The Elephant in the Society

I have made the decision to return my JS stamp and not renew my membership in the ABS at the end of the year.

Over the last 3 years at Blade I have witnessed things and had things brought to my attention that I find troubling.  All of these had one thing in common, they all had the appearance of bigotry.  I cannot say that bigotry was the motivation but that is what it looked like from my perspective.

Now before I go any farther I want to clarify something.  This post is not about any specific individual or individuals.   I know many great and generous people in the ABS who are inclusive and wonderful people.  On top of that everyone is human, perhaps what I witnessed was the result of somebody having a bad day.  Nobody is perfect.  That said over the course of 3 years I witnessed enough things that looked and felt like bigotry that I needed to do some thinking.

So the real question is “Does the ABS as an organization promote, condone, ignore or in some other way legitimize bigotry?”  Why is this important?  This is important because bigotry is evil and I cannot morally or ethically support such behavior.   To paraphrase a quote wandering around the internet “Evil flourishes when good folks do nothing”.

So it was time to take a look at things.  Re-reading the updated by-laws there is an anti-discrimination clause which says anybody can join.  This is good.  It would be better if it also included that discriminatory behavior was “grounds for reprimand, suspension or revocation of membership”.

Section 3 General Guidelines for Bladesmiths is an interesting section  in that it has 4 parts and it all pretty much reads as “Stainless is bad” without actually having to state it unequivocally.  Now I know that folks have been forging stainless damascus for years not to mention using stainless in San-Mai style construction.  Frankly that whole section just reeks of intolerance to me.  Since intolerance is the basis of bigotry, that entire section is a red flag in my mind.

The next thing to take a look at is the JS testing.  Why does the JS testing matter in a discussion of bigotry and discrimination.  Because the certification process is the largest incentive for bladesmiths to join.  Also because any process that divides up a population can be used in a discriminatory manner if not set up to prevent such occurrences.  So here is the real big sticking point.  Because the entire Fit and Finish testing for JS is subjective it allows for, at the very least, the appearance of discrimination if not outright bigotry and a method of segregation.

And finally anything that segregates a group of people into “us and them”, has the potential of producing discriminatory behavior.  This is relevant due to the fact that the number of actual “Members” of the ABS will be somewhere between 3 and 21.  The reason for this is that when it comes down to it the only people that have any say in anything relating to the ABS is the Board of Directors.  Don’t believe me, go read the by-laws.  Go to the ABS website pull down the ABS menu and chose the FAQ page.  Fourth question down has a link in the answer.  Now why the by-laws aren’t linked to from the membership page is beyond me, seeing as to how by joining you are agreeing to the by-laws and perhaps you might want to know what you are agreeing to.  Now where was I.. oh yes, the ABS is the board and the board is the ABS. The board is elected by the Board, it is all self referential and recursive.  Holy unaccountability Batman.  Oh and the by-laws state that the board can decide to limit the number of any class of membership if they so decide.  If I remember correctly the previous version of the by-laws only specified that they could limit the number of Master smiths.  Now they can limit the number of JS and MS,  at least by my interpretation of the by-laws.

So in short it is my opinion that the ABS is set up in such a way as to at the very least allow the appearance of bigotry.  It is very possible, intentional or not, that the structure promotes and supports discrimination, especially in the awarding of bladesmithing certificates.  Hence I cannot in good conscience continue to support the organization with my dues nor give my de facto approval for the system by marking my work with the JS stamp I was awarded.

Some people might say “so why don’t you work to fix it?”  To which I would reply; I’ve tilted at enough windmills in my lifetime already, and attempting to change a “good southern organization”, with a board engineered to be unaccountable to the general membership, with regards to their general appearance of being accepting of bigotry, sounds like a windmill to me.

Oh and here is the kicker, when I started talking to folks and saying” you know there seems to be a lot of bigotry in the ABS”  the response was generally along the lines of “well yea there is”.  When nobody is surprised that you mention there appears to be bigotry in your organization, that is a pretty good sign that there might be a problem.

What could be changed to keep me a member?  Make the board more representative of the general membership (more people from different regions including at least one international member and make at least 40% of the board elected by the general membership.  Revamp the JS fit and finish testing to be objective and not subjective (yes it can be done).  Adopt a policy whereby discrimination is grounds for  reprimand, suspension or revocation of membership.

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3 Responses to The Elephant in the Society

  1. Marianne George says:

    As posted on FB as well…….

    Thank you Dietrich. I respect and honor your decision. Knowing how much time, effort and commitment goes into achieving the ABS stamp, I know this is not a decision made lightly. I too hope that the ABS can find a way to become more inclusive. You are an amazing artist and maker. The ‘blessing’ of any organization (including the ABS) has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of your work or your success. Now, get back into the shop and make knives!


  2. Dave Armour says:

    I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision. It is one I can definitely respect and understand. I do have one question-What definition of bigotry are you using? Are you talking artistic/creative/methodology differences or issues such as race/religious/ ETC issues? My own issues with the ABS aren’t exactly a secret, and knowing that would have be something that would impact how I handle my future with the ABS.



  3. podforge says:

    Dave, in my mind artistic/creative differences wouldn’t rise to the level of ethical dilema.


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