A little political truism…

In a political discourse, if someone isn’t trying to debate, they’re attempting to exercise power.  That is where a large fraction of American political life has gone off the rails. It’s there in comment threads all the time; where one person attempts to have a rational discussion, and the other screams non sequiturs, ad hominem attacks, and declares how the other guy did it so that invalidates your argument but not their own.

That’s the difference between arguing to reach consensus and a solution to a given problem, and arguing to exercise power. Things suck not because of the Internet, not because of “Fake News,” and not because of those evil Russian hackers… It sucks because political debate is not debate anymore, it’s an exercise in power and virtue signaling to one’s own tribe. When you argue your point of view for the sake of power, rather than to convince people, you do not actually convince people. Funny that.

Ask yourself if the following exemplar of the form does anything other than try and beat up the author’s enemies with a rhetorical stick: “America is Held Hostage by Flyover States“.

Those Who Would Protect Us From Art

I wrote about the morality of fiction earlier, a couple of things I’ve read recently brought me back to the question from the another side. In that post I was talking about morality of fiction in light of the inner processes of the author. But really, when most people talk about the morality of fiction, they seem to talk about morals enforced from outside, either by social pressure, or in extremis, the heavy hand of the state.  (At the risk of Godwinizing this post, such talk has always made me think of Entartete Kunst.)  Such impulses always seem to come from some misguided effort to “protect” society, or some subgroup, from “bad” ideas.

The perennial example that’s back in the news is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is being considered for removal by the Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia for “the books’ use of racial slurs.” It’s almost a cliche now to point out the deep irony of banning these books in the name of racial sensitivity.  The battle here is so well-trod that I think even die-hard advocates of free speech sort of glaze over these stories, despite the implications of erasing uncomfortable parts of history.

Perhaps more alarming is when art is censored because it illustrates uncomfortable parts of our present. Not fiction here, but the implications are chilling:

Organisers of an art exhibition celebrating freedom of expression have found themselves removing one of the exhibits after police raised concerns it was “inflammatory” and warned it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the event.

The artwork in question was a series of tableaux entitled ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ that used children’s Sylvanian Families dolls to satirise the Isis terrorist group.

In the work Sylvanian Families dolls are seen enjoying a picnic or a day on the beach, while other black-clad dolls, some of them armed, one carrying a black flag, gather on the sidelines.

Consider the various elements here: A “freedom of expression” exhibit was told by police that an artwork satirizing a terrorist group was too “inflammatory.” Note that none of the typical complaints of xenophobia apply here. The work was not targeting Muslims as a group, or Islam as a religion, the scenes were all anthropomorphic animals, so no racial bigotry was on display. The only group critiqued here was, in fact, ISIS. One wonders who is being protected by hiding this work, and what are they being protected from?

mimsy-capture-web

Five Reasons Hillary Lost

There are some people out there in desperate need of a reality check. Right now, progressives are certain that, somehow, the country that elected Obama twice has suddenly become a cesspit of sexism, racism and misogyny. The angst is so over-the-top that my progressive Facebook friends are sounding like all those Alex Jones types back in 2008 who were talking about FEMA detention camps and UN black helicopters.

Trump didn’t win because of some racist surge.

In fact, Trump didn’t win.

Hillary lost.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. Hillary couldn’t turn out her own base. You look at the actual numbers between 2016 and 2012, and Trump pretty much held on to Romney’s numbers across the board with some significant inroads into Black and Hispanic voters (racism natch). Hillary hemorrhaged Democratic votes. She might have a razor-thin lead in the popular vote (200,000 votes about) but she lost about six and a half million votes compared to Obama’s 2012 totals. Think about that before you bitch at us third party voters.
  2. You can’t argue misogyny when the Clinton name is on the ticket. If anyone else was running, Trump’s attitude toward women would have been a fatal blow to his campaign. Bernie or Warren could have won against that alone. But, as soon as Bill or Hillary enter the frame, people suddenly remember how organized feminism sold its soul to the Clintons in the 90’s by giving Bill a pass and how every Democrat insisted that a man’s sexual behavior had no place in evaluating his character for the presidency.
  3. The media neutered itself. How many progressives form their opinion of Hillary by evaluating what Rush Limbaugh says about her? By going wholly, unapologetically anti-Trump across the board; with NY Times editorials declaring how it was time to dump journalistic “objectivity”; with CNN passing debate questions to the Clinton campaign: with “journalists” running stories by john Podesta for approval. . . How many people do you think just decided to ignore the press completely? The press went full partisan. You never go full partisan.
  4. The electorate wanted change. Right-track/wrong-track polling shows that in spades. Hillary wasn’t change. Hillary wasn’t just status-quo, she was pre-Obama status-quo. When the peasants want to storm the palace, you don’t offer them a return to a dynasty.
  5. When someone brings up forty years of scandal and potential corruption, saying “they never proved anything” is not a really effective counter-argument. Being subject to multiple FBI investigations is pretty damning for any presidential candidate, regardless of the outcome.

