I ordinarily keep my family pictures private. I don’t share many of them on the internet. But in this instance, I think I’ll post one. That’s my wife Annie, my daughter Olivia, and me, back in 2008 — when we first moved into our (then) new house in Utah. As of the writing of these words, Annie and I have been married for over 21 years. We’re opposites in most ways. Personality opposites. Political opposites. And — apropos to this particular discussion — racial opposites. From the time we got married in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple in December of 1993, until now, it’s been an exercise in learning how to live together, cherish, and love one another, despite the differences. I’m proud of my wife. She’s not only smart, she’s got an enormous heart, I’ve never seen her judge people unfairly, and she’s never been afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty. Of all the decisions I’ve ever made in my life, deciding to marry Annie was by far the best. She is my best friend. She is my lover. She is the mother of my child. She is, quite simply, the better part of everything that I hold dear and precious in this world.
Those of you who watch this space know that I’ve taken on a bit of a burden since January. It’s explicitly related to the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, so I won’t bore anyone with all the long, nerdish details. Suffice to say, the Sad Puppies 3 project has brought me into the epicenter of a heated contest inside the field. It’s a very “inside baseball” affair. But today — thanks to the magic of the internet — it took on a much wider, much more personal dimension.
Because a blog “journalist” named Isabella Biedenharn — working beneath the banner of Entertainment Weekly — penned a short, error-laden article titled, “Hugo award nominations fall victim to misogynistic, racist voting.” The mistakes in the article could have been easily avoided if Isabella had done some research into the issue she was reporting on. Near as I can tell, Isabella was spoon-fed some links and a very rushed and sloppy narrative about Sad Puppies 3 being racist and woman-hating, and she posted all of this without stopping to consider whether or not anything she was disseminating into the wider world was true, and accurate.
The error-laden article quickly went viral — especially among opponents of Sad Puppies 3. Twitter (which I generally avoid and ignore) lit up like a Christmas tree, and quickly I had friends and other authors contacting me to say, “Entertainment Weekly has run a hatchet piece on you! Better jump on it!” So I read the piece. I noted the errors. I also noted that the piece made an explicitly inductive link between Sad Puppies 3 and last year’s great nerd controversy: GamerGate. The reasons for this were pretty obvious. Words like “racist” and “misogynist” are presently code for “not part of the human equation” thus any man or woman who can be successfully labeled these things, is cut off from polite circles, perhaps even driven out of the workplace, or worse. These words tend to be used as general-purpose ideological grenades, when the thrower of said grenades lacks sufficiently real evidence of wrong-doing — but wants to see the target squirm and suffer anyway.
An unadulterated version of the Isabella Biedenharn article can be found here.
The presently “corrected” version of the article — Entertainment Weekly made several alterations to the article, including its root URL, after myself and many others noted that the article was a) grossly in error and could also b) serve as grounds for libel litigation — can be viewed here.
But of course, by then, the damage had been done. Both myself and my colleague Larry Correia — who typed up a very good piece here — had been dragged through the digital mud. I count no less than a dozen different links which all picked up the error-laden Biedenharn piece, and ran with it sight-unseen; because of the blaring headline. Again, the spoon-fed in turn spoon-feed others. And whatever hope there might have been that facts could trump a narrative, was lost in the white noise of a not-so-subtle smear job.
I can’t say which individuals decided to launch the smear job. The internet moves at the speed of light and the 24 hour news cycle is forever hungry for new material; regardless of how bogus it might be. I suspect some of the insider SF/F people who dislike Sad Puppies 3 decided that the best way to “win” the insider baseball argument, was to stage a broader media flare-up for the sake of fatally discrediting the “poster people” of Sad Puppies 3. Namely, myself, and Larry Correia.
Now, I am a patient man. I’ve got a long fuse. But this tactic employed today . . . it’s on another level. This isn’t just nerds bickering anymore. Baseless, false allegations of this type can ruin careers as well as lives. We’ve seen this before. The internet has allowed yellow journalism and rumor-mongering to run riot. And I have to be honest. No lie told in the service of a supposedly higher cause, ever does justice to the higher cause. No matter how widely-spread the narrative. If the basis of the narrative is false, then the narrative itself is fatally undermined, and thus the arguments that form the building blocks of the narrative are themselves undermined.
Oh, I am sure this will blow over eventually. To Entertainment Weekly’s credit, they did take action — once myself and others explicitly told them that the Biedenharn article was a dreadfully poor piece of research. Frankly, I feel like Biedenharn herself owes myself and Larry Correia a public apology. That was shoddy reporting. And it’s potentially very damaging. I mean, if you’re going to play a role in somebody else’s effort to trash us, at least spend two minutes doing a little googling.
I understand that tabloid tactics make money, and that on the internet especially, journalistic integrity has become something of an oxymoron.
What disturbs me more is that the field of SF/F is stooping this low. That some of my colleagues — and no, contrary to my impression of the field 20 years ago, not everyone likes or gets along with each other — have decided to make the nerd argument over the Hugos into a decidedly personal grudge match. Where the objective is to not just win the argument, but to destroy the arguer. Professionally. In the marketplace. On the big stage of public opinion. This is the kind of stuff you ordinarily find in cut-throat national political elections, but then it’s been clear for years that cut-throat politics have drifted down into nerd circles of all kinds: comic book circles, movie and television circles, video game circles, etc. There’s simply no escaping it. And there are people for whom winning is more important than ethics, more important than integrity, and more important than the truth.
