Why I Am Not A Sad Puppy

There was a comment on a Facebook post about the Hugo awards that pretty much summed up everything I’m going to say here, or at least a good chunk of it. I’m going to include it here now, because it deserves repeating.

“Tell me again how Star Trek wasn’t about Social Justice?”

I’ve wanted to be an author for literally as long as I can remember. The earliest memories I have of it are in second grade. I’ve been writing stories and poetry since that tender age, and in the last year I’ve really made the push to try to chase that dream. In July (if I stay on track) I will have finished my first novel, the first book of Border, KS which has been published serially for the last 9 months. In the last year I’ve also been paid twice (twice!) for professional RPG writing. This is my dream, my goal, and my life, and it has been for—as I said—as long as I can remember.

That dream is what has made the recent argument (knife-fight? Battle for the soul?) over the Hugo Awards so distressing. You cannot be an impressionable young Science-Fiction nerdling and pick up a book that proudly proclaims “Hugo and Nebula Award Winner” or “Hugo Award Nominated Author”, without feeling that those words proclaim something of importance. Even if you have no idea what those awards are they are important enough to put on the cover of a book; they don’t put “Winner of the Nebrahoma Library District Book of the Year” award on covers, after all.

So for years before I even knew what the awards were they were in my mind, on the covers of books I read. The first one I remember distinctly seeing it and caring about was when I read Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. And given the debate this year it is interesting that should be the book I first remember proclaiming Hugo status.

Put simply, there is a group of fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy that feel like their hobby has been taken over. That it has been taken over by what they call Social Justice Warriors, and these fans feel like books that don’t subscribe to the Social Justice Warrior mentality and ideology get locked out of the Hugo Awards. They feel like stories which promote messages acceptable to the “in” crowd get awards, and those with countervailing messages—especially conservative messages, in many cases—get left behind.

That may be a legitimate point. Industries can have a lean to them, politically speaking. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the majority of gun store owners supported the NRA, for example, and it can be of critical importance to promote countervailing narratives from within those communities. I’d be fascinated to read a discussion by a gun store owner who supported increased gun control, for example; I’m similarly a fan of books that might be considered both liberal and conservative in the Science Fiction world.

But regardless of how good a point that may be, I am not a Sad Puppy (the name for the group), and there are a couple of reasons why.

Reason 1: A Narrative of Victimization

I remember in the wake of 9/11 there seemed to be two camps forming. The first camp devoted itself almost entirely to the question: What did we do to deserve this, and how can we say we’re sorry? The second camp asked: How can we bring the perpetrators to justice, and what can be done to stop them in the future?

The first camp focused on self-criticism, and the many post-Enlightenment narratives of inner blame.

The second camp focused on strategy and tactics, to combat the people who sponsored the men who flew the planes, and also to combat the ideology which drove those men to commit murder-suicide.

Now, almost two decades after the most famous international terrorist attack in history, its the children of the first camp who seem to be dominating our societal conversation. Because inner blame is practically the only thing that gets talked about these days. If someone else hurts, it’s because we either did it to them, or we didn’t do enough to stop the hurt, or we are merely hurtful as a factual matter of existing. Ergo, we are born hurtful, and anyone who denies it is merely perpetuating societal and systemic prejudices and wrong.

– Brad Torgersen, Flaming Rage Nozzles of Tolerance, found at https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/flaming-rage-nozzles-of-tolerance/

Brad Torgersen is the person who took up Sad Puppies for their third year, which put forth a slate of candidates for the 2015 Hugo Awards. He has been for a lot of the debate the voice of reason, alongside Larry Correia (Sad Puppies founder and prominent Sci-Fi author as well) who served as the sound and fury. Mr. Torgersen is not someone I have any beef against, and seems like the kind of guy I would enjoy a drink with. A number of the things he has said make sense to me, and are well-written with good points.

But the moment he lost me was the section of his post above, Flaming Rage Nozzles of Tolerance. Because I cannot stand a narrative of victimization for conservatives post-9/11. If the children of his first camp, although I would disagree with his definition of what that camp is and what its goals are, are dominant now it is only as a reaction to the fact that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 his camp took the field and ran with it.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, and then later invaded Iraq as well. The U.S. began spying on its own citizens and citizens of foreign countries, began tactical drone strikes and targeted killings, and launched special forces raids on sovereign nations with and without their permissions in the 14 years since 9/11. And 9/11 so changed what we view as acceptable that we continue to do those things even under a Democratic administration that, prior to that day in September, would have found them abhorrent. 14 years of war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, two countries outright invaded and the sovereignty of many more violated—but the second camp that wanted to fight back never got their chance, right?

