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A Guide To The Hartering Of Motions

For many years I was a stalwart member of NESFA (The New England Science Fiction Association). It was my practice in the business meetings of said organization to vote against motions which otherwise would have passed unanimously. Not all motions, mind you, only selected motions. [I also used to vote on both sides of a motion, for and against it, if I could get away with it. That, however, is another matter.]

This practice came to be known as “Hartering the motion”. Motions which were Hartered were so noted in the minutes along with a notation “Hi, June”, June Harter being my mother, it being an article of faith in NESFA that I never wrote my mother and that she maintained a membership in the club so as to find out what I was doing.

NESFA esteems traditions of no great consequence and so it was that, when I had dropped out, others carried on the practice of Hartering motions. Recently there was a dispute over whether certain motions could be properly Hartered. I was called upon to adjudicate this dispute and to lay down the formal rules for the Hartering of motions. Here is my reply.

Well, now, this is difficult. There aren’t exactly rules for Hartering motions because the Hartering of motions is very much in the spirit of Loki or Brother Coyote and other incarnations of the trickster god. Loki does not follow rules – he is the antithesis of the rule forming mentality. Instead he plays with them, subverts them, subverts their seriousness. Loki is neither serious nor is he serious about not being serious.

So it would be wrong to say that there are rules for Hartering motions. More precisely, it is quite alright to have rules but they mustn’t be taken seriously. That said, one can draw up guidelines, thoughts and suggestions.

Rather generally, if the matter at hand is substantive or a matter on which there are high feelings, Hartering a motion is not appropriate. The guideline here is that seriousness is never directly opposed – direction opposition is serious in its own right.

On the other hand a motion which is a formality that is passed without objection is a natural candidate for Hartering – unless, of course, the Hartering of the motion is presumed to be obligatory, in which case it should be refrained from.

It is not quite right to say that substantive motions cannot be Hartered. They can but the grounds for doing so should be patently specious. Moreover they should be unexpected – it would never do to reuse them.

The ostensible reason for Hartering motions is to serve as a guardian spirit, much as rulers of old had people to whisper in their ears, “Thou, too, are but a mortal man”, that they may thereby not take themselves too seriously. If questioned one may explain that the Hartering of motions serves to call into question the unexamined urge to action, that it serves as a loyal opposition to a premature umanimity of opinion, and that it provides a necessary loosening of a fossilization of the bureaucratic spirit. This is, of course, utter BS but it will do quite well as an explanation.

It should be understood that the spirit of Harter (I apologize for the third person usage but I am speaking of myself here not as myself but as an icon) is that one is participating seriously in an activity which one both takes and does not take seriously. One is simultaneously paying obeisance to FIJAGH and FIAWOL. Each of these cruel gods has its own demands, demands that are inevitably in conflict. It is needful, if one is going to maintain one’s integrity, to tweak the noses of the gods now and then. This, too, is utter BS and will also serve quite well as an explanation.

On a more practical note one may take as a rule of thumb the principle that business meetings and the business of business meetings are a dead bore and that the Hartering of motions is an alleviation thereof. Therefore it is never necessary to Harter motions to adjourn – adjournment is a greater relief than any Hartering of motions could be. Likewise, financial matters are a dead bore. No doubt they are necessary just as sanitation is necessary, but really.

I would be loath to lay it down as a rule that financial motions may not be Hartered – the Hartering of motions being, in the nature of things, not subject to rules. However there are pragmatic considerations. One considers the audience and the occasion. It being nearly impossible for people to not take money seriously or to conceive of money not being taken seriously, one runs the risk of being misunderstood if one does not treat it seriously. There are ambiguities here. The court jester is paid to tweak the nose of the king but he dast not piss the king off.

I hope that these small observations are of some help. If they are not quite the ringing statement of principle and rules that you requested I can only plead in my defense that I am quite unprincipled and unruly. Perhaps, since this seems to be a matter of some moment, you might reprint this missive as an official statement of principle (or lack thereof) is an appropriate venue such as the APA or a statement made at a meeting or as an entry in the NESFA mailing list. In any event you may be sure I will convert it into a web page. When this is done I will, I hope, have the courtesy to notify you of the URL.

FIJAGH = Fandom Is Just A Goddamn Hobby
FIAWOL = Fandom Is A Way Of Life

This page was last updated December 20, 1997.