About Brad R. Torgersen

Blue Collar Speculative Fiction

Courageous left-wing media beats stuffing out of Straw Puppy

Speaking of Social Justice Zealots, it’s not shocking to see a woman like Amanda Marcotte jump on the anti-Puppy bandwagon. Salon is, after all, the publisher of such intellectual giants as Arthur Chu, who (you may recall) cast this author’s family in the unenviable role of human shields. With robust journalism like that, it’s small wonder why Salon Media Group’s stock has completely tanked over the past ten years. I know it’s a matter of rote gospel (for the Left) that the proles of the world must be led by the ear to the Truth, and if the proles aren’t having any, well it’s their own damned fault for being ignorant, racist, cisnormative scumbags — daring to have independent ideas. But there must come a time when even the Left starts to realize that the current progressive voice boxes are preaching an increasingly strident, tone-deaf, self-referential, closed-system mantra of fanatical gibberish that resonates only with the Pure Faith; and few people otherwise.

I know, I know, they do it because they believe humanity is locked into some kind of quasi-mystical destiny wherein all of our descendants will be ultra-progressive, and inhabit a period of such intellectual and political amazingness — according to whichever utopian vision the progressives are infatuated with this decade — that nobody will think twice about the total correctness and rightness of progressive thought. On any subject. Regarding any arena of human endeavor. Amanda Marcotte and her fellow travelers are the country’s most pure and perfect thinkers to have ever lived. The only thing holding us back from nirvana, are the dreaded, nasty, evil, barbaric conservatives. Since this destiny is irrevocable, there doesn’t have to be a dialogue. All Amanda and her cohort have to do is sneer, mock, and ridicule anyone and everyone they disagree with.

Regarding Sad Puppies specifically — the attempt by an actually diverse and occasionally chaotic collection of science fiction and fantasy readers and professionals, to prevent the Hugo awards from plunging into monocultural irrelevancy — I’ve given up expecting a fair hearing from the [lame]stream Left. Amy Wallace made it abundantly clear that she had zero interest in listening to or writing about anyone who didn’t flatter her pre-existing narrative: that Sad Puppies was just a tiny group of evil white racist misogynist males intent on keeping saintly pure and brilliant women, non-whites, and other designated Victims (note the caps v) out of the Hugo winners circle. Like almost every other left-wing outlet that’s approached the matter in the past 72 months, WIRED knew all the answers before it conducted even its first interview. The only job at hand was to make sure the Correct Narrative was adhered to and distributed. People who didn’t fit the narrative — like Sarah Hoyt, or Kate Paulk — were ignored. Their viewpoints didn’t matter, therefore they were not allowed to exist. The Narrative did not include them — the way Creationism has a hard time explaining dinosaur fossils — thus inconvenient women were expunged from the progressive record of Sad Puppies events.

I think Sad Puppies’ chief sin — other than existing — was to correctly point out that the Hugo awards (in this decade) were increasingly being used as a tool of affirmative action. I knew beforehand that pointing this out might ruffle a few feathers, but even I was not prepared for the absolute apoplexy that would ensue. Of all the many doctrines of progressivism, affirmative action seems to be one of the most sacrosanct. To question it is to speak the utmost heresy. Nevermind the fact that progressive media crowing (in the wake of the 2015 and 2016 Hugo ceremonies, as well as events like the related Nebula awards) pretty much proved the Puppy point 110% correct. The Hugos are being used for affirmative action: white progressive intellectuals congratulating themselves for being “diverse.” This is done by ensuring that demographics (in literature) matter more than the prose itself. Because nothing demonstrates that a genre is alive and healthy, more than screaming about how a significant percentage of the audience — and the authors — are a bunch of racist, sexist bigots, and isn’t it high time that all these racist and sexist evil-doers just get the hell out?

Oh, they’re getting out all right. To the point that SF/F literature is beginning to mirror the [lame]stream Left-wing media, in its closed-circle tone-deafness, and unwillingness to consider the fact that there are (in the immortal words of Larry Niven) minds which think as well as theirs, just differently.

