Monday, May 11, 2015

RaceFail '09 and Sad Puppies

I've been following the Sad Puppies/Hugo saga in various blogs since at least Sad Puppies 2. Certainly I have been following the last couple months of blog posts with much enjoyment. I've seen various Puppies making their case well, giving their various
perspectives, and ably explaining what the actions of the Anti-Puppies look like from their perspectives. One thing I was puzzled by is that I haven't seen is anyone speculating on the influence that RaceFail ‘09 may have had on the pre-conditions that were the background to the Sad puppies or how RaceFail may be impacting the reaction to Sad Puppies. However given the fact that GRRM did not recognize a what a reference to Barflies meant, it’s occurred to me that maybe nobody in Sad Puppies knows enough about RaceFail ‘09 to realize the signs of a connection.
The definitive link list to RaceFail ‘09 is here. When I first discovered it back in 2010, I spend a couple of months reading it whenever I had a spare moment and still never managed to absorb the whole thing. But if you can spare a couple of hours it’s hilarious to read through some of these posts. It would be impossible for me to analyze or even summarize all the themes, convolutions, mis-understandings, and ramifications. So I’m just going to summarize the part of my take away that seems relevant to Sad Puppies.
To explain what I think RaceFail ‘09 has to do with Sad Puppies I need to distinguish between two types of people among the CHORFs. First the social capitalists of SF, being those who invested considerable time, suave fare, and favors becoming “good friends”, “the good guys” and otherwise “good people to known” among the powerful in science fiction, especially for these purposes among the most dedicated and involved of the con going Fandom. (i.e. They have accumulated the social equivalent of capital and want to maintain and profit from it.) Note that I didn’t included anything about politics in this definition. Because of how left leaning publishing has been for many decades the social capitalists, had to be at least comfortable presenting as leftist and go along with nominally endorsing the popular leftist cause of the day in order to succeed in becoming popular. But a social capitalist’s primary concern would not be advancing leftist causes. The primary focus of social capitalists is maintaining both their own place in the existing social structure, and in making sure that existing social structure maintains its power and prestige. However the rhetoric of the social justice warrior was very attractive to the social capitalists because nothing encourages everyone to fall in line behind the existing social order like an outside evil that needs to be fought. So the social capitalists happily encouraged the idea that Science fiction was warring against a vast but vague set of injustices.
The other type of person among the CHORFs is the True Believer SJW, being those who truly and deeply believe that pushing for Social Justice will lead to an enlightened society where everyone (except for those crazy evil conservatives who aren't really people) feels wonderfully accepted and validated just as they are, success is always easy, and life is fair all the time. They see themselves as natural banner bearers of Social Justice banner because they identify as weak and downtrodden and see Social Justice as all about taking the weak and putting them in charge. They tended to be less professionally involved and/or new to professional involvement with literary Science Fiction, so there tended to be more of an amateur's view point.
I think there must have been some intuition under conscious awareness that, for all the energy being put into Social Justice, it was not helping those they claimed to be championing very much. And some mild self-congratulatory back patting among the Social Capitalists about their ability to represent minorities led to some POCs (People of Color, SJW speak for non-white) posting critiques about how neither the back-patting nor the fiction being praised made them feel understood and included, and in fact made them feel alienated.
It was called racist in that certain depictions of POCs either did not show accurate details of how POCs are different from white liberal westerners, or fell in someway in line with stereotypes of how minorities are viewed. I think the flaws that were pointed were actually just first, the liberal tendency to not genuinely understand other points of view (As Bill Reader puts it:
This is the fundamental issue with the SJW ideology. They don’t just disagree with people who have an actual different view on life from them. They don’t even acknowledge that these people exist.
They are more disgustingly culturally arrogant than the staunchest supporter of the British Empire. That person may not have agreed with what Indians did as parts of various traditions; may have looked down on them as childlike; may have imposed his own customs on them in the process. He at least had the decency to acknowledge that such beliefs could, in fact, exist.
For an SJW, a world truly outside their own is so alien that it must be disavowed if ever it is claimed to exist, and the person claiming it must be put to shame. And they will help you get outside your comfort zone, so you can discover the only true way of living.)
And second the liberal assumptions that minorities are always helpless and distressed, needing the help of white noblesse oblige. Anyway there was much disappointment at the fact that much liberal Sci Fi and Fantasy was failing to portray a world that both treats everyone as a unique special snowflake and also with an equality where everyone is equivalent and interchangeable.
The first response from the Social Capitalist Immediate apology and profuse breast beating. However this did not immediately place all the attention back on the Social Capitalists and their agenda. The True Believers found this new insight important and interesting. Some of the Social Capitalists pushed back against too much tearing down of the established pecking order among their own in group. The True Believers gave some push back against the defense of the status quo leading to more push from the Social Capitalists to have this line of discussion to be dropped, including (original deleted or locked but I saw it here) this quote from  Patrick Nielsen-Hayden

