I swore to myself—again—that I was I was going to stay away from this ruckus after my first two essays (one long, one short) but some of the posts put up on my web site have worn down that resolve.
A friend of mine once said “ignorance can be fixed; stupid is forever.” I suspect he’s right, but I will sally forth once again in the hopes that some of these seemingly-stupid statements and arguments are really just the product of ignorance.
Let me start with this statement, from a recent poster named James May (and don’t complain, dammit; once you post on MY web site, you’re fair game):
“The social justice warrior argument is not specious but right on point. When you have SF authors writing posts about white privilege and others saying straight out they won’t review white men then that represents a sea-change, and a very new one, only 3 years old or so. That sort of thing is not occasional but obsessive and daily and it is not the usual right vs. left, although it is often couched in those terms. That is why people make the mistake of stretching this conflict years and even decades back rather than the months back it deserves.”
I have two points to make about this, one of which is:
Who the hell are you talking about outside of your right-wing echo chamber where idiot acronyms like “SJW” mean something?
But I’ll get back to that. My first point—picture me spluttering my coffee all over the place when I read it—has to do with this statement:
“When you have SF authors writing posts about white privilege… that represents a sea-change… This is why people make the mistake of stretching this conflict years and even decades back rather than months it deserves.”
Excuse me? SF authors have been writing about racism—AKA “white privilege”—for decades. And they came very late to the party. Eighty-eight years before the first Hugo award was handed out, a lowly be-damned politician had this to say on the subject of white privilege:
“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
The politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln and he said the above in the course of his second inaugural address as PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
But according to James May, outraged as he is by “social justice warriors”—once known as the entire Union army led by a fellow named Ulysses S. Grant—this is all the product of a very recent ruckus caused by whoever his contemporary “social justice warriors” consist of.
The truth is this, as uncomfortable as it may be for some people to hear it: Science fiction can claim credit for a lot of things, but one thing it cannot claim credit for is its track record on issues of racism and sexism. Our genre, at least until very recent times, has been in the rearguard, not the vanguard, of the fight for social justice.
For decades it was all but impossible to get science fiction publishers to put people of color on the covers of science fiction novels. I can remember sitting in Andre Norton’s living room a few years before she died listening to her excoriate SF publishers for their cowardice on the subject.
For decades women were either entirely absent from SF stories or, if they did appear, usually appeared as one-dimensional characters. And for a number of SF authors—I will name names, and we can start with Keith Laumer—a female character was doing well if she achieved one-dimensionality. The women in his stories generally amounted to nothing more than walking and occasionally talking pin-up girls. (And if you’re wondering as to my expertise on the subject, I’m the one who edited Baen Books’ multi-volume reissue of the writings of Keith Laumer.)
Nor does SF’s none-too-glorious track record when it comes to social justice begin and end with issues of race and gender. There’s a reason the hero of my first published novel, Mother of Demons, is a Jew. It’s because when I was a teenager I was disturbed—well, no, I was actually pretty damn pissed—that there seemed to be no Jews in the worlds of the future depicted in science fiction.
“What?” I can remember demanding to myself. “Did Hitler somehow win World War II after all?” And I made a solemn vow in the way that fourteen-year-old boys will that if I ever wrote a science fiction novel I would damn well make my hero a Jew. Truth be told, I didn’t really expect I’d ever make good on the promise. But I didn’t forget it, and when the time came—rather to my surprise—I did.
I am a gentile, by the way. You don’t have to be a Jew yourself to be displeased by science fiction’s tacit accommodation to anti-Semitism even in the years after the Holocaust.
And puh-leese don’t anyone bother putting up outraged posts pointing to exceptions to the rule.
Yes, I know there were exceptions to the rule. There are always exceptions to any rule. But that doesn’t change the rule itself—and there’s a reason the word is “rule.”
Let me quote from Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language:
Rule (n): a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.
Rule (v): to exercise dominating power or influence; predominate.
So spare me your whining about the exceptions. They didn’t RULE. The rule was that, until shamefully recently, the track record of science fiction when it came to social justice stank to high heaven. A genre that claimed to be in advance of society was actually trailing far behind, on issues of race, gender, or anything that involved “social justice.”
All right, enough on that. Now I want to get to my next point, which is this:
I am sick and tired of listening to people whine about “social justice warriors”—or “SJWs,” as they usually call them. I am sick and tired of them for two reasons.
First of all, I am a social justice warrior. Not an “SJW,” not a figment of the fevered imaginations of right-wingers, but the real deal. As a teenager, I was active in the civil rights movement; as a young man, in the anti-Vietnam war movement. By the time I was in my early twenties I was a socialist—which I am to this day—and I spent the next quarter of a century as a full-time political activist in one or another socialist organization. Among my other accomplishments—or damn fool tilting at windmills, take your pick—I ran for city council in Birmingham, Alabama in 1979 on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. (No, I didn’t win. But I did get 800 votes, which I thought was pretty damn good given the key words Birmingham, Alabama and 1979.)
