IDIC for the Pre-Federation World: Coping with Diversity.
The Vulcans allegedly had a slogan "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," which is pretty big talk for an entire race of people who all have the same haircut. In the 21st century, however, diversity is increasing—and increasingly hard to deal with. Robin Abrahams, writer of the Globe's "Miss Conduct" social advice column and the new book Miss Conduct's Mind Over Manners, discusses diversity of values, priorities, and experiences. Can we really say that nothing human is alien to us? How do we cope with the "other"? And how can we use science fiction to help us address contemporary social dilemmas?
The short version: engaging, entertaining, interesting speaker, but disappointing talk, because I expected two things from the description, practical tips and a response to RaceFail, and got neither (the speaker had not, in fact, been informed of RaceFail, though I know that programming had been advised of it, at length).
prior talk on mental genre models: the two seen as most widely apart & therefore attracting very different audiences are sf and self-help. She wrote a self-help book, but it's really good. SF readers like "what if", self-help readers like "if then", hers is more first kind
story about getting a question on a card at an event for a Jewish group: "Do you know you look like a female Spock?" "Yes." From audience: "that's so sweet;" she thinks so too—"Spock is hot, if I didn't want to look like him I wouldn't wear my hair like this" (random picture). But the other members of the group were appalled, because etiquette is a matter of context.
theory: SFF readers & fans, more attuned to picking out different things in different contexts
when read nongenre mainstream fiction, don't have to be quite as attuned
but reading SFF, can't assume that know norms & etiquette
read from _Dune_, which first gave her idea that reading SF has something to do with processing social world, scene about spitting on table
[and I'm thinking that this is too much fans are slans, complacency]
lot of SF fans moved around a lot as kids, constantly entering new worlds & having to figure out quickly what's going on
Ellen Asher comments from audience: didn't move as kid, but wanted to travel, wanted to read about kids _not_ just like her
IDIC, really weird, Vulcans all seemed really conformist
her book is about not dealing with ST:NG or Benneton diversity, all shades of rainbow but age, class, ability all basically same: that's easy diversity, much easier than the real world
in real world, dealing with diversity of values, priorities, experiences
from writing her column, seven major areas that diversity is hardest to deal with:
2. money (different amounts of wealth, social class, styles)
4. sex and relationships
6. health and disability
(long thing about dogs and wolves that I spaced out on because I was composing way to disagree about premise: take home appears to be that there are intense evolutionary reasons to be both disgusted by and attracted to dogs, so people tend to fall on one side or another, though not necessarily that intensely)
lot of things on list are similar to this, so many ethnic slurs have to do with what people eat
these kind of diversity can't always celebrate because truly difficult
high context versus low context culture: high = a lot can be taken for granted, so much shared reference points, don't have to be terribly explicit when speak to someone (Japan; Regency England in upper-middle class; military; "Darmok" episode of ST:NG)
United States in 21st century is becoming almost unbelievably low-context culture, no canon, so few cultural shared experiences; why Michael Jackson death was so powerful
and low-context cultures demand different kind of etiquette, much more explicit (amuses her how often her advice is, "I don't know, just ask the person!")
and this lack of indirect communication is very bothersome to many people, feel we have lost things, but gained things as well
came in part because of increasing social equality, more people finding their voice
SF community is high-context, but a lot of us tend to have fairly low-context communication style, comfortable with saying "no, let's make social rules explicit"
can't really write high-context SF, can depict high-context society but need way in [see next rock]
audience (me) [taken from notes I wrote on PDA+keyboard so I would say it right, modified according to my recollection]: profoundly disagree with premise. First of all, geek social fallacies. But even if SF fans are better at understanding the idea that different contexts exist and process social world accordingly, have not experienced that fans APPLY this idea when it comes to people of color: instead too often different, alien, nonexistent. Also think people don't undersand that different skin colors DO give different experiences. So get things like at recent con where people in POC-safe space were being stared at like people in a zoo, black women were being asked if others could touch hair, or fans of color were being told they just don't exist. How can people be convinced to apply these supposed efforts at spotting different norms and common humanity to nonwhite people?
RA: actually do agree with you. "unbelievable how nontransferable skills are". also strong difficulty with belief that talking about race = racist. gave example of meeting me at bar if hadn't met in person before, someone else would describe me in all ways but as Asian (sic)
audience (me again): I am not the magical minority fairy but I give you permission to notice race, your lives will be much better!
other people in audience follow up by . . . talking about other groups that are discriminated against: single people, socioeconomic class
(I did not get notes on these because my hands were still shaking from having said something, and no, I don't want cookies, I'm just saying)
Ellen Asher: split between being open to diversity in books, which are things read, closed worlds and not personal confrontation, and dealing with real people—whole other kettle fish, cliche of socially inept does have foundation in truth
RA: thinks that SF fandom mix of high & low context that people aren't familiar with
Ellen Asher: it's a joke but but there's a basis in fact: if it's the third day of Worldcon and you haven't bathed yet, it's time
audience: remember when that was much more true that perhaps was now, people came into fandom because rules were explicit and tired of not knowing rules
[this strikes me as relevant to RaceFail, want rules, want cookies, want certainty—not unique to fans but perhaps more intense here?]
audience: asks speaker to be predictive: will United States become high-context eventually, or make more explicit rules so have easier time communicating
RA: not sure: highly recommends _The Big Sort_, Bill Bishop (website)—suggests trend not US developing more unified culture but increasing balkanization: told zip code, have really good idea of voting, food, music, etc.; do see since 1970s and especially 1990s people moving to enclaves
As I said, post-panel I was told that the speaker had never heard of RaceFail, which I think was not well-done of programming.
ETA: forgot post-panel reactions. A couple people came up to me and said thanks for speaking up, which I appreciated. One person said (paraphrasing wildly) that they don't like to think about race because they see it on the news all the time; I said, "Well, that's nice for you, you can do that because you're white, I can't"; the person said something about understanding because of being Jewish, and I said that I had to go talk to someone else before they left. However, this person had not previously struck me as being socially adept (which is why I hadn't listened very closely to the initial comment).