This behavior got the True Believers very upset and lead to them giving descriptions of the Social Capitalists and their behavior such as these:
“For the most part, the hateful people want one of three things, which they're mostly not aware of:
1) Attention & Reassurance: "Tell me I'm a good white person! Tell me what I think is ok!"
2) Servitude: "Please answer my 59 questions in long form. Even if I repeat myself or clearly didn't read the answers to previous ones. Don't worry, I'll be sure NOT to pass along what I've learned to the next person. KTHXBAI!"
3) Dominance: "STFU! Personal Attacks! Get back in your place you emotional / irrational / undereducated / militant / those people!" (There's also straight up epithets, but we usually figure out to disengage from those right up)
None of these attitudes are particular conducive to learning, listening, or comprehension, because they're all based in an assumption of supremacy” (link)

“If you weren't so interested in preserving yourselves, your status quo and your self perspective as a liberal understanding academic - you would have never behaved like pantless fools in the first place.
Putting on pants is a good start, but it doesn't mean I stop thinking of you as barely dressed savages. I know it's a turn around and likely a description you never expected applied to you; but if the loin cloth fits, even if it's made with the pages of Shakespeare and Ovid and scrolls of Socrates, it's still just a loin cloth; in your case barely keeping your befouled private workings covered.” (link)

“they slyly play the victim instead.
Oh noes, I tried to have a rational discussion but the Hordes of PoC swamped into my space and took over and they're too many comments and insults are flying and I'm so exhausted at putting out the fires!” (link)

Then came this post (Orginal locked or deleted but I got this from the frisking here) by Theresa Neilsen Hayden
“Those members of the mob who actually wanted someone to listen to them now have one less person to do it. The junior literary critics and wanna-be writers have lost one of the central editors in science fiction from their conversation. And if any of that lot professes to care about Patrick personally -- please understand I'm not rating that probability very high at the moment -- it should be obvious to them what kind of effect they've had.
I know Patrick better than anyone else. This is serious damage. The nithings who've hurt him will have moved on to some other inane topic by now. There's nothing worthwhile I can do to them. It wouldn't take away his hurt -- and besides, they wouldn't understand most of what I had to say to them.
One other issue: when Patrick and I first registered our Live Journal accounts, it never occurred to us to use anything other than our real names -- or rather, our real initials, which are easily traced to us, and which we've used as userIDs in other forums where our identities are or were known. Has it not occurred to the people attacking him that they can say anything, whereas what they say about him will show up whenever someone Googles his name? In terms of public reputation, they're playing with Monopoly money, and he's playing with the real thing.
Some of the people who are using false names are known to him. Some of them are known to or evident to me. In those cases, I've told Patrick who they really are. It's only fair. ...
Those of you I can't identify are not off the hook. I suggest that you never seek to take credit under your real name for anything you've done or written under your LJ pseudonym, because it's unlikely that I will ever forget you or what you've done.”