Sooner or later the honest intellectuals on the Left are going to have to realize that “diversity” does not constitute a room packed with white progressives, who allow a few non-white progressives through the door, then they hoot and holler and hug themselves for being wonderful. Diversity that runs only skin deep — and then, only in like-minded token quantities — is not diversity. It’s as vanilla as vanilla can be. It’s like an amateur author believing that differentiating characters merely amounts to giving each of them a different hat. Diversity (indeed, actual liberalism proper) means not running scared at the first sign of someone who thinks or believes differently. Diversity means having a true spectrum of opinion. Diversity entails doing the uncomfortable chore of not running people out of the room, the instant they voice ideas you find uncomfortable or with which you don’t agree. In other words, DIVERSITY means scuttling today’s present trend toward closed-eye, closed-ear, safe-space monotone echo chambers.

Which is pretty much what the Hugos (and the Nebulas) have become. And Sad Puppies had the audacity to not just point it out — everybody already knew it — but to try to change things through direct action. Via grass-roots campaigning.

At which point all hell broke loose. The establishment hates nothing like it hates grass-roots disobedience. And for two years running, the establishment (with its media connections) has done everything in its power to vilify and slander everyone and anyone connected to Sad Puppies. We were not human beings. We were designated targets. Character assassination was the objective. Make the broader world believe Sad Puppies are evil, and voila, Sad Puppies magically get to be evil — even though we’re not. I suppose for individuals schooled in Alinsky tactics, the ends will always justify the means. But there must come a point when the invective reflects the reality. And where reality is concerned, we Sad Puppies do not match the horrible, nasty, downright heinous and garish portrait that’s been painted of us.

I think Ira Glass ran into this — the fact not matching the fiction — when he interviewed me in 2015. Whatever he thought I was going to be, at the start of the interview, I suspect his opinion was somewhat changed at the end of it. Enough for This American Life to largely skip over the Sad Puppies controversy. Because there just wasn’t enough “there” there, to justify focusing on Sad Puppies to the extent that other outlets had focused. And Ira is hardly the world’s most conservative chap. I am pretty sure he expected me — self-appointed spokesman of Sad Puppies 3 — to be an entirely different kind of person. But I wasn’t. To Ira’s credit, he didn’t join in pillorying the effigy of us that had been created. Because I didn’t fit the narrative, as it had been repeated to that point.

Nor does Larry Correia fit the narrative. Nor does Kate Paulk fit the narrative. Nor Sarah Hoyt. In fact, you will be hard-pressed to discover anyone in the Sad Puppies camp who fits the narrative — that we’re all hopelessly white, male, sexist, and racist.

Sad Puppies didn’t say we wanted to keep anyone out of the Hugos. We said we wanted the Hugos to be more intellectually diverse, less focused on fetishization of “marginalized” demographics, and that the award was either going to be determined on matters of merit, or it wasn’t much of an award at all.

Far from being the signifier of mind-blowing landmark fiction — as it was when authors such as Scott Card, Lois Bujold, or Vernor Vinge were winning — the Hugo (in this decade) has become the plaything of a very specific crop of connected authors and editors. One might refer to them as The Beautiful People — adept at ensuring they and their friends were routinely on the final ballot, thus routinely winning the trophy.

Naturally, when Sad Puppies stood up and posed a threat to that system, Sad Puppies was (of course) accused of merely being a cabal of friends — interested only in seeing themselves get awards.

In this way, the Beautiful People proved the truism: that individuals often assume others will act (or react) in the same ways those individuals would, in similar circumstances.

Quick fact: Larry Correia actually withdrew himself from Hugo consideration in 2015, and has since re-stated his lifetime recusal. As the 2012 triple-nominee (Hugo, Nebula, Campbell) I am standing with Larry on this. If there’s a worse way to get the establishment to honor you — than pissing off the establishment — I can’t think of it. Larry wasn’t interested in a Hugo for himself, and I am not interested in a Hugo for me either. Especially not after giants like Larry Elmore and Jerry Pournelle were ranked below NO AWARD for the 2016 season. Any collection of “fans” which can treat the masters of this field with such ignorant contempt, is not a collection of “fans” from whom I desire anything. Especially not a lump of metal or plastic.

