Enemy at the Gatekeepers

Reddit teaches you so much; I discovered the /r/gatekeeping/ forum and instantly fell in love. Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. Science fiction, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of people just like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome healthy boundaries. The Sci-fi genre definitely needs them. However, gatekeeping rarely seems to be about maintaining healthy boundaries as it is about pointless displays of dominance. Open discussion and spirited debate routinely get sabotaged by edgelords who think every exchange is an opportunity to practice their ‘alpha male’ behaviors.

All of this conflict does not make our community more healthy. Our behavior comes across as immature, rather than urgent. Obnoxious, rather than upstanding. Participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.1  

Look, I get it. I know we’re not the most socially-developed tribe on the planet. God knows I’m dealing with my own baggage and telling stories about the future helps me deal with all the things I can’t solve today. But we should be aware of what makes our tribe work. We’ve become what we are because Elder Geeks created a community based on togetherness, inclusion, curiosity, and openness. This gatekeeping? It’s messing with that. We’re literally chipping away at the cornerstones of our community, and that will have grave consequences.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a ‘right’ way of thinking or being for the sci-fi community. Rather, I’m hoping we can be ‘less wrong.‘ Like other communities, we’re in the ‘discovery business.’ As this letter says, “[E]veryone is an active and responsible participant in the overall process, that every individual becoming “progressively less wrong” is an invaluable part of the global doing so.”

So with that in mind, let’s establish that gatekeeping isn’t working for us. Gatekeeping is turning people away from droves. Like sunflowers who can turn in any direction they need to face the sun, new sci-fi participants are turning away from traditional sci-fi. They’re seeking out mainstream movies branding themselves as ‘science fiction.’ It’s easier, it’s less drama, and it’s more fun. This is going to kill us. Science fiction is going to disappear into the maw of the Marvel/Disney Industrial Complex. Yes, sci-fi stories will still be told, but fewer readers will find them. Is that the future we imagined for ourselves?

Ours is not the only tribe who suffers from internal squabbling. I found myself making direct connection between the frustrations experienced in the LGBT community and what I face with my fellow geeks and nerds. Like that person, I just quite frankly don’t entirely feel like I belong in that community. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tried joining the tribe but I never felt totally accepted. I don’t identify with this tribe, but I need this tribe in order to survive. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is.

The longer we wait to take control of our tribe, enforce healthy cultural norms, and eliminate the cliquish bullying, the more likely it is that our tribe will remain lost on the prairie. Our community is only as strong as we require it to be. Like other tribes that cannot survive contact with the outside world, we can and will be lost to time if attackers with advanced knowledge of toxic behaviors slip past our undeveloped social immune system.

It’s hoped that this post will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. Let’s work to be less wrong together. Let’s be active and responsible participants in the overall process. I’m willing to do my part to foster a healthy and self-aware sci-fi community, and I hope you will be, too.

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