The Risks of Being Different

  

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  It has been said that we live in perilous times.That noted, all times are potentially perilous for everyone: there has never been, and there never will be, a safe time or place for anyone at any point. In fact, at any given moment there are the possibilities of natural or man-made disasters to contend with; deranged people to navigate (not always in the sense of lethality, either, but dealing with the casual narcissists, the undiagnosed sociopaths, and the walking wounded in our midst). In reality, the gravest dangers lie not in perceived threats from nation-states like North Korea, existential menace from death-cults such as Daesh (also called ISIS), or religio-political organizations such as the KKK (though they are disconcerting), but rather in our own reactions and willingness to gleefully tear down others due to jealousy, insecurity, lust for social status and power, or some other nebulous, debased personal goal.The worst threats, in other words, come from within, and from people we interact with in our day-to-day lives.Also, it would seem that logic and common sense (as well as plain decency and tolerance of other thoughts and ideas) in this emotion-driven, impulsive climate—especially in the recent past—has been jettisoned in favor of making enemies out of allies; in turning on others due to some misapprehension of the nature of “progress”; in a certain disapproval of objective reality; in a willingness to blindly embrace bubbles of confirmation-bias which some appear to need in order to obtain peer validation and a sense of community and/or personal identity.As an example, some people feel that any criticism of Daesh could be construed as an “attack” on all Islam, because they are fixated on either/or thinking and their personal (though oversimplified) biases regarding fashionable social mores (e.g., “Muslims are minorities in the West, therefore they are to be protected”), as this Free Inquiry article, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry vs. Genuine Criticism of Islam” by Faisal Saeed Al Mutar points out regarding “Pseudo-Liberal Apologists” (which they are) versus “Actual Critics of Islam” (such as atheists like myself tend to be, as we critique all religions with the same detachment).As a result, it has become a race to “out-empathize” their peers (and covertly marginalize the very groups they claim to support and admire, such as Muslims in this example), not a genuine desire to resolve any underlying issues vexing society. This tendency is seen over and again: self-proclaimed Democrats lecturing others about their own piety and grasp of the plights of the groups they not only have no concrete relation to (blacks [most of them are whites], females [most of the loudest are males], LGBTQ persons [most of them are cisgendered straights], and so on), but, additionally, how these groups should best comport themselves (!). This defense of certain groups/individuals includes Muslims (though the majority of Democrats are Christians or non-affiliated), except that these defenders quite frequently ignore injustices that some sects of the religion demonstrate (suppression of homosexuals and disrespect of women, for example), which they would never approve within other groups (say, Mormon/LDS excesses). It is a glaring example of their hypocrisy and inconsistency with respect to these issues, as well as their fear, I suspect, of going against their ideological groupthink. It is a form of covert prejudice, in other words.Along that same line of thought, I used to be amazed that Daesh could be so successful at recruitment to their horrendous cause (and its appalling abuses) using mostly online techniques. Even though the reality of Western culture was not as they described—and though many of their cohort even lived in the West that Daesh was demonizing—it has become apparent to me that they were successful because this sort of emotional appeal works. Instead of uniting us and exposing us to new ideas, or challenging our inherent or developed biases and attitudes, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook seem more likely to isolate us, to strengthen our impulses to aggregate as a mob, or to attack others (often because there are no real consequences for doing so, unlike a direct confrontation), or to reduce the people being attacked into stereotypes or faceless “others.”In essence, it teaches us to “other” people, not to humanize them more, the mechanism being not rational thought, but strictly through emotionalism and self-delusion. Daesh learned to exploit that vulnerability in the platforms, and in their society. So has the self-styled “Regressive Left,” it appears (to include these legions of Pseudo-Liberal Apologist types). As the person who coined the term, Maajid Nawaz explains it far better than I could. Like him, I prefer to consider all sides of an issue, not simply regurgitate feel-good talking points. This sort of behavior is dangerous to freethinking people like myself, who are actual social liberals, not puppets to Orwellian groupthink causes. As an artist, I can’t grow if I don’t accept the world as it is and comment on it through the prism of my own experiences, thoughts, and impressions. That freedom and flexibility—devoid of the dogmatic influence and the limitations of acceptance or rejection by others—is paramount to me. It is the core of my raison d’être, and all that matters to me as a creator. If it means I’m shunned by a subset of a subset of a ghettoized genre community—be it horror or science fiction or some other—so be it. They need people like me more than I need any of them.In part this need to join a community explains why blaming others feels good, but listening to others is hard. Some people—weak people—simply want to demonize those with whom they disagree and fault them for all the ills of society; still others want to flagellate themselves over the transgressions of the immutable past. But these groups are ultimately comprised of sick individuals who have no real business lecturing the rest of us stronger-minded folks. Furthermore, this is not the social liberal Left I was taught to respect while growing up; these are not the ideals that I think best represent bringing us together, irrespective of class, age, socioeconomic status, race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, immigration status, cultural heritage, or any other intersectional sub-metric.As a result, I have concluded that we as a people cannot be united by continuing to promote divisions. To illustrate this point, during President Obama’s tenure, we (Democrats) virtually gave away 900+ seats to the GOP at every level of government. And this was brought about largely by a failure of nerve coupled with hubris and lethargy. We lost sight of our aims and seemed to expect them to be met as a sort of social inevitability, with no pushback and little real effort involved. But anything worth having takes work; assuring we attain our goals by tackling the issues should be a strong motivator (e.g., gun control, infrastructure improvements, refining civil rights, strong economic policy, universal healthcare and education, UBI, sensitive foreign diplomacy, reduced military spending waste, etc.), not the social-identity politicking or the “resistance” to this-or-that which has become so common (and increasingly ineffective) today. By the time one has mounted a “resistance” to something, the cause is usually already lost. That means you’re starting