They Can't Conceive

There’s a post by Kevin Standlee that I saw linked today and rather liked. It compares fandom conventions to potluck dinners to make a point about the geek social fallacies that center around inclusion.

Everyone brings something. That means some of the food is stuff I personally like, and other stuff I hate. But that’s okay: I eat what I like, and leave the rest for those who like green bean casserole.

Somewhere along the way, we got the idea of voting among ourselves for what the best dishes were. (“Best Appetizer,” “Best Main Course,” “Best Dessert”) And we started holding this big pot-luck in different places so as to share the fun with our far-away friends who couldn’t necessarily make the trip to Our Fair City.

Well, now we’ve got people who started coming to the pot-luck, paying the share of the hall rental, and are angry that we’ve been choosing things they personally hate to eat, and have decided that they want to knock over all of the tables with food they dislike and insist that the rest of us eat that stuff that they personally like, because they say so.


I like the post because it makes the connection between work and ownership of spaces explicit. I also love this final paragraph.

One of the cultural disconnects of “winning the culture war,” as Moshe Feder once put it, and of SF/F becoming so much a part of popular culture, is that you have a lot of people attempting to apply the commercial model to a fundamentally non-commercial venture. When you point out to these people that “This isn’t our business; it’s our hobby, and we’re not in it to make a profit,” they look at you blankly, because they can’t conceive of anyone ever doing that much work unless they were Getting Paid.

This illuminates so much. This is why people can’t imagine that we would criticize someone except for those (nonexistant) lucrative blog hits. It’s why they can’t imagine that we’d travel to speak somewhere without receiving a huge fee. It’s why they can’t imagine that we’d put on our own virtual conference without a way to monetize it. It’s why they can’t imagine that we speak up for ourselves without claiming we’re about to start a Patreon, which somehow converts “victim-points” to cash.

It’s why they can’t imagine us doing all those things that involve us sticking our heads up over the parapet and getting shit flung at us without a mercenary motive: They wouldn’t. They won’t do that kind of work without pay, so we must not either.

I feel a bit sorry for them realizing this, that they can’t find anything that motivates them this much. It’s a heady thing, both the kind of passion that makes all this worth it and sharing that passion with other people as you work together. The poor schmuck who never feels that is missing out on a potent experience.

I don’t think, however, that feeling sorry for these people will stop me pointing out how and why they’re wrong about this, though, if they keep trying it on me.

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They Can't Conceive
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5 thoughts on “They Can't Conceive

  1. 1

    Hmmm. Except there are all those people who spend hours every day shit-flinging on Twitter, and I don’t think they get paid for that. (I think they’re at least part of the “they” you’re talking about.)

  2. 2

    I am a volunteer admin for a progressive political group with a big online presence; I have never expected to be paid. In the past, I have served as a leader for other liberal causes and put in many hours as a regular volunteer. The only time I was paid was when working as a union organizer.

    People don’t do this for money, but because the work must done. And as you say, the camaraderie has no equal.

  3. 3

    As Ophelia points out, they’re doing a lot of harassing and shit-flinging for free. I expect part of that is not connecting that that’s similar in doing unpaid work.
    But I also think there’s other complications. One of the major ones may be that they generally believe that sexism, racism, etc don’t exist. At least not in that systematic way. Thus, people going to all that effort to attack patriarchy and rape culture and the like *must* have some ulterior motive, since the stated motive is clearly ludicrous. Thus we’re out to get power and/or money.

  4. 4

    Some few people see the work we “make” them do to reinforce their status and resent us for us. Most people don’t see it as unpaid work, because the stuff we do to uphold the status quo is largely invisible. It’s habit. Then there are the ones for whom it’s not work but its own reward.

  5. 5

    It may not be a direct paycheck, but the shit-flingers are seeking to maintain the status quo, in which they are favored, and thus gain a higher share of resources than they would otherwise. To continue the potluck analogy, they have been heckling people who dare to bring anything to the table that they do not wish to eat themselves, solely because that means that what is on the table is for their palate.

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