Brief observation on some of the rhetoric lately tied to group politics
April 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
The more-apparent fissuring of SF fan groups into socio-political blocs that resemble more and more those present in Anglo-American political parties is not as much a recent affair as just the further crystalization of something that has been occurring for the past several years, if not a decade or more. Ever since the web and later social media has made it easier to mass mobilize like-minded people, there has been quite an increase of friction and pushback between various constituencies. What’s been discussed over the past eight days is but the most recent echo of certain heated conversations (diatribes?) all across the socio-cultural spectrum over that time span.
Certain terms have come to the fore, such as the usage of “intersectionality” and “privilege” to denote differences between certain ethno-cultural groups. I have no problem with the theoretical tools associated with the former to be applied in this case, but I suspect what part of the larger issue in these debates might revolve around the usage of the latter term. In noting that there might be issues with the usage of “privilege,” I am not denying that group and individual discrimination for a whole host of reasons occurs. What I (slightly) object to is the underlying assumption behind some of those using privilege as a catch-all term that those who lack certain privileges are lacking in power. Too frequently, the tenor of the conversations I’ve read in which “privilege” is used is that of an unstated claiming of an unilateral flow of power toward a consolidation point within an elite group (often, but not always associated with, straight WASP cis-males). Yet even when claims for needs (and creations of) for “safe spaces” are openly made, there isn’t the acknowledgement that the creation of these spaces also creates newer power dynamics.
I found myself thinking of Michel Foucault’s attempts to formulate a theory of power in which power was not a centralized entity but instead a diffused element that flowed in multiple directions in which some who might wield greater power in certain situations will find themselves relatively powerless in others. This hypothesis does not invalidate the consolidation of group power within certain institutions, but rather it allows for role reversals based on situations and acknowledges that humans may be more active agents in these power structures than other theories permit.
As for how this applies to the issue mentioned above, what I’ve observed is that there are several power structures within this odd entity called SF fandom. Some powerful groups come from those who are marginalized in the larger society, whether it is due to their ethnic origin, religion, language, sexual identity, or mental and/or physical differences from others. Other groups orient themselves around the preservation of “traditional” organizational structures and they often come across as defensive precisely due to a sense of having their power threatened, if not stripped from them. This isn’t as much “privilege” (which implies that such power is not inherent to any group that wields it and can/should be taken away) as it is a battle of world-views in which certain symbols serve as a casus belli.
What will be the end result? Hegelian dialectics would posit that this clash of a thesis and antithesis should lead to a synthesis, but what synthesis can emerge when the rhetoric on multiple sides often devolves into absolutist terms? It shall be interesting to see which elements in this microcosm of the “cultural wars” win out in the coming years. In the interim, I fully expect to see a further polarization of SF readers into stridently-opposed groups that will each appropriate elements of class warfare dialogue to suit their needs.