ANALYSIS/OPINION — SCP faces an ultimatum; writing or politics?
Almarduk’s recent post to Confic Magazine is just great; it’s everything I could have hoped for regarding an analysis and critique of SCP-DISC-J. I made the magazine in hopes of submissions like this.
The direction that SCP is moving, and perhaps inspiring other confic communities to move in, is self-defeating. You cannot have the overtly political mentality wherein no one’s emotional sensibilities should ever be offended and have something primarily defined as a writing site. On the surface of this, it sounds mean-spirited, as if it were cheerleading being vile. But it isn’t; if you don’t have that stance or at least something like it, if you don’t have a staunch allowance for some potentially upsetting material, nothing will stop the taste for censorship once it is tasted from devolving into crazed megalomania. Without such a balancing force, the edge of what is allowed is continuously shaved off. You eventually get what we’ve seen very-well elucidated in Almarduk’s article; which is the front-and-foremost, prioritized motive of political sanctuary for one’s emotional and personal immunity to anything that could potentially be upsetting to them — personally. What this eventually does is justify the ever-creeping edge of discounting things on the basis of some perceived slight, and centralizes this option most for those in positions of influence and power.
Essentially, what is happening at SCP — and what has been happening for some time now — is the perpetual creation of a slicing edge. It starts with a block, a solid space of, say, allowable written content. Boundaries are made. This definition in its infancy and initial intention is always a very good thing; no one should be expected to allow something like smut on their writing platform from the get-go. The initial limitations on content are usually universally uncalled for and no one with any good intention would prefer such content to be present. Don’t make me name examples. Seen here in its infancy — as is the case for several infant stages of things — this to-be-protracted process is admirable, and can help protect a group of people that are the recipient of legitimate hate.
The edge that is created in the act of further slicing this block is that of a blade; it is sharp, it is fine, and it can then be used itself to cut effortlessly. A wieldable weapon has been created to justly defend against an unmitigated dogmatism to free speech. I believe this is the correct move and can be applied beneficially to a community. The blade, like any weapon, is necessary as a defensive measure to protect people. Weapons, though, always have the potential to exact more damage and carnage than is intended, and can quickly turn from a defensive technology to, in the hands of aggressors, an offensive one. Instead, in these hands, it is unsheathed at the drop of a hat, and waved around in a manner that would continually alienate it from people, in some cases those who it is meant to protect.
Without getting into a broader political discussion, the presence of the weapon is not egregious or wrong. It is the subsequent mishandling of it in the hands of individuals who do not wield the discipline and responsibility from keeping it for use in the appropriate situations. The problem is the character and attitude of who wields this weapon; not it, not who made it, or its original intent.
The creation of an edge in this way tends to create more edges. Consider the physical effect of a blade slicing and cutting; this can be seen as the physical perpetuation of that which created the blade in that it creates more slices and edges from previously intact shapes. What is cut also exerts an equal and opposite force on the blade, which is to say that the blade’s uniformity at its edge is disrupted, making the blade duller. This is remedied by sharpening.
Sharpening is done against something rough and not part of the actual blade. When such an edge is sharpened, a layer of the blade’s material is removed by this rougher material, imperceptibly but literally reducing the volume of the blade (making it thinner). But this of course does not prevent there from being an edge, it makes the edge new and more usable. Thus, the perpetual use and conditioning of the edge for readiness and continued use further encourages and perpetuates its use; it reinforces not only the blade itself, but the idea of it again being used.
As a physical blade does this for objects, of course so does a metaphorical one — say in a community’s content allowance –in a memetic sense. More edges and cuts mean the need for more sharpening, for more edges and cuts, ad infinitum.
So if there are no very high standards for using the ban blade, the edge of what is allowed is continually dulled, resharpened, and the total volume of it is lessened. Said politically, the Overton Window at SCP is not only moving over time, but it is narrowing. The blade analogy in its best representation would be the creation of a tool to rid the community of a problem, and then that tool being judiciously placed back into its scabbard — perhaps high on the wall to discourage casual use of it — with the standards of its being taken down kept as high as it is. In plain terms, the decision to ban words of overt hate was exerted skillfully and swiftly, but the power and effect of the blade was relied upon too haphazardly, until now, when the act of cutting and slicing is itself the threat.
So while the statement that a writing community needs to tolerate some measure of potentially offensive material seems hateful and mean-spirited, it is actually the opposite. The modern shouts of mono-term accusations that result from supporting such a stance come from a place of worry by those shouting; it is their fear from boogyman aggressors. But instead it’s an argument against an encroaching foot-in-the-door technique that will inevitably create a censorious and hive-minded culture that is more destructive than the initial perceived threat; a subtle one that can’t stand up to the too-quick idiocy of rushed conclusions.
The stance that a writing community should allow as much free speech as is possible, like the defensive edge of the blade itself, can always be gasped at by people who are afraid of it. But the stance, as it was at SCP, is first a prophylactic and defensive one. The allowance of potentially offensive material is meant to cease and govern the inevitable progression — this unceasable slicing — of a perpetual edge from bisecting the reason and rationale for creating it in the first place. Without this barrier, we get into patently ridiculous and self-defeating territory, as we see with something like Staff responses in the djkaktus’ 5K contest entry, protocol standards created in response to reasonable critiques of SCP-6500 during the 6K contest, the premature banning of individuals (e.g. TheRedBaron) over the use of a historical context (the conflation of WW1 Germany and WW2 Germany notwithstanding), and ultimately Staff’s reaction to SCP-DISC-J. We are past the point in this process where non-hyperbolic, valid criticism of a protected and/or ruling class is tolerated.
