Monday, February 19, 2024

Hugo, I'll stay home

"We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality." - T.B. Macaulay

I'm beginning to be reminded of that by some of the reactions to the scandal regarding last year's Hugos. No question that it was very badly run and all sorts of rules both written and implied were violated. The question at hand is, Now what do we do about it?

Here's a proposal that makes me wonder. The author sweepingly denounces
the cartel of self-proclaimed "SMOFs" (secret masters of fandom) who treat the Hugos - and Worldcon more broadly - as their birthright, playground and personal fiefdom. The Hugo Awards are supposed to be democratic in nature and process; the behavior of the self-proclaimed "SMOFs" is fundamentally anti-democratic - and this is by no means confined to Chengdu Worldcon.
Note that last clause in particular. That being the author's belief, why is one of the proposals that
Individual Cons should no longer administer the Hugo Awards - this should be done by an independent, rotating committee.
Wouldn't that continuing committee be a "cartel" even more than having each convention run the Hugos separately? Sure, if it's rotating it wouldn't be the same people every year, but that's what we have now. There is an informal mass of people known as the permanent floating Worldcon committee, who keep turning up doing the job - and a good thing that often is: they have experience, they're not starting from scratch every year - but each Worldcon is a separate entity and has its own administration. That means that, a few specific overlapping individuals aside (and the relevant one has resigned), the upcoming Worldcons in Glasgow and Seattle are in no way complicit in or tainted by anything that was done by Chengdu. If we had a permanent Hugos committee, we'd lose that.

In any case, practice has been to hermetically seal off the Hugo subcommittee from the main Worldcon committee, for the purpose of protecting the main committee - which can be an awfully large number of people, with uncertainty as to which workers formally qualify as part of it and which don't - from the constitutional provision that those responsible for the Hugos are ineligible as candidates. The main committee can't make the Hugo administrators do anything. Whether Dave McCarty, the Chengdu administrator, accepted direction from above is unknown - we only have his e-mails to his subordinates - but, if so, that was his decision. And a permanent committee wouldn't have been immune to unwonted sensitivity to Chinese censorship.

The current situation is that each Worldcon appoints its own Hugo administrators. And these are either seasoned trusted experienced people who've done it before - which class included Dave McCarty until last month - or new people without any historical baggage, or, mostly these days, some of each. A continuing committee would have the same sort of people, because who else is there to do the job? And without being individually selected by the Worldcon committee, who would select them? Would the committee choose its own new members? Would the Worldcon Business Meeting? If we don't trust the Worldcons themselves to do it - they're selected by the members, who are the ultimate authority.

Perhaps it's clear, then, why I'm also dismayed by another proposal, which reads
No one involved in the administration of the 2023 Hugo Awards, or who assisted in the collection of political evidence, can ever be allowed to have any role in administering the awards ever again.
What exactly is the point of this stricture? It must be just to punish the specific individuals involved and to chill all future administrators with the threat of this very meek form of cancellation, because it can't be to keep maladministrators out of office. It's fallacious to think that only the people who did this, could have done it. Nobody would have suspected Dave McCarty of it until he did it. If someone else were in his place, maybe they would have done the same thing. Human fallibility isn't limited to identified miscreants, but it's convenient to identify a scapegoat and then think you've solved the problem.

I don't think any Worldcon is likely to appoint McCarty again, even without directives. Some of the lower flunkies were perhaps naive or ill-informed and not as responsible. My belief is that we should learn our lesson from this, as we did from the Puppies affair, and move on. A constitutional provision specifically prohibiting the erroneous acts of Chengdu couldn't hurt, but being aware that this flaw in administration could happen is the best way to prevent it from happening again.

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