from behind, when in reality you need to be two steps (or more) ahead. We on the Left became complacent; what is required is that we get back to our roots, and those roots are not enshrined in the halls of elite academic institutions or produced by the mainstream media. They are the foundational principles of people who are the backbone working stiffs of the social liberals, folks with the dreams and aspirations of the possible, as well as the insights of mindful thought-leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Harvey Milk. Not elites. Not rich Neoliberals.The traditional motto of the United States is E pluribus unum, which means “Out of many, one.” As well, a respected military strategy is to divide and conquer. Fundamentally, these are oppositional ideas. We cannot keep ourselves unified as a nation by carving our populace into smaller and smaller warring factions. We are Earthlings first, then humans, then Americans (or wherever we hail from by birth), then everything else. If you don’t agree and you’re blinded by your hatred or infatuation for another intersectional group, or are promoting the notion that one group is a permanent and perpetual victim and another is always dominating all others, you are the problem, not the answer. We are more than hyphenates and repositories of convenient voting bloc fodder and political party social-metric expectations. We have to come together (and vote consistently) as one—as Americans consisting of all races, creeds, sexes, classes, abilities, perspectives, religions (or not), genders and so on—not in division, and with a unified voice calling for positive action, not vying for some imaginary pecking order. If we fail in this, there will be more Trumps in the future. And worse ones.Unfortunately, the reality is that it seems society is becoming increasingly fragmented, not more united. As a case in point from personal experience: I have recently been maligned, as has my wife, over something I wrote as a snarky quip about the singer P!nk. Now, I admit I am not a P!nk fan, though I’ll grant she was a trooper to sing at the 2018 Super Bowl with the flu, and that her voice is technically not bad. My issue is more about her music and her image; I find her output vapid and her image not very compelling. She isn’t (subjectively to me, at any rate) an “attractive” singer. Much of the music industry (similar to the acting profession) is predicated on the visual and sexual appeal of a performer (especially a female performer), quite often in lieu of “talent” or ability; to deny that is disingenuous. And this “attractiveness” is in the eye of the beholder. Others obviously find P!nk very entertaining, perhaps even beautiful. To me, she strives for a sort of tomboyish toughness that falls flat, while, often at the same time, trying to be “sexy.” Nothing wrong with that, but I feel she misses the mark. By way of contrast, there is another artist, Joan Jett, whom I feel balances these attributes well—toughness and sexiness. There is nothing “manly” about Jett (she seems at once very capable and also vulnerable, which I suspect is part of her wide appeal), whereas P!nk has this sort of mien in her appearance and delivery. I also believe Jett to be a better performer, if not a better technical singer.Additionally, I find Justin Timberlake (who did the Super Bowl Halftme Show) to be generally boring and lacking in charisma, though clearly others disagree with me. To my mind, he’s an aged Mouseketeer and has never really risen much above that level. He’s no David Bowie or Frank Sinatra, let’s say. Or even Michael Jackson, who was also a child star, just as Timberlake was.So my snark came out. About Timberlake, I posted he was “shitty” and later wondered when “[his] balls [were] going to drop” (an oblique reference to his high-pitched, nasally voice and generally lackluster pop music). About P!nk, I felt that “Pink was shitty, too. I wish she’d realize she doesn’t have a cock.” (That was the verbatim statement: Claims to the contrary are falsified documents.) Now, granted, I was being obnoxious and ribald in these instances. Not a great moment, but there are worse things in the world. Not that I can match them, but many of my favorite comedians are similarly abrasive and frank, such as Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, or Chris Rock. I prefer them to the Jerry Seinfelds (more on him later) and Bill Cosbys of the world (“not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .”—and I do like their work). These comments were also wry double entrendres, a form of commentary that appeals to me (“cock” as in rooster; “balls” as in sports-related, or even “too many balls in the air,” etc.).No harm there: tastes vary, after all. Initially, I just let my posts ride as stupid observations on stupid rituals (singing national anthems at sporting events, and the whole notion of a Super Bowl and its entertainment). But I seriously miscalculated; there was something else at work—something much more sinister.Later, someone (a couple of people) commented on the P!nk performance and pointed out her illness, and also her skill. I agreed. However, one person wondered if I was making a “transphobic” comment. (No, I wasn’t.) I found that an odd way to view what I wrote; it honestly never crossed my mind that it could even be construed that way (P!nk is a cisgendered, straight female, after all). So I wrote a detailed explanation of what I meant. Still another person insulted me as a Donald Trump-supporting, anti-LGBTQ person. I flatly denied that as well, of course, as absurd. (As noted previously, I’m a liberal, a registered Democrat, and—as people may know—I vocally supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton; one reason I did so was because of her discomfort [on religious grounds] about gay marriage. She half-heartedly amended her stance [much] later.) I also found this interpretation mystifying (and somewhat telling of the persons promoting it as such—they appear to be virtue-signaling their projected anxieties, not mine, and are becoming the thing they claim to despise—bigoted, hateful fascists), because I have many gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender friends and colleagues (so why would I ever want to hurt their feelings?). I was genuinely surprised. But, thinking it over, I decided to remove the comment and wrote a heartfelt apology (both publicly and in private) for any confusion if it was—somehow—misunderstood. The note is still on my page, in fact.But no: that wasn’t enough.Perhaps it’s the zeitgeist: people are just completely intolerant to other points of view. They are also not willing to consider that people sometimes err, or that occasionally a flippant comment is just a flippant comment, with no other subtext or hidden agenda. Though not exactly a “joke” in the traditional sense, it was a comment (all of them were, actually—I don’t hate Timberlake or P!nk’s output, after all; I just prefer Rush and The Beatles more) made in a lighthearted spirit—a wisecrack, in other words. If someone’s feelings were hurt in that process, well, that’s the way it is, because that’s what comedy and satire do: it snaps us past our comfort zones, when done well. Others of us may not get hurt feelings over things (even if the truth of it stings sometimes; I too have been “satirized” by far less skillful practitioners than I—more on that later), but the reason is not because we’re all “mean” or insensitive; it’s because we recognize it when people are bringing us together to laugh over