by Phil Geusz
©2010 Phil Geusz
Over the past few days Ive been following the discussion of a con-goers banishment from a specific convention at the excellent fan-news site, Flayrah. I dont want to name names or get too specific about the case, though anyone whos up to date on fandom gossip will soon identify the main players. These involve on the one hand a con-attending fur who has a history of forcing his rather extreme political views down the throats of others in a most unignorable and provocative way, and on the other a con-board led by a notoriously opinionated gentlemen whose politics tend towards the opposite pole. The upshot, however, is that as I type this article website-posting furs are choosing up sides so quickly that it staggers the imagination, and I expect civility to break down at almost any moment.
I suppose I shouldnt be surprised by this, and at heart Im not. While I dont run any cons, Im notoriously opinionated myself (small-government Libertarian is my political flavor of choice), and as recently as last week I lost a friend of long standing over politics. This seems to be happening in epidemic proportions all over America these days; every casual discussion soon turns to politics, and then its virtually impossible to prevent hurt feelings. Expecting the furry brotherhood to somehow transcend this unfortunate trend is therefore probably too much to hope for. We live in politically divisive times, and thats pretty much that.
When I look at the two chief players in the currently unwinding drama, I have to shake my head at the mistakes both of them have made. The banned fur is an advocate of open carryin other words, he (quite legally) carries a firearm about with him openly in plain sight, and did so in public areas all around the con in question. (Ive seen no evidence-backed claims that he actually carried inside the con-space itself, which wouldve been a clear violation of the rules.) While this was, again, perfectly legal, its so grossly out of the ordinary that the local police more than once arrested him and then let him go. Even they didnt know that open carry wasnt against the law then and there. While Ive been an NRA life member for over 25 years and a concealed-carry advocate for longer, even I find this behavior to be well, rude. Its a form of in-your-face confrontation that refuses to acknowledge the rights and sensibilities of those who disagree. At the times and places in question, it wouldve been perfectly legal for the fur in question to carry his weapon concealed, thus sparing the feelings of those around him without in any way weakening his own civil rights. But, he quite deliberately chose not to do so, which I see as reprehensible. The nearest analog I can think of are the more radical gay rights parades, where hairy gay males dressed in pink tutus flounce down the street kissing each other in front of an appalled citizenry. While I support the basic positions of both groups, theres just no call to go there.
On the other hand, I have considerable sympathy for a con-staff confronted by such clever rudeness. Had they made a private or even a public request of the fur in question to please conceal his weapon while out in public, Id have been the first to leap to my feet and applaud. (And perhaps they did attempt thisI have no information one way or the other.) Social pressure can and often does do wonders. But they chose to ban him for making what amounts to a political statement, thus in my opinion at least lowering themselves to the same level of rude intolerance of political diversity, or perhaps even lower. (Keep in mind, this fur broke no rules and did nothing illegal to anyones public knowledge.) What makes the situation even more difficult for the staff involved is the long and outspoken Left-leaning history of the cons leaderIve personally witnessed it. This has so damaged his credibility in these matters that his likely bias against gun-owners was among the first issues brought up in the discussion Im following. (I have no idea if the man himself has a problem with private gun rights or not, but the political crowd he associates himself with most certainly does.) In other words, this furs outspoken support of a specific political agenda, even when addressing large groups at furcons, has to a significant degree damaged his credibility with those on the opposite side, and weakened his ability to deal with a con-related issue. Even if he were to claim that there were actually good, solid reasons for banning this particular fur that must remain private, many on the Right arent going to believe him at this point. Trust has been stretched beyond the breaking point.
Over politics. <sigh.>
I dont expect furdom to remain a totally politics-free zone, though I have to admit that I often wish it could be. Nor am I making alarmist claims that the fandom is endangered over this sort of thing, or anything like that. By some standards, I should be the last to complain, being somewhat of the extremist bent myself. But despite my extremism I do try to respect others when the subject comes up (so long as others respect me). I do try to avoid discussing politics in open social areas and situations where possible. I do consider those who dont agree with me to be men of good will as opposed to evil wrong-thinking heathen who desperately need to be converted to my own way of thinking. I dont take advantage of cons to preach my personal agenda either at a podium or via unconventional behavior. And most of all, I never drag my political beliefs into my convention-life in my official capacities on several staffs.
Wouldnt this have been a much happier situation had the two primary parties involved here chosen to follow the same path?