During that time I devoted most of my energy to political struggles in the industrial trade unions, and I did so all over the country: in Los Angeles, California—and not La-La-Land but the docks in San Pedro, steel mills in the City of Commerce and teamster halls in several places; Detroit, Michigan, where I worked in GM’s forge in Hamtramck; Morgantown, WV; Birmingham, Alabama; Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually in Chicago, where I live to this day. At one time or another, I have been a longshoreman, a truck driver, a steelworker, an autoworker, an oil refinery worker, a meatpacker, a machinist and even for a few months a genu-ine glass blower.
I fought corporate bosses at all times and on some occasions, union bosses—including some fairly hair-raising experiences dealing with goons from the national leadership of the Teamsters union, during the early 70s when I was a participant in the fight for democracy in that union.
I fought for a just distribution of wealth and—more importantly—a reorganization of the way wealth is produced in the first place. I fought for civil rights and women’s rights, and the first rally I ever attended supporting the nascent movement for gay and lesbian rights was held in a black church in Detroit, Michigan back in 1977. And, throughout, I fought against the imperialist tendencies of the American political establishment in foreign affairs.
If you don’t like it, screw you. I don’t care what you think.
Listening to you anti-SJW types whine about your persecution just makes me laugh.
Persecution? Because you didn’t get nominated for a Hugo award?
Boy, are you a bunch of pikers. I have had three murder attempts made on me because of my political beliefs and activities. I can’t remember any longer how many times I’ve been threatened with murder. I have been badly beaten by a mob of KKK-organized right-wing thugs in broad daylight on a public street and the man I was with was crippled for life. (That happened just outside of Birmingham, Alabama in June of 1979. Did the police ever investigate? Be serious. Of course not.)
I have been physically assaulted because of my political beliefs on perhaps a dozen occasions. Being fair about it, while most of those assaults were carried out by right-wingers, some of them—perhaps a third—were carried out by Stalinists (usually Maoists of one variety or another). I have no idea how many times I’ve been threatened with physical assault. I lost track decades ago.
I have been arrested by the police on several occasions, usually for exercising my First Amendment rights. No charges were ever filed, mind you, since they were so bogus no prosecutor would have taken them up. But this is a typical form of police harassment. They can legally hold you in jail for 24 hours without pressing charges, and if you don’t want to miss a day’s work you have to post bail—and if you don’t just happen to have several thousand dollars handy you have to pay a bail bondsman a percentage which you’ll never get back.
Since I was in my early twenties I’ve known that most careers were closed to me because of my political beliefs and activity. Those include any career in the military, any career in government above the level of a postal clerk, any managerial career in any major corporation—the list goes on and on.
But you know what? I never once pissed and moaned and groaned about it. I took it for granted because I knew from the outset that if you set yourself in really sharp opposition to the powers-that-be—I’m talking about the real Powers-That-Be, not bullshit “social justice warriors”—you are bound to pay a price for it. That’s been true in every society back to the Stone Age. I know it—and every real fighter for social justice knows it.
So shut up. Listening to you right-wingers piss and moan about being victimized because you don’t get nominated for Hugo awards is tiresome. You are the biggest wusses who ever walked the face of the earth.
Point two. There’s a reason you never actually name these fearsome “SJWs” you constantly carp about. That’s because if you did, you’d immediately become a laughingstock.
Here’s the truth. Yes, there are people in the world who are insufferably holier-than-thou when it comes to right conduct and righteous thinking. Yes, there are people in the world who will shriek at anyone whom they believe to have engaged in any sort of transgression of proper social norms—and they invariably have the longest and most tender toes in the world. It seems no one can help but step on them, no matter what you say or do.
To which the proper response is simple. You ignore themand go on your way. And you can do this because outside of a few departments in some universities they don’t amount to a hill of beans. They may make a lot of noise—if you insist on staying in their vicinity, at least—but they have no power worth worrying about.
That’s why whenever I get into an argument with one of you anti-SJW types, I always say:
NAME NAMES, goddamit. Either name names or shut up.
And…you never name names. Not because you can’t, but because if you did it would immediately be obvious that these fearsome and ferocious and tyrannical Social Justice Warriors are actually a small bunch of noisy twits who have no real influence over anybody or anything.
You want to know why Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen and many other authors they like don’t get nominated for Hugo awards or win them? It’s as simple as it gets, and it’s the same reason I never get nominated and Mercedes Lackey never gets nominated and Michael Stackpole never gets nominated. It’s because the subjects that interest us and the way we write about them aren’t either the subjects or the style of writing that most of the people who vote for Hugos either like or think is worthy of getting a Hugo award.