our shared foibles, quirks, and common experiences as humans, and not simply defining everyone as this or that hyphenated social bloc, or painting them to be demons because they dared to have a personality. (The famous “man-handsSeinfeld clip [from the “The Bizarro Jerry” episode] points this out; is this “transphobic” by this metric, or simply a silly observation about a person’s quirks? I suspect the latter was the point.) It was not intended or stated as a slur, slight, or some other put-down. That people took it for more than what it actually was surprised me and was certainly not anything I envisioned—in fact, it was purposely twisted that way as part of an orchestrated vendetta, it now appears, by people with a pronounced agenda against me and what I do.Anyone who has worked with me or who knows me well realizes that bigotry is not part of my character. In fact, the people who matter most to me have not only been understanding, but they have sent me public and private endorsements and statements of kindness, which I greatly appreciate. Several others “got” my original meaning to begin with and have stood by me, which gives me some hope for humanity overall.On the other hand, I’ve seen people I thought were intelligent gradually turn into indoctrinated, even moronic, automata. Many of the people to whom I used to accord some measure of respect seem to have succumbed to questionable beliefs and ideologies, many of them rooted in hearsay and faux outrage (most likely the fear of what others may think of them, I suspect, as they are susceptible to any criticism rather than taking a stance on something). They have grown increasingly inward, retreating into a bubble of groupthink and confirmation bias, mostly since the election cycle began in 2014 or thereabouts, and largely as a result of social media influence taking over their lives, their emotions, and their thought processes. It’s a worrying trend, and seems more about establishing a sort of pseudo-religious cult of political correctness, as well as setting various Kafkatraps, rather than moving society forward in any meaningful way.Alas, we’ve arrived in a damaging age of “zero-tolerance”: the epoch of guilty until proven innocent (which is not how our justice system is designed), where hearsay may convict anyone, with no due process. It’s a closed time of mistrust; of prejudice and bullying disguised as “social justice”; of vigilante zealotry masquerading as sociopolitical “addressing the past” (essentially hijacking the biblical notion of “original sin” and meting out punishment, though not actual justice); of self-segregation pretending to be pride in “social-identity”—a sort of “Jim Crow 2.0” netherworld seeking to divide rather than include, the personal equivalent of current preoccupations with nationalism in many parts of the world. Even when one errs and comes to understand it and “atone,” shall we say, the judgmental in our midst decry it as insufficient—that while they should be permitted the space to make amends, you should not be able to, because you are “out” and they are “in” and that’s how it is (in other words: they have greater “moral agency,” and are superior to you, according to them, at any rate). Which is hogwash and not how our society is (or should be) engineered. Anyone should be allowed the space to admit mistakes or shortcomings, change, recover, grow, and learn—otherwise there is no place (or purpose) for justice or compassion (or being human, even), and we should just kill everyone or banish them from society when they misstep. It’s the digital equivalent of the Scarlet Letter.Is that the fundamentalist-puritan culture we really want? Current Scenario What this all has to do with anything is thus: I have been an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) for at least the past five or six years. During that time, I have volunteered in several positions: as a jurist, a Jury Chair, an Election Committee coordinator, and so on. My wife, Sunni, has also served on the juries, sometimes as a pinch-replacement for someone who had to leave, and as a volunteer at the conventions for registration, etc. We have paid dues, run sales tables, conducted readings, supported the Bram Stoker Awards banquet by purchasing tickets, co-sponsored the con once (in Portland, OR), hosted parties, voted for the awards, interviewed participants, facilitated getting guests to attend, screened our films, written for the program book, taught a class, paneled, and so on. At this point, I intend to let our memberships lapse, as I feel we have outgrown what the organization has to offer, though in principle I agree with its stated aims, and, while I have several friends and colleagues who do great things within the HWA, I just don’t feel, at this juncture, the association is living up to what I need, where I am, and what I hope to accomplish in my career. Likewise, we have no plans to continue in or join any other organizations at this point for similar reasons.In fact, I have felt this way for the past year or so, but recently I was forced to focus my doubts. It was due to the P!nk quip I made on my personal Facebook account, which is not affiliated with the HWA. Regardless, some outside the org took it upon themselves to use the statements (outlined previously) as a means to enact this aforementioned personal hate campaign directed at me; the HWA, for its part, was seemingly disinclined to support me over misrepresentations, though I feel I have earned the trust of the organization through my service to it by this point. That noted, the reasons for this attack are too long and complex to fully enumerate, but contain aspects of disputes I’ve had in the so-called “New Weird” and “Bizarro” communities (which are both based in part in Portland, OR, just a few miles from where we reside, and which they started and continue to foment) for several years, off and on. It also includes elements connected to my long-term friendships with both beloved, award-winning author and writing legend William F. Nolan (author of 90+ books, and bestselling co-writer [with Star Trek  scripter George Clayton Johnson] of the iconic Logan’s Run novel and its sequels, as well as films such as Burnt Offerings, among dozens of other scripts for TV and cinema) and renowned, award-winning weird fiction scholar/critic and world authority on H. P. Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi (author of more than 250 books). These differences are uncoupled from the HWA, in point of fact.The following has occurred since this brouhaha erupted (and though some will say I “brought this on myself,” I think the truth is more that the U.S. is descending into a pit of politicized bias about nearly every aspect of anything, and we fail to have any compromise—this is just another micro-example of that phenomenon): 
  • People have pulled out of projects they were previously committed to, citing this as a reason. Even if you’re a New York Times or other bestselling author or editor (which is essentially meaningless metric parsing), or award-winner (Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, etc.), this is unprofessional, especially when one picks a side, won’t consider another interpretation, and essentially joins in acceptance of a false allegation.
  • A business associate providing services withdrew their services as a result.
  • Connections that I’ve had for years—and who know me better after all this time—are suddenly gone.
  • There have been multiple rude comments on things I say or posts I interact with online.
