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September 04, 2001: Inseparable

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One of my all-time favorite movies is 1776 - a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Early on in this film, Benjamin Franklin takes John Adams aside to discuss the proposal of American Independence to the Congress. The problem, he explains, is that someone else needs to propose it, because as much as some of the other members may privately agree with the concept, they cannot help but associate the cause with the man firmly behind it - Adams himself. And Adams is - the film makes quite clear - obnoxious and disliked. Naturally John Adams resists, since after all this cause is everything he is working for, but in the end, he agrees, and of course you'd have to have been living under a rock for the past few centuries to not know what happens after that.

The reason I bring this up is because while we were at DragonCon, Richard and I attended a panel that was supposed to discuss the future of science fiction, now that we've grown beyond a lot of the marvels of 'modern science' that were once predicted in earlier works. It quickly became obvious, however, that the panel members (several science fiction / fantasy authors) really weren't interested in discussing this point, and at first it was amusing, watching them banter back and forth with each other and the audience in light-hearted teasing and entertainment.

It was amusing, that is, until one young man stood up to make a point. Unfortunately for him, he started his words with a mention of Internet Ethics, and that was more than enough for one of the panel members - a Mr. Harlan Ellison.

It is important to point out here, before I go any further, that anyone with an ounce of common sense very quickly understood that the young man's point was that *despite* the relative immorality of the flash-in-the-pan dot com industry, there are some 'new' ethics on the internet that are starting to gain ground - ethics that fit old fashioned decency and honor. This was in response to the ongoing blather of the panel members that the youth of today have no shame, no honor, and no realization of right from wrong.

However, Mr. Ellison was not interested in actually letting the young man finish. In fact I got the distinct impression that he had been waiting for any opening at all, and he let loose with a volley of insults and hollering, accusing the man of unethical practices on the internet, specifically focused on copyright violations. Seems Mr. Ellison is currently in the middle of a rather lengthy lawsuit on the subject and so off on his soapbox he went. He even came down from the podium, making threats of doing bodily harm to the young man, who futily continued to try to explain his position. Mr. Ellison, however, would have none of that. He wasn't the slightest bit interested in actually discovering what the man had to say. He was more interested in proving to the entire audience how much of an immature idiot he could possibly be.

When the young man was finally able to make his point - mainly that he completely agreed with Mr. Ellison's position on the subject, and fully supported his fight - the author in question couldn't even have the decency to apologize for jumping to the entirely wrong conclusion, humiliating and slandering the young man at the top of his aged lungs in front of a room full of hundreds of other people. He was right there talking about how the 'Youth of Today' have no sense of shame when they have done something wrong and been caught, but apparently that particular problem is not only found in today's youth, because Mr. Ellison didn't seem capable of that particular emotion either.

I sat through this entire thing in shock. When I mentioned my frustrations with the scene Mr. Ellison put on for the rest of us, the prevailing response was 'Oh yes, well. That's Harlan Ellison. He's a jackass.' As if this was just to be expected, laughed at, and even condoned.

I have never read any of Mr. Ellison's work, so I cannot comment on his supposed brilliance in fiction writing. I would even have been willing to concede that perhaps Mr. Ellison was simply tired and overwrought from his already-long fight with internet piracy, if he'd simply been willing to apologize publicly for the completely horrible way in which he treated that young man. I find it disgusting and irreprehensible that there are people - like Mr. Ellison - that equate being famous with being above common decency and just plain good manners.

At the end of the little scene, after Mr. Ellison stomped off in a temper tantrum, the other authors - most of whom had been sitting there simply letting him rant and make a general fool of himself and the young man - made a plea for monetary support in the legal battle against these and other copyright violations on the internet. A few people came forward with checks to donate, but I most decidedly was not one of them. I fully support those who would fight against piracy - whether it be on the internet or in any other medium, and I can certainly understand the frustrations of authors who deserve to be compensated for the work they labor so long over, only to discover that someone has been violating any number of copyright laws to distribute said work for free. Despite my extreme dislike of his behavior, I still do wish Mr. Ellsion - and any other author who finds him or herself in this same position - success in the fight. I simply cannot find any legitimate reason to *monetarily* support the man who stood in front of that crowd and acted in such an immature and irresponsible manner. You see, like the first continental congress, who could not separate the cause from the man, I find it difficult to separate this particular fight against internet piracy from the man who leads it.

As the representative from New York said constantly in 1776, for now I must abstain. Courteously. Which is - rather unfortunately - much more than any of us can say for Mr. Ellison.

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