Friday, January 29, 2016

Eligibility Awks

It's awksward season. Here's your relevant meta.

How can SFF de-expensify itself? Why was everyone so cross at Neil Gaiman? Why do some people feel like cons are compulsory? Etc.
BSFA's new nomination system
How to reform the Hugos
The best looks back at 2015 of 2015
Eligibility & vote-splitting

From two years ago, Adam Roberts's very sensible post about this sort of thing. The post can easily be construed as an argument against eligibility posts. On the other hand, he's using a technical term, self-pimpage. And maybe a little eligibility post and perhaps a pinned tweet don't quite qualify as self-pimpage.

(Unless you're super-duper-pooper famous).

Here are quick current thoughts on eligibility posts:

1) Eligibility posts seem to be here to stay. They have pros and cons but on balance they're very good. One of the cons is that I hate the word "eligibility," but what synonym would you use -- "fitness"?

2) On balance, it's also a good thing when authors -- so long as they're not super-duper-stormtrooper famous -- say what they think was their best work in that particular year. It's quite a sensitive balance though, for the following reasons.

3) Even if you think eligibility posts are very good, making your own eligibility post can be pretty awkward and embarrassing. And even when you see your friends and/or favourite authors doing it, there may be a bit of you that feels it's a bit gross. Take heart! That's okay! Awkwardness can even be part of why eligibility posts are good. The awkwardness and grossness is part of the point.

4) Huh? Because if eligibility posts didn't make some people awkward, they would just be an echo chamber for the existing megaphones. If it was an entirely comfortable, frictionless process, it would only minimally and mostly arbitrarily impact visibility.

5) The promise of eligibility posts is that they can make people feel uncomfortable to different degrees, and that in a very, very rough way, this may map onto the extent to which people should feel uncomfortable. It's precisely that awkwardness acts as a selection pressure, meaning that some authors do and some don't, and some do something in-between. In particular, to the extent that there is an energetic affirmative discourse around women's voices and other marginalised voices and the necessity of eligibility posts -- e.g. #dontselfreject; cf. Amal El-Mohtar going on a tear in 2014 -- awkwardness can be intrumentalised as a progressive selection pressure. Also if you're already highly garlanded, successful, exposed etc., then hopefully you feel awkward commanding your legions of fans to tennnn-hut.

Of course, actual awkwardness departs from ideal awkwardness. The whole Sad Puppies slate year can be interpreted as a sort of monstrous mutant eligibility post gone on a rampage.

At a finer grain, "pros and cons" implies that there is a mixture of desirable and undesirable features which this awkwardness selects for. For instance, there's a certain kind of democratic and egalitarian idealist who tends to feel on a gut level that prizes are stupid, or at least that wanting one is stupid, or at least that not actively trying not to want one is stupid, and the awkward eligibility post convention is going to tend to select against those greathearted folks. But what can you do. Raise them up over their fellows against their will, and dash their brains out on the celestial vault I guess!

So, yup. Eligibility posts are good.

And prizes are actually bad. Alol.

One way of mitigating the awkwardness of eligibility posts would be to centralise them a bit. If it really is a public service, why not do it as a public? On balance I think that's a bad idea, because they need to be at least sometimes prohibitively awkward for some people. I'm sort-of-okay with the big threads that Scalzi and others host from time to time.

Another way of mitigating the awkwardness would be to make them a bit more fun. Again, I'm against this.

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