  • There are various examples of social media threads making hay of a single comment and besmirching my personal integrity (with no other concrete evidence), allegations of misconduct (libelous and completely unfounded insinuations of criminal activity), as well as unflattering and hurtful depictions of my wife and myself.
  • This contretemps has been used as an opportunity to bring up old professional grudges (dating back years in some cases).
  • There has been a misunderstanding that, although I am a public figure to some degree, I am not dead, and therefore one cannot just make up libelous, unsubstantiated allegations about my actions or character. I have committed no crimes here. I had a moment of snark. So have my accusers, but now they are edging into legally actionable defamation and injury, not mere name-calling. And so are their adherents.
  • Deals I was involved in have been canceled, the reason being that the people I was to work with were pressured (basically intimidated) into severing their connection or they would face the wrath of a mob of people who would bar them from other projects in the future, as well as boycott reviewing or buying their work if it was affiliated with me.
  • There have been sundry unfounded allegations that I (and my wife) have somehow “exploited” Mr. Nolan financially and in other ways. There is zero proof or reality to this; all they do is say it, and people are persuaded to believe it’s the case. In fact, it is a lie and edges into libel. Nolan, at 90 years of age, has repeatedly and forcefully spoken out against this assertion on social media, which has been stated most-often by one Brian Keene, a person who has alleged several bogus assertions against me and my family and friends, though never to my face (and, although he has said in the past he would have me on his podcast, he has reneged on that pledge). To rebut these falsehoods, Nolan has declared several times previously that Mr. Keene and his friends are “attention-seeking idiots and assholes” for saying these things, as are their followers for believing the allegations in the first place, as it insults Mr. Nolan’s integrity and his intellect.
  • As a direct consequence, I was stripped of all programming duties at StokerCon 2018. Though I wasn’t banned from attending and my status in the HWA was unchanged (and I violated no association statutes), I chose not to attend as a result. I was accorded no due process and was denied a grievance process by the parent org, the Horror Writers Association (HWA). And though I didn’t violate any HWA/StokerCon protocols or commit any crimes, I was just swept into the carnage of a bandwagon effect. It’s unfair and unwarranted. I have no idea who the HWA complainants are, and I had no chance to appeal or be given some other level of recourse, such as a restriction (fewer panels, say), or a warning (which would have been fine; I was willing to apologize for the misunderstanding, but that was not offered as a possibility). In other words, other actions should have been enough to remedy this, but I was given no option or even a chance to defend my position or explain it.
In essence, it appears the HWA was petitioned by a gaggle of these types who were basically acting as an unaffiliated gang pressuring them to eliminate me from the programming or they would not participate. My understanding (though limited on the details) is that one of the people alleged to have taken this approach is a bestselling novelist. This sort of conspiratorial behavior is undesirable and unprofessional on his part, especially since I have never directly even worked or interfaced with this person. He seems to be operating on sheer insinuation and chinwagging. An adult should at least have the courage of his convictions to confront me in an attempt to clarify. This person is also, it would appear, an ally of Mr. Keene.As a consequence, all this nonsense was done to damage my professional reputation. With respect to StokerCon, I find it hard to believe people were so “outraged” that they can’t even act calmly on a panel, or that they feel I would say something “offensive” on any panel they were on with me. I’ll be on any panel, anywhere, on any topic, at any time with anybody. This is pure posturing by any guest or attendee, to be frank.For such a lot as this—so vociferous about the injustices of the world—I note the following regarding the “nobility” of the behaviors they have exhibited toward me and others:
  • Many of the perpetrators attempt to hide their online bullying, which is quite often a violation of social media etiquette and protocol. They have engaged in this in the past, also, and been forced to stop.
  • Meanwhile, minor players from the so-called “Bizarro/New Weird” scene in Portland make videos denigrating the person, sex life, heritage, marriage, upbringing, and works of S. T. Joshi, who is an Indian immigrant and Hindu secularist (now a US citizen). I have the publicly posted, three-minute video harangue. Furthermore, this example is not the only time they have mocked him racially, sexually, and professionally (as well as inaccurately) via memes, writings, or posts. These actions go beyond simple name-calling, and verge on hatemongering.
  • Incredibly, one of the publishers being awarded the Specialty Press Award by the HWA at StokerCon 2018 is Eraserhead Press (which mainly publishes Bizarro and horror and is based in Portland). The strange irony of the intolerance and fragility of the people affiliated with this press (namely Mr. Keene) is very telling of the bias and hypocrisy on display here. Some of the same people responsible for (and supportive of) titles such as Baby Jesus Butt Plug, The Faggiest Vampire, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, and I Am Genghis Cum (just a sampling of the titles) were complaining loudly for over a week about a simple, (purposely) misinterpreted comment online. Though I myself am unfazed by these silly titles and books, I am bemused that no one finds their “offense” at what I wrote—not to mention the HWA!—in the least duplicitous or odd, given that they claim to advocate the mockery and satire of culture, in part.
