Monday, April 27, 2015

Professor Pangloss Has No Answers Here

The Hugo debate seems to have died down a bit, probably because everyone involved has blocked everyone else's Facebook feeds and moderated each other's comments out of existence, but it's still bringing plenty of controversy. And as always when there's controversy, a peculiar sort of individual invariably raises their head to call out a battle cry that they're sure will resolve the issue: "Come on, guys. Can't we all just get along?"

To these people, the problem isn't whether or not the Puppies have done anything wrong by ginning up a slate of awards for their cronies. The problem is that people aren't willing to discuss it politely. Everyone is being so mean to each other. (There are even some people threatening physical violence, which is just never acceptable no matter who's doing it!) Everyone's making it an "Us vs Them" issue, taking a side instead of having a discussion. Nobody's trying to see the other person's point of view anymore, that's the real issue. Nobody's being understanding. Why, if both sides would stop being so gosh-darn rude and saying such nasty things to each other, or even better yet would stop pretending there's a "side" to be taken in what's really just a friendly disagreement between sci-fi neighbords, we'd probably be able to get this whole thing settled in a few days or so!

There are two big faults in this Panglossian vision of the science-fiction fandom community. The first is that it attempts to avoid taking sides by pretending that the problem is simply "extremism", and castigating (gently, oh so gently, like being smothered in spiderwebs) both groups for failing to control their extremists. Why is this a fault, though? Surely civility is a good thing, right? Threats are bad, calls for violence are bad, aggression and hostility is bad. Telling everyone to calm down and politely has to be a good thing...

But the two sides are not being equally uncivil. The Panglossians are bending over backwards to seem impartial, but they're confusing impartiality with neutrality. An impartial observer would have to conclude that David Gerrold, who is the Guest of Honor at this year's Hugos and who has been very vocal in his condemnation of the Puppies, has not made any threats and has made it clear that he does not condone those who do. Connie Willis, who made a principled stand of refusing to host the awards, is not calling for violence. George R.R. Martin might have eviscerated Larry Correia's arguments, but he certainly hasn't eviscerated Larry Correia. John Scalzi, who is according to the Puppies the architect of all that is evil, cruel, nasty and unforgiving, has made it pretty damn clear that he's too busy laughing his ass off to care about this. The vast majority of people who disagree with the Puppies are doing so fairly.

And Brad Torgersen? He's equating himself with General Lee. Ted Beale? He's talking about how it would be a rational act to pour acid into the faces of people who disagree with him. (Not about the Hugos specifically, no. That would be crazy. He's talking about people who teach women how to read.) Larry Correia is out there with his guns daring anyone who disagrees with him to come after him...admittedly, this has been his default state for the better part of a decade, but it doesn't look good here.

And despite the claims to the contrary, Larry and Brad and Teddy have a) been coordinating efforts right up until the point where it became inconvenient for Larry and Brad to have a white supremacist and misogynist hanging around their neck, at which point they tried real hard to pretend they never even heard of Ted Beale while simultaneously claiming that they'd never repudiate him Because That Would Be Wrong, and b) reached out to GamerGate, a Twitter-wielding mob primarily known at this point for sending rape and murder threats to feminists. Anyone impartial would say that the "extremists" are concentrated about 99% in one group. Trying to get by without naming names, simply saying, "Oh, a plague on both your houses, EXTREMISTS, you!" is taking sides by refusing to call the situation what it is.

Which leads us to that second big fault: The Panglossians believe that if both sides toned down their rhetoric, if somehow the GamerGaters stopped issuing death threats long enough to have a friendly chat and the Puppies decided to drop Ted Beale like a hot potato and it didn't cost them 90% of their base, then we could all find common ground and resolve this in a friendly way.

But we can't. Because fundamentally, no matter how much Brad and Larry and Ted and the GamerGaters who are backing them try frantically to paper over their message with "there's too much affirmative action in science fiction right now" and "they're pandering to literary tastes instead of meat and potatoes fans who don't want 'message fiction'" and "Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males" (okay, that one's a little less papered over than the others)...ultimately, these are people whose end goal is the total exclusion of those who disagree with them from the community at large. These are people who won't be happy until Brianna Wu gives up her art and her activism and ceases to use the Internet as a tool for social engagement with other human beings. These are people who will not stop until either they die of old age or Nora Jemisin stops writing, speaking, and existing where they're aware of it. These are people who cannot find a middle ground or a happy medium, because they feel very strongly that noticing the existence of women and minorities is a problem for them.

You can't have a "friendly disagreement" about that. And I'm fully aware that when I don't take sides, when I decide that the real problem is that people are taking these things too personally and we should just discuss it politely as an abstract issue, what I'm really saying is that I won't try too hard to defend people I admire and respect while other people are working very hard to erase them from the society I'm a part of. When I don't take sides, I am taking a side by default, and it is the side of the people who hate.

So yep, it's Us vs Them. It's Us vs Them because the Puppies and the GamerGaters have picked a fight with a group of people who can't walk away, because their fundamental disagreement with women and minorities is that they exist and that isn't likely to change soon. We may not want to pick a side, but a lot of people had one chosen for them on the day they were born. Not picking a side is abandoning them, and I'm not willing to do that. I'll be as civil as I can, as polite as the opposition warrants, and of course I won't use or condone violence. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and we can't fix the problem in our community by pretending it is.


magidin said...

So yep, it's Us vs Them. It's Us vs Them because the Puppies and the GamerGaters have picked a fight with a group of people who can't walk away, because their fundamental disagreement with women and minorities is that they exist and that isn't likely to change soon.

It's also "Us vs. Them" because they (i) are using scorched Earth policies; Beale has been very clear about that, and Correia has all but said it with his "I'm Churchill, Brad is FDR, Ted is Stalin" argument (which, by extension, means anyone who opposes them is a nazi and nothing short of unconditional surrender will do). And (see the aforementioned analogy) (ii) they've said "either you are with us or you are against us and need to be destroyed". You cannot have a reasoned debate and take your lumps with those who are unwilling to talk; if they cast you as the devil, you can't talk to them, because they cannot talk to you: it would be, literally, negotiating with the devil. So it is both the ground they are attempting to take over, and the underlying tactics that they have chosen that preclude "friendly disagreement".

John Seavey said...

Absolutely. Which also feeds back into the argument that both sides are not being equally uncivil; the worst anyone is saying about the Puppies is that they're racist jackasses, while the Puppies are perfectly willing to cast their opponents as the cause of the Fall of Western Civilization.

imnotandrei said...

Very well said, sir; very well said.