Later on in the post, Torgersen talks about how we’ve seen the modern reinvention of the Spanish Inquisition, or hair shirts and self-flagellation. And then describes them purely in terms of straw man liberalism. If you read Mr. Torgersen’s words you would believe that the only people creating kangaroo courts of public opinion, or of punishing people for not thinking or speaking right, are liberals. And that is a view so divorced from the reality of the last fourteen years that I can hardly believe I even have to type it.

Ask the Dixie Chicks if they think that the camp focusing on self-blame won, when they’ve had something less than a stellar career since they were branded as traitors and troop non-supporters for their political statements. And then contrast that with Ted Nugent, who has said far more incendiary (and threatening) things, and yet is defended by the same people who demonized the Dixie Chicks.

Ask John Kerry if he felt like he rode the powerful surge of the camp of original sin (as he describes the self-blame group think crowd of recreating) to the Presidency, or if he feels somewhat stung by the fact that those who shouted loudest about supporting our troops wore band-aids with purple hearts on them when he ran.

Or how about ask me? I’ve been called, to my face and my internet face both, a traitor. I’ve been told I don’t support the troops, for the crime of not supporting the war they were sent to—and for not wanting to send them out again. I’ve been demonized for not supporting our President when he was in office, only for the President that followed him to be himself demonized for the ridiculous and absurd. See, e.g.: The latte salute (which pictorial evidence shows previous Presidents of both parties doing), accepting an award from Saudi Arabia (which George W. Bush did as well, and isn’t illegal), and for wearing “mom jeans”. On that last one I literally have nothing I can say.

Do we live in an era where the internet judges a person and pronounces sentence immediately? Absolutely. Do we live in a time when the sound bite rules and debate has been stifled for party line adherence? Certainly. Do we live in a time when we are more polarized and factionalized in politics than we ever have been, and where that spills out in to other arenas (like the Hugo awards)? Of course.

But it is the rankest intellectual dishonesty to claim that you are part of a persecuted minority drowning in liberal group-think, Mr. Torgersen. Politics is a pendulum, and if there is a swing to self-doubt now (and I think the 2014 elections show that there wasn’t, and the continued existence of Fox News and Andrew Breitbart show that you are not as voiceless a minority as you claim) it is only because we spent 8 years in swaggering assurance. Both camps have had their day in the sun, both camps have had their time in the light, and both camps are more than capable of launching their own wickedly powerful inquisitions.

A false narrative of victimization helps no one, least of all reasoned debate on an issue.

Reason 2: Some Evidence

Some of the accusations that have been lobbed against the Sad Puppies is that they are racists, bigots, and misogynists. I think for a lot of them that is not true, because for any large movement there are going to be a substantial number of people who are not horrible—who do genuinely believe what they are talking about. Who, to borrow from the GamerGate issue, genuinely believe it’s about ethics in game journalism. I am even willing to say that Mr. Torgersen and Mr. Correia are not, as I have no evidence of them personally holding those beliefs. And as Mr. Torgersen is in an interracial marriage with a lovely family, it would be somewhat mind-boggling to find out he is a racist. So unless I am given evidence of those things, I am going to assume most Sad Puppies are genuinely concerned about what they say they are. The same cannot be said of the Rabid Puppies, but that’s issue number three.

But one of the defenses they bring up holds no water. They say that not only are they not misogynist or racist, but that in fact they are responsible for nominating more Women and People of Color then recent Hugo voters without them. And that is not true, at least for the areas I looked in to.

Some caveats: I only looked at the writing awards, and I only looked at gender. While most of the faces on Wikipedia I pulled up looked white it can be very hard to tell, and as someone a member of a minority religion that could pass in any church in America (so long as they had wide seats), I didn’t want to assume. So the following data speaks only for the number of women nominated for the writing awards.

The four major writing awards of the Hugos are Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story. This is Sad Puppies 3, meaning they had presences in the 2015, 2014, and 2013 Hugos.

For Best Novel, the number of women nominated (as finalists) every year since 2009 looks like this:

2015: 2 women. 2014: 2 women. 2013: 3 Women. 2012: 2 Women. 2011: 4 women. 2010: 1 woman. 2009: 0 women.

For Best Novella:

2015: 0 women. 2014: 2 women. 2013: 3 women. 2012: 5 women. 2011: 2 women. 2010: 2 women. 2009: 1 woman.