Period. There’s nothing more to be said.
Those people have every right to their opinion—just as I have the right to shrug my shoulders and get about my business because, push comes to shove, I don’t care what they think. Or at least, I don’t care enough to change what I write about and how I write.
I will close with a third point, tangentially related to the first two, which is this:
While I think the Sad Puppies began this exercise in hyper-ventilation with their screeching about “SJWs”, they are not the only ones who have been guilty of it.
It is now time for me to state a truth which, while it may surprise or disturb or distress or just plain annoy some people, still needs to be said:
What is at stake here is not the fate of western civilization—or even the fate of science fiction. The forces of Mordor are not lining up to conquer Middle-earth and we do not face the prospect of eternal rule by Sauron.
It’s a fricking brawl over an award that the vast majority of the human race has never heard of and could care less about.
I know Brad Torgersen. He’s not only a friend of mine, he’s one of the people who helps me maintain this web site—and his last contribution a few days ago was to clean up and improve the formatting of an essay I wrote which, among other things, criticized him.
As the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, he is…
Well, sadly lacking in the necessary qualities. Just for starters, his wife Annie is not only African-American but about as far removed as it gets from shy and demure and she’d skin him alive if he made any moves in that direction. Whenever the three of us get together to argue politics, she’s way more likely to be on my side than his.
I don’t really know Larry Correia. I’ve met him only once, at an SF convention, in the course of which we had a political argument that lasted for perhaps an hour. Gee, what a shocker: conservative libertarian Mormon disagrees with commie atheist. Stop the presses!
For the record, however, our dispute was friendly and cordial and he struck me as a pretty nice guy. I have been told as much by a number of people who know him far better than I do whose opinions I generally trust.
So he also seems like a pretty unlikely candidate for the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.
Then there’s Theodore Beale, aka “Vox Day.” Now we come to a far more suitable candidate, Great-Dictator-Reborn-wise. He shares Hitler’s general attitudes on race, certainly, although I don’t know where he stands on the subject of Jews. And he’s even to the right of Hitler on the subject of women. Far to the right, in fact. Hitler thought women should stick to their proper roles in child-rearing, managing households and church activity—“Kinder, K?che, Kirche”—but he wasn’t actually opposed to women learning how to read and write and he didn’t support honor killings.
But there are two great differences between Beale and Hitler that make it impossible for Beale to play that role either.
To start with, whatever his other depravities, Hitler wasn’t a petty chiseler. Whereas Beale is nothing but a petty chiseler. He chisels when it comes to his opinions, always trying to play peekaboo and slime around defending what he obviously believes. And he’s trying to win Hugo awards by petty chiseling.
But it’s his other characteristic that really disqualifies him for the role of Great Villain in this morality play.
In a nutshell—and completely unlike Adolf Hitler—Theodore Beale is a fucking clown with delusions of grandeur. This is a man—say better, pipsqueak—who rails to the heavens about the decline—nay, the imminent doom!—of western civilization due to the savageries of sub-human races and (most of all) the pernicious—nay, Satan-inspired!—willfulness of uppity women, and likes to portray himself as the reincarnation of the feared Crusaders of yore, all the way down to wielding a flaming sword.
And… the best thing he can figure out to do with his time, money and energy is to hijack a few Hugo awards. That’ll show the sub-human-loving treacherous bitches!
The world trembles and shakes, just like it does in the imagination of a mouse whenever that mouse imagines itself to be an elephant. Except no mouse who ever lived was this stupid.
On the flip side of the equation, I also know John Scalzi. I first met him online a few years ago, as another participant in a group organized by Charlie Stross to combat the tendencies of most publishers at the time to follow the lead of the music industry—specifically, the Pied Piper known as Digital Rights Management (DRM)—when it came to so-called “piracy.” Cory Doctorow was another member of the group.
Ironically, in light of their later stereotyping by some people in “the Baen crowd,” all of the participants in that group were admirers of Baen Books’ policy on electronic publishing. As was…
(roll of drums)’
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the Tor editor who seems to serve the anti-SJW crowd as Chief Dastardly Villain Number One, except when John Scalzi does. I’ve only met Patrick once, at a Tor party at a convention (don’t remember which one, but it was probably one of the World Fantasy cons), and what he wanted to talk about was his support for Baen’s policy. “The only publisher who really knows what they’re doing when it comes to electronic publishing,” was the way he put it.
I can’t say I’m exactly friends with John Scalzi, since we’ve only met a few times and then briefly. But we’re certainly on friendly terms and I have to say that the depiction of him by the anti-SJWers is every bit as laughable as the depiction of Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia as the second coming of Attila the Hun.
Lessee… a middle-aged white guy who writes military SF about old white guys and riffs on Star Trek is… a social justice warrior literary author.