The gradual loss of critical capability at SCP to the wringing hands of a political sensitivity is well-known and documented. A long-time point of interest in my analysis is the landmark of Harmony’s statement (then by her former name); the unsung “A Call to Action” post on the SCP Forums, which speaks to this point well, and now reads like an ignored prophet who would like to be ignored by the audience for all the wrong — that is to say, deathly accurate— reasons. It is in this last reaction to SCP-DISC-J — and again kudos to Almarduk’s vivid portrayal and autopsy of it — that demonstrates just how creeping this normality is, how silent the arrow of entropy can be, and how far an administration and community can travel when abandoning themselves to it in a relatively short time. We are at the point in this creep where an anonymous satirist cannot make commentary on the fictional Staff structure at SCP. (The ultimate reason why the satire was removed from the site still has to do with the possibility of potentially perceived political offense.) The habit of swinging the blade is so ingrained at this point in the abuse of power there, and out of an almost drunken sense of bravery and stage demonstration, that it is thoughtlessly and blatantly defaulted to when the shadows are as far away as the walls of the next house over.
There has to be a more balanced approach that recognizes the need to disallow some speech, but that is resistant to the unfortunately natural course created and set into motion by that action. There is a way to stop the links in a causal chain that ultimately leads to a very subjective and highly divided use of that once-justified and needed motion. Instead of letting a paranoid haste and an over-reactive attitude inform the banning of all potentially objectionable content, the healthier decision — and more difficult, in terms of leadership, politics, and PR — is to understand the wisdom of allowing some potentially offensive material in the interest of keeping the threshold for weaponization high. This also has a health benefit of character on the community participants; it assumes and encourages a degree of resiliency in the members of a community, that their every potential emotional upset won’t be catered to by an overbearing parental figure. In short, it encourages strong people with strong skin and strong minds. There is less need to wildly swing the blade out of panic, paranoia, and fear.
There is nothing at place in SCP to prevent this one-way devolution. The participants cannot resist converting something that should be neutral into a bully pulpit for political stances. The primacy of political sensitivity has by now taken its seat on the throne, with writing — the expression of innocent, non-hateful, human thoughts included — subjugated. We are perhaps not completely there — and this post & point may yet seem a bit hyperbolic — but the climax of this script is the collapse of the site as a writing project.
At SCP, the pursuit of personal, political brand is already the dominant muse. The surface area of questionable content is expanding and there is more that a given participant will be questioned over with time; the extent to which someone will have to demonstrate the negative that they are not a bad-faith actor, or intending something potentially problematic to be a dogwhistle that gets past the guard dogs, will become more demanding. Political affiliation and conformity is just around the corner, if the tolerated differences at SCP aren’t already a split hair in a greater scheme of things. It will still have writing nominally, of course; but even a cadaver resembles a person, and both a healthy individual and a skeleton can grin.
Over time, this is an absolutely stifling force on creative writing. It’s like an infestation. It is a prominent reason why containment fiction has already fractured out of the monopoly of SCP, and is now spread across more (“hostile”) communities than ever. The absurdity is in its place, but it is unapparent to the greater SCP community because it has progressed so far in the slow normalization of political priorities. This observation alone makes RPC a superior writing platform, the existence of bigotry and racism there at least something that can be intellectual dismantled in real-time and in a gladiatorial effort, the progenitors of it publicly disrespected despite their defense into a perpetual state of loss and disgrace. SCP’s approach — a judicial tyranny that prefers capital punishment (an analysis we will soon visit) — is the equivalent of sovereign immunity, and disqualifying the battle on a technicality, the opponent not truly defeated in any way. SCP’s culture is not a market of ideas, but a surveillance state of permissioned thought. I would argue a writing site should have the former as opposed to the latter.
Once one understands how the Overton Window at SCP — the blade present and gripped with pale knuckles — thins, one also understands that the true metaphor here is in a 1:1 correlation with their collective skin. It is not the habit of or even a perverse joy in brandishing the blade, but a paralyzing and irrational fear behind it. The pseudo-religion at SCP is valuing the optics of offensiveness and perceived slight over the rationale level of content allowance. Historically, this is understood with clarity as intellectual cowardice.
The hyper-sensitivity of SCP to reflexively engage in a paranoid slashing of shadows while not being able to intellectually assess the situations at hand, prevents them from having self-awareness. They are thus publicly rendered less intelligent and more unsavory than they actually are. The conundrum and slippery slope is very well encapsulated in the famous words of a peri-WW2 German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller — someone who the collective and immunocompromised body of SCP would discount wholesale as incapable of producing anything of intellectual value do to his mere proximity and involvement in such a historical cowardice (and in contrary to the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, Massachusetts). The quote addresses, if tritely by now, how and why the progression of rampant censorship and suffocating prescriptions for belief and political attitude are tolerated, and even encouraged, until it becomes a perverted and twisted weapon of totalitarian subjugation. It’s here modified by me to directly apply to our context:
First they came for those who thought very differently, and I did not speak out — because I did not think very differently.
Then they came for the critics, and I did not speak out — because I was not a critic.
Then they came for the moderates, and I did not speak out — because I was not a moderate.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
SCP is a sad, allergy-riddled geriatric patient who can’t walk down the street without mounting a life-or-death and weakened immune response. It perceives every sidewalk, every intersection, every creature, every particle in the air as a potential aggressor. This is sad because the PTSD here originated as a defense mechanism against legitimate hate. Now, it has become its own spectacle, with the insanity of the circumstance feeding into itself as something heroic and celebration-worthy.
Unless it makes a compromise with its political paranoia, there will quickly come a time when SCP has no vitality as a writing site any more. The assumption of superiority and the promise of e-fame will only be able to prop it up for so much longer.