Basic Rules of Engagement

Arisia, rules and keeping customers happy

Fandom has been roiled this past week with Crystal Huff’s accusations against the former President of the Arisia convention, the boards response and a ground swell of support in favor of Crystal, and against the convention, its board, possible past fubars.  There’s been little pushback, so on that score:

I’ve had my own non -harassment issues with that convention and with another convention in the region (Readercon, which went through a similar incident a couple of years ago);  many of the people who work/are associated with Arisia are/were also associated with Readercon, and one has to wonder, especially after I see numerous folks referencing both insularity issues and making generalized accusations regarding “hidebound” convention boards, if there isn’t a deeper, more long term problem behind the scenes than individual incidents might suggest.

I know many of these people by sight, by name, by prior fannish experience.  My personal take is that individually and collectively, they are not the sort of people who put the personal ahead of fandom (at least when helping to organize conventions), but:

Over the past several years I have noticed that it is the same people, time and time again, who are department heads or bid organizers or the go-to-person for a particular convention skill set.  I’ve also heard complaints from far and wide that “the old guard” is not bringing along their replacements (and, countering that, have read old guards complaining that there is no one with the requisite skill and experience to replace them).

I’ve speculated that some of the more visible issues larger conventions have had over the years have been at least partially owing to generational transitions, or the lack thereof.

Clearly, traditional conventions seem to be fraying at the edges a bit.  One only need read an attending fan’s comment that “didn’t find the convention welcoming” to see that this is the case.

I don’t know what we’re doing wrong.  I do know that we need to address this across the board.  More people have to be given opportunities and a wider swathe of younger fans needs to be heard from and empowered.

And another thing:

Both Readercon and now Arisia seem to have run afoul of violating one of the most basic rules of rule making that there is.

There are three rules to rules-making, and they apply to any rules (laws) that get made, regardless of their purpose.  Those three rules are:

1. the thing for which the rule is being made must be definable
2. violation of the rule must be discernible
3. corrective action following a violation must be enforceable (and be effective)

When writing a rule for people (as opposed to robots), one key question needs to be asked before anything else is done:  is the rule-making body willing to enforce this rule in any and every circumstance that may arise once it is put into effect?

If the answer is “no”, the rule needs to be re-written.

Let me give you a non-harassment example:  You are running a sporting event.  A key sponsor violates a rule.  Because of the economic consequences, the ruling body fails to enforce the rule against the sponsor.

They never asked themselves the question:  what do we do if….

Particularly in those cases where a convention is writing codes of conduct, they must ask themselves – what happens if our Guest of Honor violates the code?  Our Chairperson?  The individual/company that stepped up in a big financial way?  The person who has been here from the beginning that we all rely on?  Your bestest fan friend in the whole world?  Your partner?

As Arisia has just discovered, when you are running a commercial enterprise (or quasi-commercial), keeping one “customer” happy may make a whole heck of a lot of other “customers” unhappy.

We’ve still got a lot of questions to ask ourselves, and a whole heck of a lot of work still needs to be done.


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