Given free rein in whatever Sherlockian medium I'm writing for, I do occasionally get a little preachy and start extolling higher ideals of one sort or another. Given that I'm also not on my best behavior at all times in blogland, there's oftimes a wag who wants to bring up the past lesser angels of my nature in response, which is, I suppose, fair. So given that a recent blog was about being kind yet honest in standing on the public stage of the internet, it seemed only right that I test myself on those very principles on a controversial topic.
Since Elementary will be coming back later this spring and offer much opportunity on that subject then, it seemed appropriate to get back to the topic I've harped on since 1989: the membership process of the Baker Street Irregulars. How does one be kind, yet honest in dealing with a subject one feels more strongly about than anything else in Sherlockiana, when it has some very ardent fans out there? Let's see, shall we?
Checkpoint one: Should you even bring up the subject?
Once you've gone into controversial turf, some who disagree with you will suggest that you should either "shut the hell up" or be more mannered and discuss the issue directly with certain parties offline. In the case of B.S.I. membership practices, the latter suggestion is based on whether you consider it a private issue belonging to just that group or a public issue based on how it affects the Sherlockian community as a whole. I've always chosen the latter, so I'm okay with talking about it in public. As for those "Shut the hell up!" folks, knowing that they're coming is a good test of how strongly you feel about the subject. Worth taking a little dissent? Good, head for the next checkpoint.
Checkpoint two: What are the facts everyone agrees on?
Since, as mentioned in the last bit, you're heading into this commentary because you have strong feelings, step back for a moment and review the basic facts of the situation that have nothing to do with your feelings. And try very hard not to color those facts. So, as to the facts of the topic at hand: The current leader of the B.S.I. asks for recommendations from the members for invitations and new members every year. He then decides who gets invited and who gets to be a member. In over eighty years, five men have held that role. Is that last number dead on target? If not, it will surely be corrected, potentially with extreme prejudice, depending upon how the rest of this process goes.
Checkpoint three: How are you going to express the point you want to get across?
This is where one starts to be extra careful about the wording. This is where the sparks that light the fires get spun. Fires of inspired agreement or flames of antagonism. This is where the words matter most. If you feel like using the word "sucks" at any point, stop for a second to reconsider. It's way to general, far too easy and emotionally-based, and probably not going to help your cause. In this case, the point I'd like to put forth is that basing an iconic society's make-up on the choices of a single individual has all the flaws inherent in a single individual's judgment. In past iterations of this argument, I definitely wasn't so clinical is stating that, but like I said, this time we're walking through it, testing the steps.
Checkpoint four: What toes could this opinion step on?
Sometimes, you just don't know. It's a big world out there, with mindsets you had no idea existed. And by speaking out, you may get to find them. In this particular case, I've written on this issue enough times that I do know. There are both fans of the current B.S.I. administration and fans of past B.S.I. administrations who like things the way they are, citing that magical moment when one's name gets called during the listing of new members at the annual dinner, the very centerpiece of that dinner each year. Arthur C. Clarke once proposed that any tech so advanced that people didn't understand it seemed like magic, and there's a hazy coating of mystery we allow to surround member-picking to give it that magic. And once you get that moment, you get to feel like all of Sherlockian culture rose up to choose you for this new status, not just one guy, whom you may or may not have liked before that moment. For those who've been through the process, it's a bit like teaching your kids there's a Santa Claus when you know better -- you want them to experience that Santa Claus magic. Those are the toes I risk stepping on ever time I bring up this little issue: kids at Christmas toes. I am a monster.
Checkpoint five: What balances out the risk of stepping on those toes?
This is the part your heart has to know best, or else you wouldn't even have brought up this topic. My personal balance comes from having publicly disagreed with Irregular management back in the day when women weren't allowed. As a result, many a Sherlockian in New York and elsewhere felt free in expressing their opinions of how things were done around me. I heard every horror story of leader biases for years and saw the damage done on the other side of the equation. We've lost good Sherlockians who didn't fit the ideals of a single male leader. Once women started trickling into the membership there wasn't any single criteria to exempt a person anymore, but others, more personal choices, are definitely still there. If you were close to the guy in charge, your chances were always better to get in. I've even hear it argued that it's his dinner by those who think the oft-used "benevolent dictator" phrase is a good thing. And, if that's their case, then I'm tilting at windmills that look like dragons to me . . . to them. But there's always someone else out there who would like to hear something other than the party line on occasion, just to feel like they aren't alone in thinking things might be a little . . . flawed. Those folks are my balance. The kids that Santa screwed over at Christmas.
Checkpoint six: Was I honest? Was I kind?
Well, definitely honest, as I know the story. That's the tricky thing about being honest -- you only know what you know. The kindness comes in, I think, in restraining some of what you know. You've probably seen the comic situation where a fellow gets whammied and can only speak the truth, and all of the troubles that follow when white lies are no longer an option. But kindness also comes by not just pointing out flaws, but pointing out fine points. The Baker Street Irregulars of New York have become a publishing juggernaut under the current administration. They've built an archive, they've held big-ticket events, they've pushed the limits of a one-dinner-a-year society far beyond what its founder once envisioned with a coordinated effort, as current leadership actively sought out members willing to devote time to those causes. But there's still room for improvement, I think. Like the opening up the membership/invitation process in a way that protects it from personal bias.
Now at this point, Old Keefauver the crank, who lives out on the remote moors of Peoria, isn't really someone folks who disagree pay much attention to, so I doubt I'll get much flak from this. But it's good to take in a little exercise now and then, and walk through an issue, even if some would say it's not even an issue.
Now I just have to figure out if I can safely write about Elementary again by the time it raises its oddly-late-in-the-season head.