There is more, but that’s plenty. This situation has gone on about four years, and now my six or so years of volunteerism is down the drain at the HWA. And for what? A falsely self-righteous crusade over a comment about the singer P!nk? A one-off quip? It’s not right to do this to me, or to anyone. (In part, this is a phenomenon known as “context collapse.”) And this is where it gets to be a very dangerous time for liberty and being an artist. Artists of all types and levels provoke with their works and insights. They need that headroom to be creative. I committed no crime. We live in the United States, and we have the First Amendment. My speech is protected, just as theirs is (though they are breaching certain limits with respect to defamation and libel as it goes on and on). They are engaging in a de facto form of censorship: a sort of “Heckler’s Veto.” It’s unacceptable, and the punishment in my case has been disproportionate to the “offense.” P!nk is certainly a public figure, and there was nothing hateful, defamatory, or threatening about my snide commentary. Reviewing works is not illegal. Not liking the works of an artist or creator is not illegal. Even name-calling is not illegal. Beliefs aren’t facts, and facts require no one to believe them to be true. But when enough people buy in to a belief, the net result is seemingly “factual enough” to the subset, so they act as though it’s a fact, even if it’s just rumor, a lie (as in this instance about me), or speculation. And then it becomes embellished and so on. The story of a friend-of-a-friend takes on the patina of “reality” in this way, even if the facts in toto don’t support the truth of the matter and are strictly gossip and innuendo.And therein lies part of the issue: these days, people may safely go into a cocoon where everyone will comfortably agree with them. You can become comfortably numb, sated and opiated by the media and your adherents. Instead of becoming an exemplar of confident understanding and tolerance of other ideas or opinions, some degenerate into arrogant bullies and their mouthpieces, or wanna-be “shock jocks.” Instead of working on one’s craft and doing good things with the opportunities they have been afforded, they descend into petty egotism and lashing out at others for no demonstrable reason other than ludicrous justifications about some vague, ill-advised “sense of justice.” Of course, this so-called “justice” isn’t theirs to render (and in fact there has been no “injustice” to countermand); in this application, it’s simply a euphemistic catch-phrase for ginning up online lynch-mobs.In the larger scheme, it seems that the purpose of life is to be challenged, to grow, and to learn. This is true for our entire time on this planet, brief as it is. Sadly, the actuality now is that we’ve reached a stage where no one really needs to try to appreciate someone’s perspective—all they have to do is declare their “offense” at it and be determined to “rectify” the situation. How that is done ranges from shaming to outright lying and misrepresentation of facts to name-calling to piling-on to doxing to false assertions to scapegoating to ostracism to falsifying screen captures (via Photoshop-like manipulation) to making up documents, and so on. If the targets don’t acquiesce, or they step out of line on any infraction, they are summarily stigmatized and torn apart. It has become even the secularist’s version of a religious crusade. So they adopt their ill-conceived postures, yet lack the courage to truly support them rationally; they hide, and they bully, and they use dishonest tactics to underscore their self-righteousness to others through emotion instead of argumentation and reason (pure virtue-signaling and manipulation, in other words): screen-capturing bits to strip context; erasing their “impure” thoughts, leaving only the apparent “rants” of their adversaries; ridiculing and making fun of others; organizing dogpiles of fake outrage to puff themselves up; “glad-handing”/namedropping people they believe will benefit them while trying to turn people against others they dislike personally for whatever reason; making up lies for smear campaigns (especially victim blaming to deflect their culpability; I mean really, there are at least 70 of them, and only 10 or so of us they keep attacking); slagging people with rumors, deceitful practices, and tearing down their families in a personal way (which should be strictly off-limits); pretending to be the “white hats” (good guy badge) and branding others as “black hats” (villains); hiding their activities from certain people so these others can’t really see what is happening (gaslighting), and so on. All very mature!I myself in the past have tried two sorts of engagement with these keyboard bravado slacktivist types online (in person has never been an issue, as they invariably retreat in apparent shame and cowardice): 1) responding to attacks with my own bad name-calling behaviors (which only brought me to their level—except they seem to have no “moral bottom”), and 2) attempts at actually reasoning with them. I have decided they are incapable of reasoning: they are pure Id. I was, in earlier times, hoping to preserve what I thought were friendships or associations. They aren’t interested in that, largely due to their own psychological fragility and careerism. Of the latter strategy, I can attest that it had limited success, mainly because these people are uptight ideological purists and therefore are unable to reach common ground with more nuanced thinkers. They are unreasonable, in fact. As to the former tactic (done in response to their repeated and unprovoked attacks on me, my friends, and family), all I can say is that it never worked, made me feel negative, and was unsuccessful against a brainless, spineless mob of cretins. I will no longer corrupt myself by reflecting their behaviors back at them.As a result, I will now stick solely to refuting factual inaccuracies and will not engage with them about my businesses, meritless assertions regarding my character, appearance, or person, insults meant to provoke a response, “calling-out” others (or, as we call it where I’m from, being a snitch), their craft or output (with the reservation that I will be honest in any reviews I may conduct, as well as my personal opinions, which are my own and not subject to control or censorship), my family, my friends, my output, and so on. I have too much to do, and too many responsibilities to waste time with these petty things. I have already tried to “mend the fence” several times—they have no sincere interest in doing so outside of half-hearted efforts which crumble (on their end) due to peer-pressure from the unruly in their midst. So be it. I’ve already wasted too much effort on people who are meaningless to me as it is.As to their side of it: well, they are always quick to explain my “insignificance.” Of course, these people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to trash me, my allies, and my efforts. If I am so insignificant, why bother? And dare I note that these are mostly people pushing (in several cases well in excess of) 50 years-old? Shouldn’t they know better than to react in such petty ways by now (to critics, to peers, to people who dislike their works, etc.)