A playlist for the 2016 election…

This election is remarkable in that whoever wins will be absolutely loathed by a plurality of the populace, and distrusted by a majority. It is quite possible that on inauguration day our president elect will have underwater approval ratings. If there is any state out there that splits by less than the margin of error, we are probably going to see a reprise of 2000 and a return to “selected not elected” as a meme, with further damage to the infrastructure of our democracy. Our best case scenario at this point is for Gary Johnson to do well enough to deny anyone an electoral vote majority and kick decision to the incoming congress, something that would make the premise of Designated Survivor look like Reagan’s second term. So here are seven tunes appropriate to watching our republic burn.

  1. O Fortuna— Carl Orff: This election is the bastard stepchild of Fate and Karma, and the final line “mecum omnes plangite!” (“everyone weep with me![“) seems appropriate.
  2. Fortunate Son— Creedence Clearwater Revival: We seem on the verge of electing a Democratic administration set to continue years of unbroken military adventures, so yeah.
  3. Edge of a Revolution— Nickelback: I know what you’re saying. “Nickelback!? Everyone hates Nickelback!” But consider, if Nickelback’s doing protest songs, something is very wrong in this country.
  4. 99 Luftballons— Nena: Say what you want about the Cold War, it produced some catchy tunes. Since we’re reviving the specter of nuclear annihilation, we can at least bring back the fatalistic German pop music that went with it.
  5. Crack of Doom— The Tiger Lillies: This one is sort of self explanatory.
  6. Killing Strangers— Marylin Manson: No particular rationale, but every time I see a campaign commercial I have this running in my head accompanied by a John Wick firefight.
  7. Ticking Bomb— Aloe Blacc: Another self-explanatory one, from another action movie.

 

The news media is horrible and it’s filled with horrible people

You remember Ken Bone, right? The guy in the red cardigan that became an internet meme? Or, more accurately, became promoted by the mainstream media as an internet meme. He rose to prominence on October 9th. He tried to exercise some control over his pre-ordained fame, and did an AMA on Reddit, and all of a sudden we have so-called journalists gleefully deconstructing every potentially objectionable thing this poor guy ever said or did on the Internet.  This wasn’t any sort of rational investigation, the man was a private citizen of little or no notability except that which the media gave him.  But, because the media gave him that, he had to be destroyed.  By October 14th, the New York Times— let me repeat that— The New. York. Times. was gleefully, and somewhat condescendingly, printing details that Mr. Bone had posted on one of Reddit’s pornography forums following in the footsteps of that paragon of journalistic virtue Gizmodo. (And I’m sorry, Gray Lady, the fact you cast your story as a story about faux-journalists blowing up a faux-story about a faux-celebrity and causing a real person real damage, that does not excuse you. In fact it makes you the worse actor because of the pretense that, if it ain’t your shit, so you can fling it how you like and not get dirty.) And they aren’t the only big paper indulging in this pathetic excuse of a story.  This is not some angry Internet stalker doxxing someone on 4chan.  These are supposedly legitimate news agencies first creating a celebrity, just to the point where the poor guy might be notable enough so they can engage in the moral equivalent of revenge porn without getting sued.

Everyone involved in this story should be ashamed of themselves. And have their browsing history made public.

A Ten Video Defense of Cultural Appropriation

“Cultural Appropriation” has reared it’s sombrero-sporting head in the literary community once again in another series of critiques and critiques of critiques and critiques of critiquing and those doing the critiquing, over something that should, in the end, be a fairly straightforward caution for authors to just get it right, that somehow never ends up that simple.

Rather than attempt to spill more words into this never-ending tumult, I instead present a series of videos in defense of “Cultural Appropriation:”

So white dudes can’t rap…

This is really problematic…

If this isn’t cultural imperialism, I don’t know what is…

A university costume party goes really off the rails…

This has to be because we nuked Japan…

…or this is…

Italy, Fascism,  Eastwood, that empty chair, it all makes sense now…

A movie this fun must be bad for you…

That don’t look like Deep Purple…

And we all know country music is problematic…

So why are things so nasty?