So now the controversies involved ugly and person insults as well as threats of professional retaliation. This stirred the pot with a vengeance and the discussions ended up leading to with the True Believers producing much eloquent rhetorical outrage and demands for denunciations and disavowals that had a lot of force behind them. The Social Capitalists flailed around trying to defend their territory and ended up committing such solecisms as outing someone so that her real day job name got linked to her fannish activity.
Generally the Social Capitalists more frequently demonstrated a knack for bullying in defence of their social status than a knack for logical argument.
By the time everything trailed off into a low simmer, the Nielsen-Haydens and the other Social Capitalists were in full and ignominious retreat. Certain lessons must have been seared into their psyches. First to immediately and loudly disavow anyone that looked like they might trigger the True Believers, reinterpreted in their own mind as conservatives,  least you get any of the cooties on yourself.  Second, they needed to make a big and noticeable splash to push minorities to shore up their cred.
The True Believers came out having won a hard fought toehold on the mountain of social status, but one that had proved itself to be constantly under threat. But they believed they were on the side of all that was good and if they just trumpeted their cause loudly enough their righteousness would carry the day. Moreover their experience had lead them to the conclusion that any arguments there opponents put up were just smoke screens for self serving attention seeking and social climbing.
Pretty much all the prominent names among the CHORFs were involved in RaceFail ‘09 on one side or the other, and even members of con going fandom who were not involved would have been very aware of this if they were significantly plugged into the Fandom social network. This dynamic was very much affecting important parts of Fandom when Larry Correia was nominated for a Cambell in 2011. There was very much an ongoing campaign to get a higher profile to “POC” authors and viewpoint. But many people on both sides  had found the whole RaceFail ‘09 to be traumatizing. And there was, especially among the socially powerful who had tended to come out poorly, a strong motivation not to set the whole thing off again, and therefore a strong motivation not to mention the situation to any outsiders. As the ripples continue outward from the initial disturbance, it would have been very confusing for anyone seen as an alternative target of a proxy of those insincere and failed efforts at being the white savior of SFF This purposely opaque atmosphere is one to the things the predisposed for the initial sad puppies campaigns to get whatever was going on out in the open where it could be seen and discussed. 

The response to Sad Puppies was also influenced by the pre-existing conditions. Many SJWs were presented with a wonderful opportunity to take attention off their own faux paus by getting their community to focus on an external enemy. Even many of those that came out winners had a welcome chance to get the nasty taste of infighting out of their mouths and go after a more ideologically clean target.  RaceFail also set the expectation for how the argument would go: The people with the less extreme leftist position would whine and threaten impotently, but would find they had no real argument and either run away or govel apologetically. Many seem to have assumed that anything the Puppies had to say was simply slightly reworded versions of arguments already answered. Some may be just now waking up to the realization that Sad Puppies is an entirely different argument and is going in a different direction.
The cries of racist at the Puppies is the assumption are doing the same thing as the Social Capitalists were, only more so because they are more conservative. Only the Puppies never promised that they would speak for anyone except themselves as individuals. They didn't hold out the hope that their fiction lead the way to the paradoxical paradise where everyone is both the same and different in the same way and at the same time. In fact Puppies stand against the idea that the primary purpose of fiction should be anything else but telling a good story. Sure, stories can explore ideas, they can reflect the truth as you see it, but you can’t bend reality to your will be writing a story that presents the world as something other than it is.
 In the end the fundamental issues and departure points for the sad puppies campaigners are very different from what was driving Racefail ‘09. But on the Anti-Puppy side are many people who are reacting to Sad Puppies like it is related to the fundamental disagreements of RaceFail ‘09 so it’s useful background to understand a little of that contretemps.


  1. Holy smoke, Alia D. This is a huge background that explains a lot. I mean, it is obvious that there are factions within that are irreparably damaged. That is why sad and Rabid had such a sweep.

    But this is really fascinating. Explains all the nonsense with the SFFWA under scalzi, too.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.