? And, as they are quick to tell you, they are “smarter and more experienced” than me and most everyone. More “accomplished.” (This is not necessarily true, mind you, but with the latter you’d hope that they had done somewhat more than some of us since a few of them have been working in the field much longer!) These are their metrics: book sales and works produced. Not what they have to say, or their insights into the human condition: just numbers of books completed and sales. Possibly awards. Yet, many others have outstripped them in all of these metrics. So what? I mean, they’re prolific in some instances (after all, for several of them quality is not a prime consideration, let’s face it—they grind and hack it out). And, sure, they have a fan-base (though they are hardly NYT bestsellers like Stephen King—not even close, actually). Good on them! But they’ll be forgotten, just as most of us shall be. Really, consider the “bestselling” and “prolific” and “accomplished” people from the past. . . How many of these books and authors do most of us recognize prior to the 1980s? Not too many! And I guess all those writers and other creators who toiled in relative obscurity with few works and meager sales—Thomas Ligotti, Lovecraft, Kafka—they just don’t amount to much, do they? (Ha! What a laughably idiotic thing to insinuate on their part, I must say!)That noted, my personal theory about their reactions and behavior: they are jealous. And insecure. And looking for anything they can to harm others and tell you how much more they matter. These types don’t want a level playing field. They want to rig things in their favor, and they cannot resist reacting emotionally and with every ounce of vitriol they can muster, as they understand, deep down, they are nothing. Now, I’m certainly not the only person who has been the target of their collective wrath, and I have no illusions that it’s “all about me—aren’t I something?” In fact, in addition to their attacks on my wife, Joshi, Nolan, and me, they have condemned numerous others in this fashion, to include various publishers, author Darrell Schweitzer, the deceased writer H. P. Lovecraft, the World Fantasy Awards, and anyone or anything else which dares to disrupt their way of thinking and experiencing the world. They are incapable of being mature adults, or engaging in honest and intelligent debate, or simply agreeing to disagree. They want others to worship them, or they want to belittle them and cause them to fail. But, what goes around comes around, so it’s best not to be so negative, in my view. Karma can be unpleasant, especially for unenlightened folks such as this. Careful those you step on. And not everyone likes or approves of these sorts of actions, even if they don’t say anything. In reality, their fans in many cases are just waiting for Something Better, and when it comes along, they’ll split. It’s human nature to tire of such antics, and to move away from them, especially when people come to realize that the perpetrator’s moral compass is “tuned to the wrong polarity,” let’s say.However, if one metric of success is the company one keeps, surely the inverse of that—the “enemies” one acquires who are determined to undermine one’s progress and good intentions (which I would never attempt: I never bother trying to undermine them, as they’re no threat to what I do, and I like it when people do well, actually)—is another. That’s part of becoming successful, sadly: that some people will hate you no matter what you do. To that end, I am glad they are not on my side, because I don’t respect them or their behaviors, and don’t feel they represent the best in character or talent the field has to offer. No doubt they feel similarly, except I don’t really care what any of them think or feel at this point, and have no interest in dealing with them further. These people are flipped out by anyone they perceive as a “threat,” or who seems to attain any measure of success, or who refuses to bend to their way of thinking, or who doesn’t give them enough (in their mind) “respect” or due consideration (as we say, “kiss their ass”). Well, first of all, perhaps they should grok that they aren’t owed anything. Secondly, I may have liked some things a few of them have done, but I’m quite critical; I don’t just like things for no reason, or because I’m told to, or because I’m looking to get into someone’s good graces and so on. I have my own mind, my own aesthetics, my own considerations of what makes something worthwhile. I expect they do as well, and that’s fine. But no one is going to make me say I like something I don’t, or intimidate me, or blackmail me. I’m not a clique type, either. I’m way too alpha for that. If that means some things don’t come my way, oh well: I have my integrity, and I’m not going away. The work is the thing, not the personalities, or the politics, or the herd.In the end, this is not the mob-ruled society we really want, is it? This conniving throng of self-righteous, purity-testing moralizers who intimidate others for fear that they could be the next target? Isn’t that what we disliked about the Right in the 1980s under Thatcher and Reagan? Why adopt their reactionary zealotry and hateful behaviors? Also, who are these self-appointed online moralists to draw the lines between right and wrong? How are they so pious and without any moral failing? Don’t they have better things to do than to insult others, fret over the success of people online, savage the missteps of their peers, or insinuate themselves into things that aren’t their business, such as the sex lives of their enemies, or the youthful indiscretions and errors of people outside their clique? What are they hiding, as these types usually are? When does an expression of a humorous or personal nature in the social media realm become transferred into a prohibition on commenting on life or espousing ideas in works of art, literature, or cinematic efforts? Where does the calling-out descend into censorship and, inevitably, self-censoring?While there is a certain safety in numbers, the “following” instinct rewards acceptance and discourages thought. This phenomenon explains a herd mentality, as well as mob behavior, of which this whole scenario is a clear example. I have every right to express my opinion, just as they do. They have crossed that threshold due to pure vindictiveness. People such as this cohort are impotent in real life, so they form communities to “feel” powerful, to control the behavior of others. They never act alone: they act as a clique. They will not engage: they dictate. They are not interested in my rights or any other person’s rights, even the other impotents who agree with them. And it doesn’t matter how many awards they have (or not), or how many sales they garner (or not): they are impotent on a personal level. They are looking for offense, to damage others, and to thought-police. To regulate, in other words, the views and actions of others, which is not their right. It’s something missing in their psyche, a hollowness, filled with rage and insecurity, because they know that they have nothing to say, or very little, and that they will amount to nothing in the long term, irrespective of any material success (or lack thereof). None of that fixes the emptiness that yawns in them and eats away at their reality when they pause even for a moment in pointing fingers at others. Other Issues This sort of brouhaha and behavior calls into question other scenarios from the past of public record. My case is not the only example where the HWA has acted precipitously with respect to something outside the organization and internalized it, specifically bowing to the pressure of online mobs. Such mobs never ask for the other side of the story, being literal-minded; for example, I’ve never heard of a “mob of geniuses” (indeed, the collective I.Q. of such mobs is about 15, it would appear), which is no surprise really, considering that people want to believe the worst, and are loath to question anything they read or see online (which is frequently distorted, stripped of context, and manipulated). Having no tiered structure of relief to the accused, or any consideration of due process only compounds these cases, for example: 
  • A similar group—many of the same people, in fact—in the past accused a publisher/writer of being a “Nazi.” The person at issue had, in the past, right-wing views. But he committed no crimes that I am aware of and is entitled to his point of view, though I may strongly disagree with his perspective. His views are uncoupled from the HWA (which, to my understanding, has no official political affiliation or position), he was not promoting them either within the group or on his social media account, and he had voiced no obvious political statements in some time, even though he has a right to do so. In fact, he had previously served on a jury without incident, so this seemed doubly vexing as to the purpose in allowing him to be pressured from a subsequent jury, in addition to other problems that it caused him professionally.
