This is the era in which we are all being drafted in the Culture War. It doesn’t matter if you’re secular or religious, political or apolitical, frat boys or geeks, hipsters or bros. Nobody gets to be neutral or sit on the sidelines, because we’ll all be expected to make our obeisance to the latest politically correct opinion handed down to us by a Twitter mob.
By now, we know the basic ingredients of a typical skirmish in Culture War 4.0. It goes something like this: a) a leftist claque starts loudly pushing the “correct” Culture War position onto b) a field previously considered fun, innocuous, apolitical, purely personal, or recreational, and c) accusing anyone who opposes them of being a racist, sexist, bigot who relies on oppressive “privilege” to push everyone else down, while these claims are d) backed up by a biased press that swallows the line of attack uncritically and repeats it.
Any of that sound familiar? It’s just daily life for anyone on the Right, and it’s slowly becoming daily life for everybody else. Ask Comet Guy.
Or video games. Or science fiction.
Which explains the latest, wide new front of the Great Social Justice War: Gamergate*, and the battle over the Hugo Awards, a prestigious annual fiction award for science fiction and fantasy writers.
Hugo nominations are not made by a cloistered group of experts. They are voted on by anyone who becomes a “supporting or attending member” of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon. This has usually meant that the voting is limited to a small pool of a few thousand die-hard science fiction fans. But in practice it means that anyone willing to shell out $40 can cast a ballot.
Science fiction has always been a fertile arena for exploration of big ideas—much more so, these days, than highbrow “literary” fiction. The use of fantastical science fiction premises allows authors to project a future in which everything is done differently, or in which human nature itself has been altered, and this leads them to ask questions about what is really natural, necessary, or essential to human life and what is merely conventional, artificial, and unnecessary. It has been remarked that “big-idea novels are more likely to have an embossed foil dragon on the cover than a Booker Prize badge.”
Clearly, all of this freewheeling exploration of ideas has got to stop.
So in marched the Social Justice Warriors, a term adopted in the Gamergate controversy to describe the kind of politically correct busybodies who decide that the output of every field has to be remade to promote the proper, “progressive” social agenda—or else.
A few years back, conservative science-fiction author Larry Correia noticed that left-leaning participants at Worldcon were engaged in a whispering campaign against one of his nominated books because of his political views. Many of them had not even read his novels. They opposed him, not because of the quality of his work, but because of who he was. In effect, the Left was enforcing a blacklist in which no right-leaning science fiction writer can be allowed to win awards.
All of which sounds drearily familiar. Believe me, when you’re in my line of work, you don’t expect to win any of the mainstream awards, either. They just don’t give those things to people like us. It’s a part of our professional life that most writers on the right have just given up on. And maybe we shouldn’t have.
To counteract the voting bias, Correia organized a campaign called “Sad Puppies”—because, he explains, “boring message fiction is the leading cause of Puppy Related Sadness.” Which gives you a small sampling of the kind of goofy, irreverent humor with which the campaign has been conducted. The idea was simply to suggest a slate of authors Correia thought were likely to be overlooked or slighted because of their views—and to counteract that effect by lobbying in their favor.
His goal wasn’t even to win, but just to bring attention to the issue. Here is how he described it:
1. I said a chunk of the Hugo voters are biased toward the left, and put the author’s politics far ahead of the quality of the work. Those openly on the right are sabotaged. This was denied.
2. So I got some right wingers on the ballot.
3. The biased voters immediately got all outraged and mobilized to do exactly what I said they’d do.
4. Point made.
The goal was simply to bring the leftist bias out into open view.
But then things got out of hand. This year, the Sad Puppies campaign (and a related slate of recommendations called Rabid Puppies) swept the field. The response was a total meltdown among the leftist elites who had assumed, in previous years, that they (and their favorite publisher, Tor) basically owned the Hugos. So they did what the Left always does: they smeared everyone who disagrees with them as racists.
Correia notes that on April 6, eight different news sites, from Entertainment Weekly to The Guardian, all published suspiciously similar hit pieces describing the Sad Puppies campaign and its organizers as racist and misogynist. Clearly, someone was feeding these sites the new official narrative, and they all swallowed it without any attempt at basic research. So for example, the original version of the Entertainment Weekly piece claimed:
The Hugo Awards have fallen victim to a campaign in which misogynist groups lobbied to nominate only white males for the science fiction book awards. These groups, Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies (both of which are affiliated with last year’s GamerGate scandal), urged sci-fi fans to become members of the Hugo Awards’ voting body, World Science Fiction Convention, in order to cast votes against female writers and writers of color.
But the article had to be repeatedly corrected, adding this humiliating admission:
After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.
As the sardonic saying goes: “Other than that, the story was accurate.” Obviously, the “correction” guts the central point of the whole piece, and what is really required is a wholesale retraction. And more: any journalistic entity worthy of the name would decide that the real story is, who is smearing Sad Puppies as racist, and why?
(Brad Torgerson, by the way, posted his own moving refutation, leading with a photo of himself with his black wife and mixed-race daughter.)
The other thing we’ve come to expect from the Social Justice Warriors is a bitter, dismissive hatred for the fans of their own field, who stubbornly refuse to be reformed by their betters. A rant from “progressive” writer Philip Sandifer, echoing last year’s proclamation that “Gamers Are Dead,” declared “The Day Fandom Ended.”
Sandifer argued for “the moral duty of progressive voices to form a blocking majority, and to loudly admit that fandom as it stands is broken, and that any work proclaimed to be the best of the year by a fandom this broken is demeaned by the association.” So he advocates that “progressives” should buy their way into the final ballot and vote for “No Award Given” in every category. “The 2015 Hugos should simply be blank.”
In other news, he’s going to take his ball and go home.
Not to be outdone, “Jeopardy Jerk“ Arthur Chu decided to live down to his epithet by denouncing “democracy” as such. It’s like Stalin said: the problem with elections is that you never know ahead of time who’s going to win.
To be sure, it is possible some of the Sad Puppies nominees won because of their right-leaning politics rather than their quality. And it also appears that the proprietor of the competing slate, Rabid Puppies, has said a few genuinely objectionable things. But the science-fiction establishment might want to take a moment to ask how they have so alienated their core audience as to provoke this kind of mass protest vote. Than again, forget I said that. “Progressives” never ask that question. Inherent in leftism is the notion that we all must be guided by a small elite, a revolutionary vanguard, and that if we resist our indoctrination, it is necessary to dissolve the people and elect another.
From our perspective as draftees in the new Culture War, the 2015 Hugo Awards lay out the pattern for a successful counter-attack. Sad Puppies and its sympathizers have discovered how to use the Internet effectively as a tool to mobilize the “silent majority.” They have managed to wrest control of an existing institutions from an entrenched establishment—roughly the equivalent, say, of getting Binyamin Netanyahu nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Above all else, both Gamergate and Sad Puppies are managing to mobilize people who were previously unengaged with politics, or who come from the center-left but are disillusioned after being hectored by a holier-than-thou claque of super-radicals.
In short, this is the one area where our side is winning the Culture War and making some headway at beating back the left’s politicization of every aspect of life.
*Correction: This article originally referred to the 2015 Hugos controversy as an “outgrowth” of Gamergate, which was strongly implied by some of the sources I’ve read. I have since heard from people who are connected to or knowledgeable about the Sad Puppies campaign, who tell me that the two events are independent and there is less overlap than I had assumed between gamers and sci-fi fans. So I removed that description.—RWT
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