You know what I mean. From the presidential election down to what stupid little award our geeky niche genre decides to award itself, we cannot seem to have anything like a polite disagreement anymore.  Everyone gets up in arms about everything from who’s using what bathroom, to who’s cast in what part in a movie no one wanted rebooted anyway. It’s reached the point where it’s necessary to write articles like this.  WTF happened?

The obvious answer is, “the Internet happened.” So now everyone goes on-line, withdraws into their little confirmation bias bubble, consumes all the news that conforms to their worldview only to pop out of their hole to virtue-signal to their tribe, troll the enemy, and block people on Facebook.

The problem with that hypothesis is, when people actually study the issue, the whole “self-contained political bubble theory” tends to leak a little. According to a Pew Research study:

These cleavages can be overstated. The study also suggests that in America today, it is virtually impossible to live in an ideological bubble. Most Americans rely on an array of outlets – with varying audience profiles – for political news. And many consistent conservatives and liberals hear dissenting political views in their everyday lives.

Frankly, political bubbles are probably a lot more permeable nowadays than they were in the good/bad old days of three networks when a kid had to join the army or go to college to be exposed to a political point of view different from wherever they grew up. So what gives? After all, actually interacting with different folks is supposed to be a good way to promote tolerance.

I have a theory, and the Internet and confirmation bias do play a role, but not due to any bubbling.

In fact, I think the opposite is happening.  In days of yore, were you to hear an alien political opinion, chances are the voice of that opinion would have been tested by prior debate, the message honed, practiced and tempered by experience.  In the days before instant viral communications, a political message had to pass through many gatekeepers and face many opponents before it reached you, either on the campaign stump, via the printed word, or over a broadcast network. Ideas from the crackpots, the insane, and the stupid rarely reached beyond their own street corner, and when they did, it was after their message had been polished so shiny that people couldn’t see the crazy for the gleam.

This is no longer the case.

Everyone has a political opinion, and almost everyone feels obligated to share it.  Today they all can.  Nowadays, when someone wishes to rail against conservatives, their opponent isn’t a William F. Buckley Jr. or a William Safire or even their local alderman— it’s “RedneckJesus66” on some YouTube comment thread.  Someone trashes liberals, they aren’t arguing with Adlai Stevenson or John Maynard Keynes— it’s “MoonshineUnicorn37” on Tumblr.

The great evil of the Internet is the unleashing of an army of actual living, breathing straw-men to feed the fires of all political debate.  Everyone’s core conviction that they’re the smart ones and all their political opponents are stupid is now fueled by the fact that any idiot can now publish any screwball idea, and have it carry the same weight as the New York Times.  This means that no one needs a coherent argument anymore, because there’s always some poor sod on the other side that’s published something stupider than they ever will. Nowadays on the Internet, and increasingly in real life, political discourse is always punching down. Everyone now eschews the engagement of ideas, preferring instead, the easy fight against the most idiotic comments from the opposition.

That’s why we can’t have nice things anymore.

How You Aren’t Helping Online

I was pondering making comment on the SF kurfuffle du jour, but many obvious predictable people are making the obvious predictable points, all biases are being confirmed, and if anyone’s going to change their minds on the Internet it will only be upon facial contact with the hard cold unyielding surface of reality, and not by reading my hot take on the matter. So instead of launching into a tirade at what a sorry state it is that things have come to this, I’ve decided to mock how passionate people insist on making fools of themselves complaining about things online. Facebook users take note.

Not knowing what the hell you’re talking about: When you launch into a screed about anything, getting basic facts wrong (such as what is or is not illegal, what is or is not part of a code of conduct) will make you come across as a moron. An order of magnitude worse is saying “I don’t know [X] but I think [Y].” At that point you’re just making crap up, and not in a good way.

Putting the ad hominem before the horse: If there is a debate that person [Z]’s actions are just, right, advisable, problematic or a war crime, starting said argument by stating person [Z] is a known dumpster-fire douchbag coprophagic kitten eater is not doing you any favors. This statement insures that you will only be taken seriously by people who a) know who the hell [Z] is, and b) agree with your assessment. This is a smaller number of people than you imagine, leaving the vast majority of the population to view you as an unreliable nitwit with more axe to grind than argument to make.

The Amazing Kreskin: A combination of the prior two, this is where by the power of ultimate insight you divine the true motives of [Z]. “We know that [Z] is an evil person because they obviously did [Y] because of [X].” This basically translates to “We know that [Z] is an evil person because they obviously did [Y] because of their desire to do evil.” If you state that [Z] “wants” to do something problematic without a direct indication of [Z] expressing that particular desire, you’re at best inferring something that you have no direct evidence for. At worst, it makes it appear that you enjoy libeling people to support your own biases.