Later, I saw where an esteemed writer was accused by one of these people of being a (paraphrase) “Nazi sympathizer and apologist” for his defense of the jurist’s right to express his views, even though they may be unpopular, so long as they were not calls to action or hate speech. To that end, the original party had never expressed opinions that were in any way a reflection of Nazism (a term being thrown around with too little consideration for the actual victims of Nazi atrocities from the past, and which, in this usage, cheapens their collective misery and disrespects the memory of the dead). They were simply nationalistic and conservative, which is not a crime.
  • This same core group led to the cancellation of a writer’s retreat, and they also drummed a member out of the organization due to alleged sexual misconduct and financial malfeasance. The potentially criminal aspects of these behaviors are indeed troubling and unacceptable, but, to my knowledge, there has never been a civil or criminal case against this person.
However, this isn’t the most troubling aspect here. Leaving aside the financial element (which was not with respect to the treasure of the HWA, but was related to a personal enterprise and should be for the courts to decide), the most troubling aspect is that the HWA took this cause on (the supposed sexual misbehavior) and acted to expel this person, though the alleged behaviors happened at another, unrelated convention. Granted, this person was involved with the HWA, but there is still due process in our society, as well as the presumption of innocence under the law, even for a person such as accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. If this sort of criminal conduct was indeed the case, that’s for the judiciary to decide, not a writer’s organization to pre-judge. And the process of discovery should have been made more transparent if there was indeed an investigation, or credible evidence of the crimes apart from allegations made online, which there may well have been (I was not privy to the full scope of the details).
  • This same assemblage also tried to smear another author as a sexual predator, though there has been no evidence to that case, and it happened at the very same convention as the instance in the above notation. Again, it was all a situation of online vigilantism and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing. The unproven incident happened at a party. But I was at the party, in a small hotel room (as were my wife and William F. Nolan), and while we saw the participants in the alleged scenario, there was no criminal conduct on display at any time. Other HWA members have stated as much publicly, and they have also been attacked by this cohort, especially by Mr. Keene (who, in addition to public disavowal of the HWA, somehow always figures in these accusations and online witch hunts; follow-up).
  • Denigrating the disabled former president of the HWA, the now-deceased Rocky Wood.
  • This same clique, headed by a colleague of Keene’s whose name is unworthy of even noting here, has also recently had a hand in having an editor/writer relieved of his editorial duties at the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) over a Twitter post that was unrelated to organizational business. Here is a link to the thread.
  • Other examples abound. This group has also conspired to smear my wife and myself as “ableist” on a podcast over a dispute online, which was actually about their overt ableism (the “satirical” ridicule of conventiongoers). They “acted out” the discussion and tried to paint us as mentally challenged, even though they were claiming to be in support of the mentally challenged. This sort of hypocrisy masquerading as “satire” and “humor” is typical of these people (for example, investigate their years long, sadistic torment of a mentally disturbed writer who lives with his grandmother).
  • Similarly, there is an ongoing situation with a writer accused of sexual misconduct (this time at an HWA-sponsored event). So far there have been no legal repercussions from his alleged actions by the so-called victim(s). Yet he is barred from HWA-related activities over allegations. The HWA is not a “jury of his peers”: it is a non-profit organization that collects dues and provides no other protections or benefits (such as health insurance, pensions, etc.), which other orgs and guilds do (SAG, WGA, DGA, etc.). And yet, it issues damaging public statements and conducts itself in a judgmental fashion, nonetheless. If this individual did indeed violate aspects of the convention’s code of conduct, that should be revealed, and not simply be permitted as a sort of cover for extremists and their allegations, which may not have any merit.
 Recommendations So these are some of the situations in the public record that the organization has been pulled into in ways large and small. Other orgs and genres have had similar issues these days (S-F has had a couple, for example). It appears to me that organizations such as the HWA should re-examine its motivations and purpose in light of these circumstances, as they are opening themselves up to liability as a result of damaging the reputations of people who have worked in the groups and who are then poorly treated when a bit of pressure comes to bear. That’s not a good precedent. In this case, the HWA doesn’t need these people causing such trouble for others who have done nothing wrong, but are simply agitating to draw attention to themselves and to “sell books,” such as Keene appears to be doing; these people are manipulating the organization into unwittingly acting out their crusades. (Not to mention that Keene is hardly the arbiter of morality, craftsmanship, and good taste in the universe; in fact, he’s the opposite, in my view.)Overall, this could possibly lead to a corruption of the Bram Stoker Award process, as these types attempt to influence who receives the award via scuttlebutt and manipulation of facts en masse. One strategy in cheating, for example, is to discredit one’s competitors; another is to collude as a group. Some people are already employing such tactics (reference the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies foolishness in the S-F community). Since I was involved internally with the HWA, a few suggestions to possibly prevent such an outcome follow. HWA Grievance Process 
  • The HWA should scrutinize its function and role in these sorts of matters and strive for more objectivity. The U.S. has a First Amendment. People are allowed to have opinions. HWA membership does not preclude that. Additionally, the HWA is not doing itself favors by de facto selecting a side and administering “justice” by allowing itself to be manipulated by mobs or prominent members of the organization. In theory, whether neophyte or Lifetime Achievement Award-winner, each member should have an equal voice in matters of this nature, especially when accused of an infraction. That is the point of paying the dues to the association, and should be an implicit benefit of membership: protection from predatory actions, cyberbullying, and so on, and intercession regarding such immoral practices, to include spurious attacks on an individual’s character resulting in possible reputational harm.
  • The org should have a more transparent process for grievance adjudication. I was given no chance to respond to complaints and was not even aware there was a problem initially. Two days later, I was told I could not participate in programming, but was not prohibited from attending or from membership in the HWA. Needless to say, I feel less compelled to stay with the org at this point.
