When America was founded, there was a consensus against political factions. Both the theoreticians and practitioners of government argued that a democracy in its purest form was one of individuals. And that organizing into political parties would lead to the entrenchment of elites, and the wilting of the spirit of democracy beneath the actions of those who would game the system, who would collaborate in order to win instead of letting the opinion of the people fall where it would.
In a sense they were very right, even if their monocles were tinted rose. They did not understand that it was an unstable equilibrium that they proposed. It was a gentleman’s agreement that did not even survive a generation in practice, because each side had the incentive to break the agreement in order to win big. And once one side does the other side has to as well, or it will be entirely marginalized. And so parties, those grinding electoral machines that put half the population off of politics entirely, those engines of cynicism and manipulation, those are an inescapable part of every single democracy in the world.
It’s to be expected in politics, after all the stakes of power are irresistible. But outside the spheres of power we can sometimes still maintain that purer form of democracy, in little corners where individuals still operate in good faith and merely vote their conscience and opinion, hoping their vote prevails instead of working to win. The Hugo Awards were like that, the most important and respected awards in science fiction. There were fits and starts over the years of course. For instance, the Scientologists tried to campaign for old L. Ron back in the eighties and the other voters responded so overwhelmingly that he finished dead last, behind even the ballot item for giving the award to no one at all.
The idiotically named Sad Puppy movement decided though in the last couple of years that the Hugo Awards were bastions of liberal, “literary” science fiction that discriminated against conservative writers. They then set about campaigning under that banner of the ever repressed white Christian male, engaging in all the familiar tactics of politics such as getting out the vote, shrilly broadcasting their tales of repression, and systematically going about trying to “win” the voting that determines who is nominated for Hugos.
Nothing they did was against the rules. Let’s be clear about that, but it’s also not the goddamned point.
Someone can always rip down any system from within the rules. And doing so does not make the perpetrator right or justified, it just means that they successfully gamed a system. But the damage done is long lasting, because once the system is gamed, the good faith that allowed it to run previously is destroyed. What for decades was a collegial, friendly celebration of science fiction has now been twisted by ugly politics, perhaps irrevocably.
But, you ask, what is so objectionable about one set of writers getting their favorites onto the ballot? What real harm other than more overblown nerd outrage comes from this?
Well there’s that little detail in which the leaders of the Sad Puppies movement are racist, misogynist bastards. One could write a short book just about the hateful things they say online. I don’t want to bother because cataloging hatred becomes a numbing exercise in anecdotal evidence at some point. So I’ll just give you these tidbits to go on, bypassing their victory crowing on Brietbart and simply pointing at what the result of their campaign has been.
Thanks to their campaign, John C. Wright just got nominated for six Hugos, reportedly more than anyone in history. Here’s what Wright had to say on his blog about the ending of the television show Legend of Korra featuring two women in love:
“Mr DiMartino and Mr Konietzko: You are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship. Contempt, because you struck from behind, cravenly; and hatred, because you serve a cloud of morally-retarded mental smog called Political Correctness, which is another word for hating everything good and bright and decent and sane in life.
I have no hatred in my heart for any man’s politics, policies, or faith, any more than I have hatred for termites; but once they start undermining my house where I live, it is time to exterminate them.”
Editor Vox Day was also nominated for two awards thanks to the campaign. Here’s what he thinks about women:
“One thing that is becoming evident is that regardless of culture, women cannot be trusted to use contraception in a socially responsible manner. If it is left up to them, they will kill their societies rather than give up the pleasures of alpha-chasing. This indicates that it will not be left up to them very much longer, as societies that permit women to control their birth rates will prove to be unfit, decline demographically, and eventually expire, while those that control women will prove their fitness, remain stable or continue to grow, and expand to replace the dying societies.”
He also blames the Germanwings crash last week on women withholding sex. So you know, he’s got that going for him.
This movement insists that it is trying to bring a silent majority’s voice to the Hugos after years of repression by a purported left wing conspiracy. They are not. They are gaming a system to push a hateful and spiteful political agenda, and in doing so have made a mockery of what science fiction has meant to millions of fans. They have hidden behind a victim complex, insisting that the ever to blame liberal media is simply punishing them because they are conservative. The problem that I and many others have with them is not they are conservative. It is that they are hateful and filled with contempt for everyone who isn’t them. It’s an insult to conservatives to let them hide behind that word.
One of the most conservative science fiction writers in history was Robert Heinlein. He practically founded the military sci-fi genre, was halfway to Ayn Rand on basic political opinions, and was thoroughly lauded for his writing. There was not a writer alive who was further from him on every political opinion imaginable than Philip K. Dick. In his lifetime, Dick made very little money from his fiction, and towards the end of his life was close to destitute, and here is what he said in the intro to one of his last books:
“Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don’t agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn’t raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I’m a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.”
Those two men, titans of science fiction, polar opposites in both fiction and politics, saw eye to eye on that one critical thing: kindness. Art doesn’t suffer in the face of myriad opinions, it only suffers in the face of contempt.
(For a systematic debunking of the claims of the Sad Puppies movement, see George R.R. Martin’s blog (hat tip to Cindy). He’s in the midst of a multi-day, massive set of posts hammering it into the ground with his decades of personal experience from within the sci-fi establishment.)
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.