Professional Norms in SF

In her post about the Helix racist email / copyright kerfuffle, Mur talks about professionalism:

I can’t see the executives of IBM or Coke sending out a racist email, or changing their websites to throw a third-grade insult (or, if they do, keeping their jobs afterward).

Which I guess answers the question of why there’s so much unprofessional action in this field even at the “pro” level: People don’t have to be professional. Readers seem to still be buying SF no matter how much asshattery some writers (and editors?) spew outside of their work.

I think Mur has her finger on it — it’s all about industry norms. In a corporate environment, the Helix editor’s behavior would be totally unacceptable. HR would get involved, he’d be put on a Performance Improvement Plan, etc. At any large corporation there will be people who think the way the Helix editor does, but they know better than to do what he did, spew their views in business correspondence.

Other industries have different norms. If you’re a union steamfitter, you might end up exchanging words with someone else on the job site, and on rare occasions, someone might get popped in the jaw. The foreman generally handles these incidents on a case-by-case basis. Contrast this with the corporate Fortune 500 environment: it’s actually pretty hard to fire an individual in most large companies, even if they’re really, really incompetent. But if you physically strike a coworker, you’ll be out of there that same day.

In the SF writing profession, the norms are different yet again. Unlike being a cubicle worker, unlike being a steamfitter, in SF it seems the penalty for being an unsocialized loon is pretty close to zero.

As for why readers buy SF from “asshat” writers and editors, that’s because industry norms flow from industry workers, not the industry’s customers. When Intel calls the steamfitters in to help build a fab, Intel couldn’t care less that Joe Smith got into a fight at the last site. It’s up to the foreman and the other steamfitters to get the job done, with or without Joe. Likewise, readers don’t care that some editor might be a jerk — they don’t even know who that editor is.

Unfortunately, SF editors and writers can’t enforce their norms the steamfitters’ way. But seems like a good start.