So, here we are again: the [lame]stream Left’s media apparatus has bravely ridden onto the field, and hacked to pieces the little straw effigy of Sad Puppies. “Bad dog!” they scream from their establishment saddle. “Bad, bad dog! That ought to teach you!”

Yes, it takes true heroism to defeat a foe who not only cannot speak, nor bark, nor bite, but who is in fact not even real.

Even Neil Gaiman — a smart man, who should know better — couldn’t resist the urge to walk onto the grass and kick the straw head of the vanquished effigy. I suppose Neil felt it necessary, to demonstrate his fealty to the establishment? Or maybe Neil felt he genuinely disliked the Straw Puppy — now scattered and tattered.

Though it’s worth pointing out that Neil doesn’t actually know anyone who walks beneath the Sad Puppies banner. He could have easily chatted up Kate Paulk, who is both a true fan of the field, and a very nice woman. She was at the convention in Kansas City. I suspect Neil never consulted her? Nor have most of those who’ve made ritualistic swipes at the Straw Puppy.

I don’t know if there will be a Sad Puppies for 2017. The Beautiful People are changing the rules. Making it even tougher for a grass-roots rebellion to have any impact on the contents of the final Hugo ballot. If that somehow doesn’t satisfy them, they’ll make other moves — to insulate the award from the influence of “bad” people. My finger to the wind tells me that almost everyone who has devoted time, money, or attention to Sad Puppies, has turned his or her eye to the new Dragon Award — an attempt by the famous Dragon Con fan convention to create a bona fide fan-driven award that reflects the interests and enthusiasms of Dragon Con’s (routinely huge) constituency. As in all things, the Dragon will require active participation from a very wide and deep spectrum of people; lest it merely become the Hugos Lite. If I had to bet anything, I’d bet that Sad Puppies (future) will devote itself to the Dragon, or other similar accolades which are not actively being shuttered against the masses, in the way the Hugo is being shuttered.

The Hugos themselves? You can’t save a drowning man, if he slaps away the hands trying to pull him out of the water. My suspicion is that Worldcon attendance is going to bottom out around three thousand people, by the end of this decade. At which point the Hugos will be exclusively given out — among a very tight circle of like-minded souls — for the explicit purpose of making political and social commentary. We’re pretty much doing that already. Only, by 2020, the Beautiful People won’t even pretend otherwise. In their minds, they’ll forever be striving to defeat the Straw Puppy, menacing and terrible.

The 21st Century American Social Justice Zealot

I’ve slowly stopped using the phrase “Social Justice Warrior.” Precisely because most people who endlessly whine about social justice issues, in 2016 America, aren’t warriors at all. A warrior is (to paraphrase Worf, from Star Trek) bound by concepts of duty, honor, loyalty, and sacrifice. A warrior puts the needs of the mission, the service, the country, before his/her own needs. A warrior embraces stoicism — the stiff upper lip — and does not indulge in histrionic, spastic outbursts of self-pity, or accusatory name-calling. A warrior does not seek to be offended at the drop of a hat, nor does a warrior run to authority figures every time (s)he is slighted, or finds the actions or speech of others to be objectionable. A warrior is practiced in matters of self-discipline, self-denial, and overcoming obstacles without piteously crying about how external stumbling blocks have permanently hampered his/her progress.

I see none of these qualities — not in the actions, nor the words — of America’s new breed of socially conscious, digitally narcissistic, materially pampered, self-absorbed activists.

Whatever happened to Kennedy’s call, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” Hmm? When did our academic and activist set close its ears to Martin Luther King’s deservedly famous and timelessly evocative Content of Character speech?

Today’s so-called Social Justice Warrior is not a warrior at all. Merely a zealot. There is no onus on the zealot to hold himself or herself to a higher principle. The only thing a zealot understands, is that (s)he is emotionally invested in his/her beliefs above all else, and will use whatever means necessary to harangue, badger, intimidate, coerce, and control other people — so that the zealot gets his/her way. The world is artificially bent to conform to the zealot’s will.