  • If a complaint is raised by someone—whether a member of the HWA or not—the HWA should allow the accused access to the information and names of the complainants, as well as the evidence and nature of the complaint, before any decision is made. The current climate of vigilante behavior and an increasingly toxic “call-out culture” is not only dangerous to the fabric of society, but also a potential legal problem for the HWA. Being falsely accused or misrepresented and having one’s reputation permanently tarnished for a snarky comment or some other minor alleged misstep are not acceptable remedies, and they are injurious to the accused. In effect, it becomes a case of shifting the burden of proof from the accuser (where it should reside) to the accused. It is not how the U.S. system of justice was created, and it is not a good footing for the org.
Again, we have the presumption of innocence in the U.S. People are innocent until proven guilty, and even if they are guilty of an infraction or crime they are still afforded (as we should be) a chance to face the evidence and their accusers. Although these mediations are not in a court of law, the principles should apply. Doing things behind the scenes, as in this instance and others, emboldens people who would abuse such a secretive system by piling on in an anonymous way, or by making bogus assertions or exaggerated allegations that are not able to be thoroughly investigated and are tantamount to lies, as well as decontextualization and distortion for personal reasons by dishonest or spiteful parties. Bram Stoker Awards Process Improvement In my opinion, the HWA has other deficiencies specifically regarding the awards process that could be improved to make the entire procedure more professional in light of these possible abuses. A few suggestions: 
  • With respect to the juries and the membership recommendation processes, it might be beneficial if the submissions were completely redacted (author[s], publisher, endorsements, and title of work). No cover letters, either. Blind subs would be potentially fairer with regard to picking the most meritorious works in both instances. It can be done automatically by requiring all works submitted to be PDFs.
  • Authors or publishers should be prohibited from promoting works on the internal forum to discourage sharing information that has been redacted with the juries or potential recommendation candidates (the membership).
  • Members of the Board and the Executive hierarchy of the organization should be prohibited from submitting or have works considered for Stoker Awards during their term of service. As it is, jury members are not allowed to judge their own works in the category that they are serving under (and are discouraged, rightly, from advertising their service on said jury), and this should be expanded to include all elements of the org, as it gives an unfair advantage to the works of Board members with respect to the voting process due to simple name recognition. This encourages favoritism in the voting membership toward people serving on the Board, promotes sycophancy within the org, and adds to the appearance of cronyism, deserved or not.
  • There should be a limitation on the number of awards a person is able to win per category. Capping the number would discourage the domination of awards by a few well-known practitioners or members due to name recognition or popularity in lieu of strict merit (Stephen King, for example). I suggest no more than two (2) wins per category. Authors would still remain eligible for the Lifetime Achievement Award, even if they won the maximum number of awards in every category in their career.
  • Winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award should become ineligible from winning future awards in any category. The reason is that this is the pinnacle of achievement within the org, given for overall impact during one’s career. In the interest of leveling the playing field for others, there is no reason to continue giving people awards simply due to name recognition.
  • Board members should not be permitted to serve on the boards of other organizations during their tenure with the HWA. To serve on the HWA board, they must not serve on another board; likewise, if they do serve on another board for a different org, they should be ineligible for HWA service, as their service requires attention to the matters at hand, Too many of the same people serving on too many other boards in the field could potentially restrict diversity of thought, taste, and perspective.
 Summary In this milieu, no one is safe. The correct response is not to give in and hope these bad behaviors (intimidation, cyberbullying, etc.) will fade away: they won’t. The answer is to use the power of organizations (be it the HWA, SFWA, or other institutions) to stand against this sort of groupthink; to shake off the agents of negativity determined to undermine our best intentions for personal gain or vengeance; to speak against those who are content to destroy rather than create. This is a serious existential threat, and it requires a strong rebuttal. Otherwise, the whole enterprise serves no useful purpose except as a way to self-congratulate, and risks sinking into irrelevance, much as the World Fantasy, Shirley Jackson, or Hugo Awards appear to be doing, despite the best efforts of honest brokers. Though the Stokers are better able to weather certain challenges that don’t bedevil all-jury or strictly popular vote systems due to their hybrid jury/member vote setup, they could still be improved. Additionally, other institutions (film festivals, larger conventions, etc.) are likely to suffer the same dreary descent into inconsequence as these types infiltrate and unfairly disrupt them to their favor. These people are ruining the field—indeed the entire enterprise at hand—with their game-playing, unethical practices, and poor sportsmanship. They’re sore losers and poor winners to boot. If others follow these poseurs (because they aren’t leaders—they’re rabble-rousers), I predict that the field will be more damaged than it is today, and, again, increasingly ghettoized as a result.These sorts of things are symptoms, of course, not the causes of our social ills. Indeed, to my way of thinking, America is more than a country; it’s an idea. We have to get back to that foundational understanding and not let people turn us against it, against our compatriots, and against ourselves in the name of enhancing their power or to appease a fanatical base of sycophantic followers. That compromises our dignity and shared humanity. And it doesn’t matter who is doing this—be it Trump or some other person—all the way down to my fellow travelers in the publishing and allied media industries. This sort of negativity and bad behavior results in chaos and mayhem, and those who would exploit this (and others, by extension) are using the same amoral justifications to do so that all despots and criminals trot out.Finally, with regard to our collective loss of fun and irony, I leave you to consider an excerpt from a classic, cautionary short story, “Gentlemen, Be Seated” by the late great Charles Beaumont, about a future where humor has been outlawed, a topic of great concern to many of us presently, including good old Jerry Seinfeld (who, along with other comics, no longer plays colleges as a result of this sort of worldview). Along with Kurt Vonnegut’s prescient “Harrison Bergeron,” perhaps no other tale maps out so well where our culture seems to be heading—an environment whereby good intentions destroy our shared humanity: 

“I didn’t know there was any psychological risk in laughter.”

“Then you have not been with it, friend-o. Most humor, you see, had its roots in cruelty.

In stamping out cruelty, we have automatically stamped out humor.

Therefore, there ain’t much to laugh at no more.”

 Surely we’re better, more discerning, and tougher than that?  
Prohibited.
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