slandered and libeled by leaders and members of SFWA who were also engaged in an “organized attempts to harass my readers and hurt my sales figures.” He subsequently posted this letter on his website.

The writer in question is a successful author of over a dozen SF & Fantasy novels and has previously been nominated for the Nebula Award. The fact that I’d never heard of them before receiving their resignation email says far more about me and the scope of my reading in the field than it does about them. There are 1800 members of the organization after all, but I would like to point out that this also means that neither I nor any other officer or director of this organization has been slandering, libeling, or organizing against that person–I would certainly have heard about it. When asked for specifics, the author replied that it would be unprofessional to name those who had.

In researching this I have seen some critical historical posts by both members and non-members responding to statements made by the author. Without passing judgment on the nature of the author’s posts I would like to make the following points:

1. The only place where the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America makes an effort to monitor and control what members and non-members say or write is within the official publications and venues of the organization itself and then only to the extent that the language does or does not support the goals and purposes of the organization. These venues include, among others, The SFWA Bulletin, the SFWA website, our meetings, official communications to the membership, and our online member discussion boards. They certainly do not include members’ own websites, their fiction, their conversations, pieces published in non-sfwa publications, and any other private and public space.*

2. It is the position of SFWA that language within our official channels and publications which marginalizes and/or alienates any portion of our membership  does not support the goals and purposes of the organization.

3. I don’t see this as a particularly onerous or oppressive policy as this simply boils down to treating all our members with respect in our official channels of communication. While it is my belief that the vast majority of our members would not intentionally disparage their fellows based on irrelevant factors like gender identity, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual preference, or ableness, they certainly are not constrained from doing so in a host of non-SFWA venues.

4. Just as SFWA doesn’t control what members and non-members say in non-SFWA spaces, it also doesn’t control what members and non-members say in response to members’ public comments, statements, essays, and blog posts. When persons say things in public that others find objectionable, it is likely they will receive criticism and objections. There is an odd misconception among some that Freedom of Speech includes freedom from the consequences of one’s speech and freedom from commentary on what one has said.

5. There also seems to be an oddly misplaced tendency to look at SFWA’s recent efforts to moderate language in its own channels as somehow being responsible for public criticism of various individual’s public statements and positions. I submit, though, that if one is somehow threatened by the organization’s requirements that we treat fellow members with respect within our official channels, then the problem is someplace other than with SFWA.

*Board investigation of harassment complaints may take public statements into consideration, but this is extremely rare.

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