It goes without saying that the 21st Century American Social Justice Zealot is an unhappy soul. By themselves, feelings of anger, rage, hopelessness, or impotency, are not invalid. Just about every human being experiences all of these emotions at one time or another. Most of us — as we grow and mature — learn to channel these emotions into constructive action. We start (in the words of Stephen R. Covey) with our immediate circle of influence. We focus on ourselves, and what we can do about our personal lives. (Worf, tapping fist to chest: “Here! Here is where we meet the challenge!”)

But the Social Justice Zealot is forever focused on external factors. Seeking (and often inventing) outside reasons for why the Social Justice Zealot is unhappy. Pretty soon, friends, family, coworkers, colleagues, they all begin to look like enemies. The Social Justice Zealot ultimately finds (s)he cannot be comfortable in the company of anyone other than more Social Justice Zealots. And together, they spin great narratives about how the very fabric of the world is racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or “cishet fascist,” and it’s the job of Social Justice Zealots to set the world to rights. They are a religion unto themselves. Totally committed to proselytizing their gospel, while driving all other forms of thought out of the public square.

And they demand that the apparatuses of learning and government force the rest of us to conform, or else we’ll be subject to inquisitorial pain and suffering.

(Another Star Trek aside: who remembers TNG’s episode “The Drumhead”?)

if Social Justice Zealotry abides any kind of code, it’s Alinsky’s. “The ends justify the means” is not just an instructive maxim on how to accomplish goals, it’s a justification for the tearing down and destroying of much that is good, noble, and necessary to our Western Liberal way of life. (Remember when “liberal” used to mean being open to multiple points of view, even the ones a person may disagree with?) Social Justice Zealots are far, far more concerned with their own feelings — and how these feelings inform (cloud!) their perspective — than they are in constructively approaching problems, much less seeking compromise. To the Social Justice Zealot, compromise is a dirty word. The church of Social Justice has compromised far too much as it is. It’s time for an all-out holy war on the “normal” facets of society, which “oppress” at every turn.

In their hurry to rip down the tapestries of the Enlightenment, Social Justice Zealots have lately been exhuming the rhetorical corpses of venerated men (and even a few women) from the past, and putting the cadavers on trial for various sins — according to Social Justice Zealot orthodoxy.

(In the realm of the speculative arts specifically, almost nobody is immune — name your favorite science fiction or fantasy or horror writer who died before the year 2000, and you can find twenty and thirty-something Social Justice Zealots verbally eviscerating that person on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.)

Those historical figures which cannot be creatively coopted for the Social Justice cause, are summarily placed in the stocks, and splattered with rotten fruit. Always by people who seem to possess few or no valuable skills — which they might trade to society, for the purpose of self-betterment. After all, a Grievance Studies degree from Redwood State College of Northern California, doesn’t prepare one to do much else in life, other than become a campus apparatchik teaching other people to have Grievance Studies degrees.

Thus the Social Justice Zealot is a creature of recursive Ouoroborosian dimension. Endlessly traveling along circular paths of external blame, and possessing a special hatred for the edifices of Enlightened Western philosophy, commerce, liberal government, personal freedom, common law assumption of innocence, and the belief that while all men and women might be created equally, outcomes cannot and never ought to be guaranteed. Even progressive fellow travelers — caught straying from the doctrines of the church of Social Justice — are eaten alive. Hounded from their chairs at university. Made to prostrate themselves and grovel.

While the Social Justice Zealots take frowny-selfies — with a collective middle finger erected in the direction of the cell phone lens. Petulant. Unable (or unwilling) to cope. Forever demanding that people with productive lives, be made to stop and pay attention. Because fuck you, that’s why.

No, friends, these are most definitely not warriors. The Social Justice Zealots are the product of three generations of ever-softer parenting, and ever-softer living. Spoiled children in adult bodies. People more enamored with their narratives, than they are with facts. Unused to actually earning an honest living, at a vocation or profession that produces things society needs to function and survive.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!”

Those words have been thrown in the Social Justice trash barrel.

The Social Justice Zealot motto is, “The country owes me everything, and if you disagree, I am going to call you a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, along with a bunch of other bad words; and fuck you very much for even existing, you cisnormative asshole!”

