June 3, 2009
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A nasty, brutish, and long flame war has been tearing up the SF world. Kathryn Cramer, co-editor of Year’s Best, has written a series of notes in response concerning the hazards anonymous comments. Yes, anonymity is a valuable option on some occasions, but it is also a refuge for liars and cowards and we would be wise to look closely at the motives behind habitual net anonymity.

No links because key posts from all parties are currently offline; perhaps peace is breaking out or perhaps we’re having a replay of the great wiki windwipe. I don’t know.

Later: I waited three months before posting this. The mess continues. I don’t understand the core issues. Most of the writing I’ve seen on this topic is poor, which is odd because most science fiction/fannish writing is pretty good, and some of it is terrific. If you want to take a dip yourself, google racefail.

Neither libel nor cruelty deserve to be excused because the perpetrator wants to hide. There may be times, perhaps, when cruel writing serves a good end; in general, if you are ethically compelled to commit a crime –including a social crime – I think you should do so openly.

But all this brings up a side issue that I think deserves thought. What started the fracas was an anonymously-written critique of another major science fiction editor; Kathryn was upset because she knew the anonymous writer had once been that editor’s employee.

Does leaving a job dissolve all bonds of loyalty to your previous employer? It does, if the departure is accompanied by pistols at dawn; business loyalty is not an eternal obligation and you can, for cogent and compelling reasons, openly and formally renounce it. You’d do this, for example, if you had resigned over your supervisor’s dishonesty, or because you believed the company’s policies or plans to be unethical or imprudent.

And, obviously, if you leave Macy’s and go to work for Gimbel’s, it is understood that you now serve your new employer’s interests.

Beyond that, however, I think a duty of loyalty persists, both personal and institutional. I think you owe duties to former co-workers, even when you and they alike have new jobs.

Employees of publishers also incur a duty of loyalty to their writers, and this duty survives the end of employment. Again, it can be cancelled — the pistols at dawn exception may be invoked. But this too requires an open and public declaration, so everyone knows where they stand and on whom they can rely.