(all text quoted with permission)
In response to my letter, Paul di Filippo writes back:
I am of course incredibly saddened that my remarks have caused this breach between us. Allow me to begin some kind of discourse by pasting in something I just wrote to another concerned respondent:
Let me try to explain what I was doing with those metaphors. Obviously, I did not handle them with sufficient expertise for the point to come across.
1) First off, I deliberately sought for non-human, outre objective correlatives (excluding the two bands mentioned). I did not want to use stale examples that referenced human personalities, cliques, movements, etc. So I came up with potatoes, corn, paper, lettuce.
2) The terms of comparison were chosen to be deliberately multivalent. Are potatoes "better" than "corn"? Is paper "better" than lettuce? Which term relates to women/POCs, which to men/WASP? Did I ever say?
3) These metaphors were OBSERVATIONAL, not PROSCRIPTIVE. They affirmed that such homogenous groupings are often seen in nature, oftentimes with innocent explanations. Nowhere do I say that such groupings SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE RULE.
A field consisting of 100% potatoes might represent predatory, earth-destroying agribusiness. Or it could be the result of a struggling family farmer trying to make the best use of his land to meet the marketplace demands.
I think you can guess which instance I feel applies to the Ashley anthology.
4) I have nothing but respect, admiration and feelings of camaraderie for any writer of fantastika of any gender/ethnicity/race/species who produces wonderful imaginative work and gets through the gauntlet to publication, in any venue whatsoever.
Isn't it too bad not everyone feels that way?
With all best wishes for all your own creative efforts, and the good of the community!
Paul Di Filippo
You label what was going on at SF SIGNAL as a "conversation" before I arrived. Please take another look at those posts prior to my appearance. They constituted a demagogue's bonfire.
And how do you think SF SIGNAL liked having their simple journalistic post shanghaied for tendentious diatribes? Was that a proper use of their site? or was it egotistical agenda-mongering?
As for self-serving: I thought that my personal stake in this was so massive and obvious, that it did not need mentioning! Of course I was a defender of a project I was involved in and thought worthy. I wish I had prefaced my remarks with such an obvious statement. I wish others had done so about theirs.
There is nothing but "self-serving" instincts at the basis of all these actions.
But "self-serving" is not always bad! Altruism arises out of self-serving behavior.
Take the hypothetical case of Charles Stross, already cited as a disinterested party. Why would he possibly act as he does, given he has no dog in the fight?
1) He wishes to improve his mind, and hence his art, by raising his own consciousness. SELF-SERVING.
2) He wishes to improve the genre. SELF-SERVING. (That's where he makes his living and has his passions.)
3) He wishes to lessen the pain he feels upon seeing injustice that is done to people he knows personally, or only by reputation. SELF-SERVING. (They feel better, so he feels less pain.)
4) He wishes to get on the good side of people whose friendship and support he would like to accrue, and to acquire social approbation. SELF-SERVING.
Self-serving behavior is the only motivator.
Every single accusatory poster, I am convinced, including yourself, are operating on some mix of the above self-serving behavior. But no one admits it, even to themselves. That's great! We're all human. But just don't go around pretending to be Mother Theresa or Thich Nhat Hanh. (Both quite self-serving, by the way.) That's just hypocritical and sickening and laughable.
On the other hand, what are some of the hidden agendas of the "pure idealist?" (And haven't we learned by now that "pure Idealism" usually equates with fanaticism, blindness, lack of sympathy, and thuggery?)
1) To stir up a ruckus to make oneself feel bigger and more important.
2) To acquire power, money, status.
3) To forcibly convert heathens.
4) To get revenge.
Note that I do not impute these ignoble motives to any specific participant in this latest fiasco. I'm only saying that they are immutable timeless behaviors among fallible humans.
How I wish that others would cease from assigning their own scripts to people they know nothing about.
Please feel free to quote this email verbatim should the occasion ever arise.
Yours in conversation,
I appreciate you writing back, but I feel like you're not responding to my letter directly; instead, you seem to still be up on your soapbox, even copy-pasting an email to someone else as though we were interchangeable, and defending your choices rather than accepting that it was not just your "handling" of those metaphors but the use of them in any way at all that was offensive and problematic. (I note that you don't even mention the Whitman reference.) If you wanted to begin some kind of discourse, you could have started with the end of my letter, which pretty clearly lays out the things I was hoping to hear from you. Unsurprisingly, "I definitely meant to say this offensive thing but could have said it more clearly" was not on that list.
It doesn't matter whether the field of 100% potatoes and 0% corn comes about through aggressive weeding of the corn or the use of tough genetically engineered potatoes that withstand toxic pesticides while the weaker corn shrivels away. What matters is that people, human beings, are the ones being weeded out, the ones being sprayed with toxins--toxins such as your use of these very toxic metaphors, to bring it full circle--and the only shock to anyone on Ashley's side of the debate is that they persist in growing where they're told they ought to lay down and die. Straight white men are not inherently tougher or stronger than women or people of color or queers, and if Ashley puts in so much effort to weed out stories by people who aren't straight white men, I think everyone is absolutely right to question his motives in addition to placing this anthology in the larger context of a genre in which minorities and women get the shaft over and over and over again. Defending the monoculture of Ashley's anthology is horrifying when so much of the field really is equivalent to "a predatory, earth-destroying agribusiness", except it's not the earth that's being ravaged, it's the careers of women and minorities, and the interests of readers who want more variety in authorial perspectives. (The suggestion that Ashley felt he needed to create an all-male TOC to satisfy market pressures is so absurd I can't even believe you made it.)
That metaphor is absolutely offensive no matter which way you "handle" it. So as long as you persist in trying to defend it, I don't think we can even begin to have a conversation, because I will still be aware that I am talking to someone who thinks a certain class of writers--which happens to include people like me, but this would be offensive even if it didn't--are either inherently weak and inferior or a nuisance, and I have no expectation of ever being taken seriously by someone who would take such a position. You're very right that self-interest comes into play here; self-interest is why I wrote to you, because I would selfishly like to see you figure this stuff out and redeem yourself into someone who I want to hang out with, but self-interest is also going to compel me to stay away from you if you continue to stand by your earlier words, because I really can't tolerate the distress of hanging out with someone who thinks that way and watching him be so dismissive of a good swath of our friends and colleagues.
I'm not going to address the rest of your letter, because this is a stopping point for me. Either you acknowledge that comparing a group of people to weeds was wrong and offensive no matter how you did it, or we really don't have anything much to talk about.
And he responds:
1) Where are the weeds in my metaphors? The weeds are only in your mind and interpretation. I never used the word or the implication once. Corn and potatoes are two equally valuable crops, even perhaps symbiotic. They represent choices made among two equals. The monoculture choice is arguably stupid and unproductive, but weeds never figure into the metaphor at all--except in your recasting of it. Toxins? WTF? You look eagerly for genocidal implications when there are none.
2) I could have cut and pasted that passage without telling you, and you never would have known. I told you as a sign of honesty and respect. I did it simply because I thought it was a good passage and did not feel like wasting time restating it.
3) You will never get any private or public repentance from me. At least not until someone on the "other side" offers the same, and does it first, considering that their moronic arguments preceded my moronic arguments.
4) You have always struck me and continue to strike me as a sincere wisher-of-goodness for the field. Others in "your camp" appear to me to be repugnant and dangerous combinations of Jerry Falwell, Savonarola, Osama bin Laden, Bill O'Reilly and Aimee Semple McPherson. To such, I will never bow my head.
Ciao for now!