Pseudo-liberalism, the Club of Cool, and Donald Trump

Spotted this in my news feed yesterday. I thought it was both interesting, and timely. Because it spoke about the same things this earlier piece also dealt with. Namely, the dumbing down of American liberalism to the point that being liberal — in the United States, in 2016 — isn’t about compassion, or critical thinking, or finding solutions to societal problems, as much as it’s about self image. The perception of cool. Possessing the intellectual trappings of knowingness — TED talks! Neil deGrasse Tyson! National Public Radio! The Daily Show! — without actually knowing anything in-depth. A kind of quasi or neo-liberalism that treats The Poor™ as both a receptable for endless governmental uplift, and a target for sniping and jibes; provided we’re talking about the conservative poor. You know, the ones who stupidly “Vote against their own interests.” Which is just code for unedumacated, Southern-drawlin’, gun-shootin’, red-neckin’, Trump-votin’, tobacky-chewin’ inbred yocal hick racist Bible-thumpin’ white-sheet Klan scum.

Or so the Jon Stewart pseudo-liberals like to believe. Because if you’re not laughing as part of the joke, you’re the butt of the joke. You’re uncool. Point and sneer, boys. Point and sneer. Everybody’s doing it. Gotta make sure you’re doing it too. Cleverness has replaced wisdom, as the hallmark of “smartness” in today’s pseudo-liberal social media sign language. I mean, thirteen million shares on a Louis CK video cannot possibly be wrong, can they?

I personally first encountered the Smug Style of pseudo-liberalism, when I lived and worked in Seattle at the tail end of the 1990s. You will find few cities in America more dedicated to the idea that Liberalism (caps f) is the default intellectual state of the enlightened human being.

In Seattle, the real problem with the Democratic Party, is that it’s way too conservative. In Seattle, you signal your allegiance to the flag by keeping the latest copy of The Stranger perched on the corner of your office desk — just slightly askew, as if you’ve recently been leafing through it. In Seattle, you know exactly what Dan Savage said in his latest sex and relationships advice column. In Seattle, you listen to All Things Considered — on public radio KPLU-FM — like it’s the holy call to prayer. In other words, in Seattle, “Did you read it?” is a way of life. A daily set of Starbucks-fueled rituals, all conducted in the name of being “up” on the latest expectations and dispensations — from various fonts of progressive intellectual haute couture.

But — philosophical differences aside — I found there just wasn’t much “there” there. Questioning the pseudo-liberal conventional wisdom, was like trying to explain to a fish that water is wet. The fish merely looks at you goggle-eyed and exclaims, “But sir, that is the very nature of the universe! How could it be otherwise?” Indeed. How could it be otherwise? When all the smart people, with their brilliant smartness, are mutually engaged in displaying all the signs and symbols of smart — listening to the smart music, congregating in the smart coffee houses, the smart bars, reading all the smart literature, listening to the smart talk radio, discussing smart stuff with smart people over smart lunches where smartness flows in rivers — what sane person raises a hand to object? That’s just crazy talk. What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid? Malicious? Evil? Or some combination thereof?

Of course socialism is awesome! We need more of it, dammit! I read it in The Nation! I mean, they talk about it on the BBC! And there’s Scandinavia! Because Europe is always and forever better than America, on all things.

Speaking of which, let’s make sure we’re wearing our Scarlet Letter P today — p is for privilege, naturally — because nothing makes a difference in the lives of working underclass blacks and latinos like a bunch of properly and correctly concerned college-bred white DINKs sitting around talking to other properly and correctly concerned college-bred white DINKs about the awful scourges of modern racism and oppression. Yes, yes, it’s so terrible. Yes. Of course. Yes. But not us. We’re not part of the problem, we’re part of the solution. Just look at us! We’re hanging out and talking about it, like we’re supposed to! We’re acknowledging our privilege, like we were told! (A roach may or may not be lit, and passed. Depends on if we’re at the office, or at somebody’s super-expensive high-rise apartment.)

