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Infinite Storms in Infinite Tea-Cups

October 11, 2019

I stayed at home today.

The weather was glum when I got up in response to the post plopping through my letterbox (1) and having had a look in the  fridge to check on supplies I decided I could ignore the nagging note I’d left myself just before going to bed last night about going out today and getting my hair cut and beard trimmed. I do look rather bohemian in the mirror at the moment but am not yet at the full Biblical prophet stage. (2)

So I pulled on my sweatpants, not my jeans, stayed at home and read, which  is a nice way  to spend a day if a little lonely. I only ever had one  occasion on which I had a beautiful woman burst unexpectedly into  my flat (3) and I do sometimes find myself hoping for a repeat performance so I can see if I handle it any better.

Be that as it may: I was reading a book I picked up at the Worldcon in Dublin WARHOON 28, a one off hardback edition of an American SF fanzine. This particular volume was dedicated to the work of an Irish fan, Walt Willis for whom the editor had a great regard.

And I came across the story of a fan feud of the fifties, a minor clash  of personalities in the pages of american APAs in which an American lady fan accused Walt Willis of all sorts of things. All over nothing at all really and you could probably ascribed it to misunderstanding if the lady hadn’t decided to push the whole thing to another level by using it as an excuse to express her feelings about the worthlessness of European culture compared with American.

“I can understand that this problem of establishing a caste system in fandom impinges on a very real and basic difference in social attitudes between Europe and America. The unsportsmanlike way you have behaved in expressing your disappointment that your favourite candidate did no win has been a disgrace not only to yourself but to all the United Kingdom. Don’t you think it is time you apologized for your unfounded accusations and your lack of confidence in the Americans?”

And when I read that I thought bigod! There’s the whole Internet in miniature! There’s the process that drove Brexit in essence!

There’s taking someone you’ve never met and making them the focus of all your outrage, all your tribal support of your group and your nation, there’s digging out all the fears and hatred you don’t express and pouring it out onto someone.

Oh, dear me: the parallels between this and poison pen letters.

(I will pause for a moment and feel guilty about the things I have sometimes said before coming back to my  normal level of self regard and pomposity.)

The fans of the 1950s didn’t have Twitter but they had mimeograph  machines and a world wide postal service and they had powerful imaginations and strong feelings which were looking for a focus. Feuding between fans is a fine spectator sport and has broken not a few hearts (and some minds): only the fact that it isn’t about anything much keeps it under control.

And in the twenty-first century we take that and supercharge it with instant messaging and the ability to  send your ill considered opinions around the world in a moment. I’ve known people (4) who find themselves out of a job because they didn’t take a moment to  review the angry reply they feel like sending.

I’ve a friend in the Far Isles (5) who likes to argue that we humans aren’t really  designed to handle more than a strictly limited number of human interactions, about the size of a large hunter gatherer group or a medieval village. Anything more than that causes us distress.

He may have a point but somehow we have got to get across to people the idea that there are people out there who aren’t like them… and who aren’t necessarily  monsters.

I  really don’t know how to start. (Cue Lindy to tell me how.)


(1) Nothing interesting. A misdirected letter for my next door neighbour and a catalogue from a gentleman’s outfitters I once bought some socks from. They were very nice and durable socks, if expensive and the next time I need some I  will be going back to Joseph Turner of Yorkshire. Unsolicited commercial there.

(2) Meanwhile my friend Roger is moving into Z Z Top territory.

(3) It was the festive season and she was either rather drunk or the victim of a malign enchantment.

(4) All right, one person. Hi  Chris if you ever read this.

(5) And hi to you Hafoc!

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