For Best Novelette:

2015: 0 women. 2014: 2 women. 2013: 3 women representing four works (one woman was nominated twice). 2012: 2 women. 2011: 1 woman. 2010: 3 women. 2009: 1 woman.

For Best Short Story:

2015: 2 women. 2014: 2 women. 2013: 2 women. 2012: 2 women. 2011: 3 women. 2010: 2 women. 2009: 2 women.

So how does that break down? Well, the Sad Puppy years have had women—but the year in which they have exercised the most control and had the most candidates in the finals, they nominated fewer women then previous years. And while there has been an upward trend it is a trend that existed previous to the Sad Puppy years, and thus it is impossible to determine whether the Sad Puppies existing had a correlative (Correia-lative?) or causative influence on the number of women nominated. Given the number this year, there may be data it is correlative.

Also interesting is that in three of the categories (Novel, Novella, Short Story) the highest number of women nominated came prior to the Sad Puppy years, while for Novelette there was either a tie between the first Sad Puppy year and another year or the Sad Puppy year won outright (depending on how you want to count one person being nominated twice). But again, especially in the first year whether this is correlative or causative is almost impossible to determine.

Nevertheless it is clear that at least in the issue of gender for the writing awards, which one would assume are the most important to Sad Puppies dedicated to the idea of ‘story first’, there has not been an increase in women nominations due to the Sad Puppies.

Reason 3: Weak Tea on Vox Day

Maybe Vox is terrible.

But the Marxist politics of unpersoning is much moreso.

-Brad Torgersen, Personal Unpersonning, found at https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/unpersoning/

Vox Day is a bigot, a misogynist, and all but a fascist. His world is one I have no desire to live in, or even be adjacent to. The fact that according to the multiverse theory there is a world where he has everything he wants out of life occasionally affords me existential dread.

I am not going to repeat some of the things he has said, because I don’t want to dirty my blog. They are out there, and if you want to fall down that pernicious rabbit hole you can find them pretty easily. Suffice it to say that there is nothing in his world that I agree with save, perhaps, for spelling.

One of the thing that bothers me about the response to any incident of Muslim terror is that there are people who shout at other Muslims demanding to know why they don’t denounce the terrorists. They ignore, of course, the fact that they DO denounce the terrorists, in public statements after every attack. And they ignore that Muslim citizens of countries do things like surround synagogues to protect them, or stop attacks in delis, or even come together as they are in Omaha with Christian and Jewish leaders to form a Tri-Faith Initiative.

So let me be fair. Mr. Torgersen has not embraced Vox Day, and clearly does not love him. He calls Vox Day an asshole, and in the post above he calls him a shock jock and says he is out to just get a reaction. Those are not the words of a supporter, co-conspirator, or friend.

But that line I quoted above? That is some weak ass tea, if I can borrow from Larry Wilmore. It is not exactly a strong statement to say maybe he is terrible, especially when you immediately follow it up with something else you think is much more terrible. Much more terrible, incidentally, then a man who is opposed to women’s suffrage and whose views on race relations appear to have been set by Birth of a Nation.

It is not unpersoning for a community to get together and look at a man, and say “Christ, you are a tremendous sack of shit”, and throw him out. That’s not punishing someone for being PC, that’s not being puritanical, it’s calling someone out for being a tool. Vox Day has not been singled out because he is a rebel, or speaking truth to power; he has been singled out because he gleefully informs us we are all wrong while painting a picture of his perfect society so abhorrent to any upright and thinking individual that it makes us unclean to even behold us.

Vox Day isn’t a shock jock, he is an ill within our society. He is a cancer within our community, not because he espouses different ideas but because he espouses ideas that people from all sides should be able to judge as being wholly without merit or worth. And it is not un-personing for the Sci-Fi community to say that unless Vox Day can evolve to at least a plus-minus one stage of human development, then it doesn’t want him coming around here anymore.

Nor is it wholly unreasonable to ask the man running the movement that inspired him to comment, firmly and finally, on their association. And there can’t be any mistake that Sad Puppies inspired Rabid Puppies, even if it was unintentionally.

In that post on Un-Personing, Mr. Torgersen goes on to compare his refusal to un-person Vox Day as being akin to Picard resisting Cardassian torture. There are four lights, he cries out, refusing to state categorically that his non-bigoted movement denounces and does not support the actions of a bigot. There are four lights, he rails, as he says that MAYBE Vox Day is terrible.

You lost me at maybe, Mr. Torgersen, because there is no maybe about it. You lost me when you said that calling someone out and kicking him out for calling people what he calls people, and for saying what he says, was worse than him saying it. And you lost me when you invoked the Book of Picard to do it.