But wait, it’s not all self-flagelation and hairshirts. Quick, give us a joke. Jokes about Mormons are awesome! But oh, wait, no bro. Jokes about Muslims? Not awesome. That’s Islamophobic, doncha know. Yes, yes, don’t wanna be Islamophobic, now, do we? We’re not going to allow ourselves to be accused of being insensitive to a minority. But Mormons, hah! So hilarious! Utah too. Never been there. Wouldn’t want to. They’re uncool in Utah. Totally uncool. Not like us. We’re cool, and we know it.

All of this might be amusing — every region of the country having its quaint and sometimes annoying peculiarities — except I saw that same empty self-important, self-referential pseudo-liberalism being exported across the country. Over the nine years since I left the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen pseudo-liberalism go mainstream. Two successive Presidential elections have been dominated by it. My chosen tertiary profession — science fiction writing — is positively drenched in it. A cult of Knowing (caps k) that revolves around the image in the mirror: do you make the street signs and speak the gang language of cutting edge progressivism? Yes, or no? Or are you (gasp) un-Knowing? Oh God, you are un-Knowing!

Point and sneer, boys. Point and sneer. Totally uncool!

It is the smug style’s first premise: a politics defined by a command of the Correct Facts and signaled by an allegiance to the Correct Culture. A politics that is just the politics of smart people in command of Good Facts. A politics that insists it has no ideology at all, only facts. No moral convictions, only charts, the kind that keep them from “imposing their morals” like the bad guys do.

Knowing is the shibboleth into the smug style’s culture, a cultural that celebrates hip commitments and valorizes hip taste [see: “It’s over!“], that loves nothing more than hate-reading anyone who doesn’t get them. A culture that has come to replace politics itself.

The knowing know that police reform, that abortion rights, that labor unions are important, but go no further: What is important, after all, is to signal that you know these things. What is important is to launch links and mockery at those who don’t. The Good Facts are enough: Anybody who fails to capitulate to them is part of the Problem, is terminally uncool. No persuasion, only retweets. Eye roll, crying emoji, forward to John Oliver for sick burns.

I’m glad somebody is noticing this. I am glad to see media outlets outside of the usual conservative venues, posting or printing articles that take pseudo-liberalism to task. For being the shallow Club of Cool that it is. For accelerating our political race to the bottom — where one of the two most pathetic, worthless, indeed most irresponsible Presidential choices in my lifetime, stands on the brink of claiming the most powerful office in the world. For speaking the words “compassion” and “caring” while wasting no time deriding, mocking, name-calling, ridiculing, and otherwise bully-shaming anyone and everyone found guilty of being uncool. It’s not even about the issues at all anymore. It’s the uncoolness proper, that gets the lion’s share of ad hominem invective. The Club of Cool wouldn’t be the Club of Cool, if it didn’t look down its nose at everyone not in the club — and make a cutting remark.

Ridicule is the most effective political tactic.

Ridicule is especially effective when it’s personal and about expressing open disdain for stupid, bad people.

Political legitimacy is granted by the respect of elite liberals.

You can’t be legitimate if you’re the butt of our jokes.

If you don’t agree, we can’t work together politically.

We can’t even be friends, because politics is social.

Because politics is performative — if we don’t mock together, we aren’t on the same side.

I have occasionally seen progressive laymen and even commentators blame the rise of pseudo-liberalsm on people like Rush Limbaugh. As if Rush — all by his blustering self — somehow dumbed down political discourse in the United States, such that American liberals simply had to out-dumb Rush. As if the response to a toxic coarsening of dialogue can only be to match and amplify that toxic coarsening. Thus it’s all Rush’s fault. Or it’s all FOX NEWS’s fault. Or it’s all Glenn Beck’s fault. And so on, and so forth. A legion of conservative yackety-bogeymen, inflicting an impossible mode of political and social exchange on a hapless nation.

I suspect this (weak and unsupportable) defense arises from a strong instict to preserve self image — having become infatuated with the mirror, America’s 21st century progressives see themselves as the most morally and intellectually perfect people to have ever lived.