Gee, who knew?
By the way, many readers have told me that—as is true with me—they assumed that Scalzi was a right-winger because—as is true with me—he likes to write military SF. Some of them—as is true with me—even manage to read several novels by him without being disabused of the notion. Proving once again that the novel someone reads is not necessarily the same novel the author wrote.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that everyone in this ruckus needs to be careful lest you fall into Theodore Beale’s rabbit hole and start having delusions about both friends and enemies.
I think one side in this dispute is wrong—that’s the side championed by Brad and Larry. I think that, not because I think the Hugo awards don’t have a lot of problems—I do, and I explained those at length in my first essay—but because their analysis of the problem is so wrong as to be downright wrong-headed. But I don’t think they pose a mortal threat to social justice, western civilization, science fiction or even the Hugo awards themselves.
Why did they launch this brawl and keep pursuing it? Well, I’ve always been a devotee of Napoleon’s dictum: “Never ascribe to malevolence what can be adequately explained by incompetence.” I don’t think there was anything involved except that, driven by the modern American right’s culture of victimization—they are always being persecuted; there’s a war on white men, a war on Christmas (no, worse! a war on Christians themselves!), blah blah blah—they jumped to the conclusion that the reason authors they like weren’t getting Hugo awards or even nominations was because of a Great Leftwing Conspiracy against the righteous led by unnamed Social Justice Warriors—presumably being shuttled around the country in their nefarious plots in black helicopters—and off they went.
If they’d simply said: “We think the Hugos have gotten too skewed against popular authors in favor of literary authors,” there’d have still been a pretty ferocious argument but it never would have reached this level of vituperation.
But simply stating a problem wasn’t good enough for them. No, following the standard modern right-wing playbook, SOMEBODY MUST BE TO BLAME.
Enter… the wicked SJWs! (Whoever the hell they are. They’re to blame, dammit.)
I think the same mindset explains Larry Correia’s otherwise incomprehensible initial championing of Vox Day. I don’t think Larry thought much about it, frankly, or took the time to find out who “Vox Day” really was. I think he just figured if liberals don’t like him, he must be okay, following the same rightwing trope that led American right-wingers to initially champion Phil Robertson and Cliven Bundy until they were shocked to discover that they were actually vicious racists.
(Gee, who knew? Answer: anybody with a half a brain not blinded by right-wing victimization culture.)
Then—as predictably as the sunrise—the Sad Puppies’ campaign of blame and character assassination triggered off a response that often got just as savage as their own campaign. Sometimes, in fact, exceeded it in savagery. I think the other side in the dispute—insofar as it consists of one “side” at all—is mostly right on the substance of the dispute but is sometimes way off base in the way they characterize their opponents. Characterizing either Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia as a racist, a misogynist or a homophobe—as a number of their opponents have done—is just slimy and disgusting.
(Yes, I know about Brad’s recent stupid and mildly-homophobic wisecrack about Scalzi, which John responded to perfectly. Sorry, folks, that constitutes residual prejudice, not “homophobia.” Get a grip. Just as every nitwit who shrieks on a web site somewhere about the omnipresence of male chauvinism is not a fearsome Social Justice Warrior, every middle-aged white guy who makes a stupid remark about who is and who isn’t gay is not the Waffen SS.)
To put it more briefly—not my strong suit, I admit; why do you think I write novels?—I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and stop hyper-ventilating.
I’m not attending the Worldcon this year. That’s not due to this controversy, it was a decision I made more than a year ago when I looked at my travel schedule for 2015. There was no particular reason for me to attend, it’s an expensive proposition—in time even more than in money—so I’m not.
And I never buy a supporting membership just to vote on the Hugos. Why would I? I’ve never cast a vote on the Hugos, even when I’ve attended the convention itself. Why? First, because I don’t care very much (if at all) who wins. Second, because I’ve rarely read more than one or two of even the nominated novels much less the short fiction so I would feel dishonest casting a vote for “the best” story when I haven’t read most of them.
Nonetheless, I will provide my advice for those who are planning to vote and are not sure how to handle this controversy. My advice is simple: vote the same way you would for any year’s Hugo award. It doesn’t matter who got Story X, Y or Z on the ballot. That has always, being blunt about it, involved a lot of sausage-making behind the scenes. Wherever they came from, these are this year’s nominees. So vote for whichever story you like—or cast a vote for “no award” if you don’t like any of them enough.
I will close by providing links to two essays that I strongly recommend to anyone who has been interested enough in what I have to say to read this far. The first is by Samuel R. Delaney, one of the great figures in our genre, on the issue of racism and science fiction—a subject about which he not only knows far more than people who screech about “SJWs” but has actually thought deeply and very intelligently about, which they have not.
The second is by Michael Stackpole and expresses many of them things I’ve tried to express and often better than I have.