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John Scalzi presented an interesting analogy about this year's Hugo controversy as graffiti which [livejournal.com profile] kevin_standlee used to describe his intentions.
It's an interesting analogy, but it doesn't work for me. I've followed [livejournal.com profile] grrm's long-range discussion with some of the principals - I couldn't stomach reading through the original blogs of the SPs/RPs. The argument from the SPs/RPs is that everything they did is within "the rules", finally leading to a mention of a "gentlemen's agreement" that they've violated, and feel no shame in doing so. That claim helped me to coalesce my own feelings on this.
Every rule set sits within a social context. The rules are there to provide formal arrangements when the social rules don't achieve the goals of the community. Either a small number of people disobey the social rules and the society defines its rules more formally, including what the consequences for breaking those rules will be. Such rules also provide consistency from year to year, clarity for members of the society to know what the rules are, introductions for new members of the society.
No set of rules covers all the aspects of the social settings. For example, as people have pointed out elsewhere, there are no actual rules in the WSFS constitution saying what to do when someone refuses the honour of being a finalist, or what to do if a work on the finalist list is later discovered to be ineligible (either through lack of information on behalf of the administrators or their mistake). Custom and practice is to back-fill the ballot with lower-ranked works. Provided the community trusts the administrators, and that they act year-to-year with reasonable consistency, then the community accepts these withou demanding that they be codified. Where significant disagreement within the community exists about the correct course of action, the society debates and adds to the rule set. The rules also evolve as the society evolves.
This is what we have now. The society's customs and practices said that each individual should nominate their own viewpoint, campaigning was banned (information provision - here is what I or others published last year that in my view is eligible for nomination, and perhaps good enough to nominate - is borderline but accepted). Slates were always against our social rules but there was no need for formal rules against it because no one seemed to be managing a slate (as we'll see when the nomination figures come out because slate voting is visible in the patterns), even when in previous years someone tried. This year, they managed to screw with the process against the community expectations of process. So, we have to change the rules to, as well as we can, preserve the intent of the society that the list of finalists represents, on the whole, things most members see as potentially worth of a Hugo Award. In addition to altering the way the nomination process works to avoid approximately 20% of the nominators from dominating the finalist list with their slate, we'll also have to consider our definition of what constitutes "the society". This latter was already being discussed for the last couple of years anyway, as things like social media, the marketing of the Hugo Awards more broadly, and the Hugo Packet, have coincided with our open "buy a membership and get to nominate and vote" process to perhaps overwhelm the society with outsiders with a separate agenda. Any society must decide who is a member and who isn't. Any claim that by restricting voting to members of WSFS (or as some are suggested just to Attending Members (removing Supporting Membership holders from nominating/voting), or even to those who actually attend the convention) misses the fact that all societies do this. US political policies effect people worldwide, as do Chinese politics these days. I see (virtually) no US citizens saying that everyone worldwide should get to vote for their president because their military is the largest on the planet and they're not afraid to use it to further their own economic and political goals. I see no one saying that everyone around the world should be able to vote in China (though many around the world passionately believe that the Chinese should be able to vote their consciences).
Like Kevin, I'll (once again) be rolling up my sleeves and discussing the issues and trying to do my best to create rules which reflect our community (yes, I'm a member, too and my voice counts, particularly because I'm willing to put my time and money into making Worldcons happen).
The rules are there to represent those elements of the society's processes that need clarity. Those rules are openly decided (Business Meeting minutes from most of the last 20 years are on wsfs.org) by those members of the society that give up their time to make them work. There are no shadowy cabals. There is plenty of disagreement amongst those turning up to the meetings about what those rules should be, and we have a system that's deliberately slow to require time for members of the society who are not at one meeting to decide that this is an important enough issue to make them come along and block or support it.
While I wish we didn't have to make these rule changes, it's necessary and valid that we do. The 2015 and 2016 Hugos may be a mess because of people following the letter but not the spirit of the rules, but we should be able to get them back on track by 2017, and that's just a blip in the decades long history of the Hugo Awards and the Worldcon/WSFS.
Sorry, that went on longer than I expected when I started writing it.
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