And the truth is, I’m not the dastardly guy Biedenharn’s piece makes me out to be. And neither is Larry Correia.
Am I concerned with the infestation of political correctness which has invaded SF/F over the last 15 years? You bet. Today’s ride on the media dunking machine was just another iteration in the near-endless attempts by the politically correct to enforce their views, with slander and falsehoods when it comes down to it. Our field is diseased. It has been struck by the same mental virus that has been permeating other sectors of our culture. As one astute and recovered victim put it, the new zealots are a cult who dwell in depression and anger, seeking the slightest excuses to lash out and make other people suffer:
There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism.
Today, the crusader mentality decided to defame and slander Brad R. Torgersen the evil demonic racist and hateful sick bigoted misognynist.
As my friend Larry often quips, if I was half the bastard some of these crusaders say I am, I’d probably hate me too.
Alas, the crusader mentality has a tendency to invent evil where none exists. They forge effigies and ventriloquist dummies, crudely fashioned in the likeness of decent human beings, to which are ascribed all manner of idiocy, heinousness, wrong-doing, wrong-thinking, and evil. The internet hat pins are thrust into the digital voodoo dolls over and over and over, while the twitter and hashtag lemmings disperse out into the world, spreading falsehoods and slander as far as their keyboards can take them.
Look, I am pretty much a classical liberal. I keep my own counsel about things. I don’t like going with crowd-think. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I am slow to anger. Quick to forgive honest mistakes. And I have taken one of Larry Niven’s law’s to heart: there are minds which think as well as mine, just differently. I live with one of those minds every day. Have slept with her in the same bed for two decades. We produced an amazingly bright and creative daughter who is this crazy-quilt pastiche of both Annie and myself. I prize logic over emotion, where strong emotion is liable to fool us. And I think that most internet disagreements would probably be resolved in short order if the pugilists in any given fight could simply sit down face-to-face and talk like rational human beings.
Which might reflect a little naive hopefulness on my part. Because, clearly, the people who instigated today’s parade of falsehoods at Entertainment Weekly were not eager for reconciliation. This was straight-up character assassination. A slash-and-burn hit job. Aided and abetted by media devices which are programmed to seek and spread controversy, for the sake of clicks, likes, and money.
Is Sad Puppies 3 a terrible thing? It is if you ask the opponents of same.
Is Sad Puppies 3 hateful to women or ethnic minorities?
Only if you believe Sad Puppies 3 participants like Annie Bellet or Rajnar Vajra don’t count.
I think perhaps what some people (unused to the insider baseball of SF/F) might not be clear about, is that Sad Puppies 3 is not a thing invented to keep anyone off the Hugo ballot for demographic reasons. It was invented to (originally) poke fun at some tired predictabilities in the selection process, as well as scuttle the notion that the award was actually all about quality, when it’s more or less been a popularity and quasi-politicized contest the whole time. Along the way we fairly skewered the concept of literary affirmative action — that works and authors should be judged on the basis of author or character demographics and box-checking, not the audience’s enjoyment of the prose — so perhaps that’s where opponents of SP3 thought they found a toe-hold? And used it as best as they could to rope in a lot of outside media, in a clownish attempt to punish and discredit both Larry and myself.
Obviously, anyone who tries to make a coherent case for me being racist or sexist . . . has over 21 years of contradictory evidence to overcome. You cannot have lived my life, and be a racist or a sexist. It is an ontological impossibility. I’ve seen too much of the elephant, to borrow a phrase. Plus, my wife probably would have thrown me out on my butt a long time ago — she being the far more astute judge of character, than either a low-rent tabloid blogger or a pernicious and vindictive SF/F personality.
But really, when SF/F sinks to this depth, you know we’ve jumped a certain kind of unfortunate shark. Political correctness has gone to a place of destructive take-no-prisoners soul tyranny that could very well and permanently wreck this field; unless good men and women of conscience decide to stand up. I made the decision a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be one of those professionals who diplomatically skulks around the field, obsequiously trying to avoid controversy and not upset the bigger fish. Again, I’ve seen too much of the elephant. My career isn’t so important to me that I am willing to become an ideological chameleon, or cipher. Perhaps this has angered some people to the point they believe it’s time to “end” Torgersen once and for all? If so, I think that’s a very sad statement — about the vindictiveness that has overtaken the genre, among men and women who should probably be working hard to be friends.
Folks, until or unless political correctness is given the boot, this kind of stuff isn’t going to stop.
It won’t be just me getting the torch. It will be you too. You other authors, and you other fans. Political correctness has a bottomless stomach, and is red in tooth and claw. Even if you try to appease the beast, it will eat you eventually anyway.
Well, I hope I gave the beast indigestion for at least one day. Tomorrow, there will be new victim(s).
Meanwhile, I am content knowing that Fort Living Room — at least — remains comfy and secure. I had a great time with my wife and daughter tonight. It was a celebration on a small family scale. We laughed at episodes of Bob’s Burgers, and we had delicious chicken teriyaki, and we also watched talks from LDS General Conference. The Torgersens are not a complicated family. In fact, I’d say we’re like most other families in America. We try hard to live our lives and do well by others, believing that good karma always comes back to you. Even if life occasionally kicks you in the teeth.