Reason 4: Science Fiction Has Always Been About Social Justice

Orson Scott Card is an unlikely person to be a role-model for Social Justice. He is, after all, not too fond of our gay brothers and sisters. And his views are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. And yet through the books about Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, we see tolerance. At the end of the first book Ender finds the last Bugger, the egg of a queen. He doesn’t smash it, but takes it with him to keep it safe—and eventually he allows them to recreate their whole society on a safe planet, and helps maintain a balance on that planet between them  and two other species (including humans).

On Star Trek we see the folly of hatred between two men whose only difference is which side of their face is black or white. We see a bridge where a white man, an alien man, a black woman, an Asian man, and a Russian man are not just colleagues but friends—unthinkable for the 1960s, groundbreaking even in today’s Hollywood where diversity is far too often tokenization.  It showed us a world where the ethnic, racial, and cultural boundaries we impose on ourselves today will be gone, and while there will always be new tensions we will also be able to face them together.

Star Wars showed us a universe where there is great evil, but that there is good in the hearts of men and women of all species to fight against us. And it showed us that even in the face of evil’s greatest triumph, good can still win—and that no heart is ever so lost to good that it cannot be redeemed by the love of a child for their parent. And it showed us the coolest mother****er in the galaxy was Lando Calrissian.

Does Connie Willis not have a message? Lois McMaster Bujold, and Miles’ quest for acceptance in a society pre-programed to hate him? David Weber, and one of the most empowered women in Sci-Fi that still lives within a hard science and militaristic science fiction setting? Do you not think that authors the Sad Puppies have pushed as being overlooked like Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson have messages in their works? (Note: Neither Butcher nor Anderson are, to my knowledge, a part of SP). I’ve read all of Butcher, and a lot of Kevin J. Anderson, and Anderson especially in my childhood wrote books about Jedi dealing with real diversity, and faux or self-serving diversity that left quite an impression. Does anyone honestly think that if Harry Dresden were a living, breathing person there is any debate as to whether he’d come down on the side of social justice and tolerance or not?

Science fiction has always been about social justice. It has always been about looking at the future, and showing us what it might be like. And it has always been about good stories, too. It is about all three of those things, and to call any one of them to the carpet and say it isn’t Science Fiction is to deny our history and our legacy.

Yes, I want good stories. I want stories with interesting characters, good men and flawed men, and good women and flawed women. I want corkers about fighting evil, and I want space opera. I want clever tricks, and endings that work because of mathematical constants laid out in the beginning. I want world building and empire building and a farm-boy looking out at the stars and wanting to find his place in the empty void between them.

But I don’t want to ignore our history, either—because that is a disservice to the genre I love. Was Asimov not teaching us about prejudice while he told us a good story about two detectives, one human and one a humaniform robot? Was he not teaching us about the nature of sentience when Susan Calvin squares off against artificial intelligences?

When no less personages than George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Martin Luther King all tell us that Roddenberry had a driving goal to portray a post-racial world, should we ignore that? Ignore the story of MLK telling Nichelle Nichols she couldn’t quit, because what she was doing was too important?  Ignore Takei talking about how important it was for him to portray an Asian man in the future that wasn’t more yellow scare, Fu Manchu racism?

Science Fiction has always been about social justice and equality, at the same time it has been about telling good stories, and looking to the future. The best ones do all three of these with a subtle touch, leaving behind changed and opened minds without ever having to shout. The worst ones hit you over the head and drag you to the message whether you want to or not. But to ignore any one of the three is to ignore a part of our shared history. Modern Science Fiction stands upon the shoulders of giants, giants who told us that we can live in a world beyond the petty hatreds of a people bound to one planet.  Those giants told us we may not be perfect in the future, and we may find other people to distrust, but that we are a people who can grow toward perfection every day if we have the courage to seize it.

I am a Social Justice Warrior. Sometimes I prefer to think of myself as a Social Justice Cleric, or Paladin, or even a Social Justice Rogue (I do have a broad skillset). But I believe that we need more voices of the underrepresented in Science Fiction and Fantasy, that we have ignored for far too long the contributions of minorities and women. I believe Sci-Fi and Fantasy should be a place where people of all ages and genders, sexual orientations and likes, thoughts and backgrounds can come together—liberals and conservative alike. And in that quest I am promoting Social Justice, not standing in the way of it. And in that cause I stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who have inspired me and told me to reach higher, and accept more.

Science Fiction has always been about Social Justice. And that is why I am not a Sad Puppy.

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