Goal-post moving: One great way to broadcast the fact you have a weak argument, few facts, and an inability to let go of a pre-conceived outcome is the following— “Well I heard that [Z] did [X], isn’t that awful?” “Actually [X] never happened, we have a recording, ten eye witnesses, sworn testimony and a major newspaper. . .” “But what about [Y]?”

But they said: If your only argument about [Z] is that [Y] said this or that about them, why are you even in the debate? Just shut up and let [Y] make their own arguments. They can certainly do better than you, since you can’t even come up with any of your own.

Confusing means and ends: “I support the children by pounding kitten skulls into the pavement.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “Why do you hate the children?” “Crushing kitten skulls doesn’t help. . .” “Your critique is an attack meant to keep me from helping children.” “Are you even listening?” “Unleash the kitten stompers on the child hater!”

A literary snob pisses on Terry Pratchett’s grave

A couple of days ago, Toni Weisskopf posted a link to this letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a young Forrest J. Ackerman. It’s a pithy letter, shorter than most blog posts, but is a prescient rebuttal to this hot mess of a Guardian article appearing almost exactly 84 years later.

The Guardian:

Life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers.

Burroughs:

No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment… If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

The Guardian:

By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.

Burroughs:

That, however, seems to be a universal pedagogical complex: to make the acquiring of knowledge a punishment, rather than a pleasure.

Our critic at the Guardian seems to be of a piece with Forrest J. Ackerman’s long forgotten teacher. Great literature must require effort! If something is accessible, one need not apply. . . Not like anyone from the canon of English literature ever wrote for the masses *cough*Dickens*cough*. And while our critic sings the praises of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, somehow I suspect he might contemplate seppuku before deigning to touch a modern regency romance.

So while our arbiter of taste at the Guardian says “I am not saying this as a complacent book snob” I may just invoke the words of that author of 16th Century potboilers and say he “doth protest too much.” After all, who but a snob would open a critique of an author by saying “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short… Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.”

If you wanted to efficiently display literary bigotry, mean-spiritedness, close-mindedness, and pretention all wrapped in a bundle of industrial strength smug, and do it in as few words as possible, you couldn’t do better than emulating this opening. Of course, our “critic” does let us know that he “did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.”

I guess this guy isn’t a Hemingway fan either.

But, I think, the worst part of this vile literary emetic is its apparent genesis. Our “critic” was upset at “the huge fuss attending and following [Pratchett’s] death this year.” Read that again. Our purveyor of literary light, our guide to the right and good in the fictive universe, is upset that people made a fuss when Terry Pratchett died. I know there’s this British thing about reserve and overt displays of emotion, but really… can someone’s heart be so black to object to people’s sorrow over the man’s death? Oh, and just when you couldn’t think less of his argument, he throws a swift kick at Ray Bradbury’s corpse as well.

So, in conclusion, I suggest if you want to critique the ovure of a recently deceased author and want to be taken seriously you avoid the following pitfalls:

  1. Don’t admit you never read the their work, or intend to in the future.
  2. Don’t call the readers of their work lazy.
  3. Don’t say no one should have made such a big fuss when they died.

A point about the Hugos that someone needs to make. . .

Those people on the other side of the debate, the ones you attack with such righteous fury, who called down your wrath by acting in such an asinine and nasty fashion. . . they’re you. They’re called to this genre by the same love of different worlds and different realities, aliens and spaceships, dragons and wizards. A lot of them were the same weird kid in high school. They like D&D, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who, or Guardians of The Galaxy. And some of these folks have lucked out by being able to make some money, even have a career doing what they love.

They are not orcs designed in some dark wizard’s lair, they are not some inscrutable alien horde come to slaughter us and lay eggs in our corpses, they are not some shadowy cabal bent on destroying what is right and good with the universe, they are not evil.

They are just fans with slightly different taste in fiction. They are fans that got understandably angry when other fans derided, belittled and otherwise seemed to condemn the things they loved. Fans that perceived insults and, as humans are wont to do, threw insults back. Fans that, like you, will argue that the other guy threw the first punch.

If you don’t like what’s happening to the genre, maybe you should consider how many times you’ve said how horrible those other fans are. It shouldn’t be hard to understand how they feel, since you’re reacting in exactly the same way.

 

 

(I leave as an exercise for the reader to determine if I am addressing the Puppies or their opponents.)