For the Club of Cool, self image is paramount. No part of the toxic coarsening must be traced back to another strong instinct: the desire (felt by humans, in any era, across thousands of years of history) to feel superior. To self-perceive as better than the other guy. Mentally better. Morally better. Ideologically better. The Club of Cool cannot remain Cool without keeping its gates shut against the masses of Uncool who dwell beyond the borders. Everything bad is automatically evicted to the Uncool side of the fence. Thus our cheap and easy Club of Cool conversation can continue, as long as the sins of the Club of Cool are forever assigned to people beyond the glimmering halls of the Club.

Which (not coincidentally) precisely describes how (and why) the past three years in the science fiction publishing world, proceeded as they did. With the key aspect being: the Club of Cool experienced pushback from the Club of Uncool, and all hell broke loose.

The Club of Uncool ‘aint never, ever supposed to push back. Ever.

Which takes me back to the national scene:

The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.

It is this attitude that has driven the dispossessed into the arms of a candidate who shares their fury. It is this attitude that may deliver him the White House, a “serious” threat, a threat to be mocked and called out and hated, but not to be taken seriously.

The wages of smug is Trump.

I’ve said here before that I think Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two sides of the same, rancid coin. Trump voters seem to be voting for Trump out of fear and hatred of Hillary, and Clinton voters seem to be voting for Clinton out of fear and hatred of Donald. Each of them has become an avatar — for the opposite side — of all that is heinous and terrible about The Other Guys. And they (voters, both Trumpist and Hillaryists) will support Their Man (or Their Woman) at all costs — to ensure that The Other Guys cannot prevail. The Club of Cool and the Club of Uncool, in a cage match where nobody wins.

Frankly, I think even if every last Libertarian voter (me, in this election; for example) were to switch to Trump, it still wouldn’t be enough. Hillary is Club of Cool, and Club of Cool put Obama in the White House for eight years. I was certain the Club of Cool didn’t have enough of a hold on the country, to put Obama back in office, after all that transpired from 2007 through 2011. But I was dead wrong. Obama beat Romney handily, just like one of the great prophets of the Club of Cool — FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver — said would happen. Rejoice, fellows! The prophet prophesied correctly! Club of Cool in the center square, with all the Smartness and stuffs, for the win!

I’m not sure how much more Smartness the country can endure, without serious deliterious consequences. Not that I think Trump is any better, nor has he a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. He doesn’t. He never did. In fact, he seems to be precisely the kind of repugnant, eratic, buffoonish opponent that Hillary needs to drive people into her camp — even people savvy to the fact that Hillary is an atrocious and uprincipled candidate. Because The Donald is worse, in their minds. He is not Club of Cool. He cannot offer the Club of Cool the irresistible chance to elect the first woman POTUS in American history. That this woman POTUS is a certified careerist crony-capitalist two-faced serial liar seems to not bother the Club of Cool. Because Trump is always worse. Always. Worse. Therefore, the Club of Cool is as the Club of Cool does. It’ll be Hillary for the W, and we’ll endure four to eight more years of Jon Stewart-style smuggitude from insufferable Hillary supporters, who will too proudly praise themselves (for having voted for a woman) and not once wonder whether or not their candidate is in fact a miserable, absolutely unworthy government officer.

Has the White House seen worse, than either The Donald or Hillary? Maybe. Plenty of incompetents and crooks have cycled through that chair. And each time, the fabric of the Constitution gets a little more tattered — our national body sickened just that much more, by the disease. Of freedoms curtailed and honest men and women burdened by still more regulation, and more taxation. In the name of growing a federal beast that spends money it doesn’t have, to ensure programs — which are ineptly run — continue in perpetuity, so as to guarantee jobs and to buy votes.

I have occasionally asked Hillary supporters if they will admit that there should be limits on government spending and government power. I’ve not been very satisfied with the answers, mostly because even asking such a question — and it is a reasonable, honest question that should not be off the table — immediately throws me into the Uncool Club. For the Club of Cool, asking the question raises a massive red flag. “Aha! He’s one of those people. He doesn’t Know like we Know, and we all know how you treat the not-Knowers, right gang? Pillory! Mocking! Derision! Accusation! The ignorant rube has bared his ass, we should make him pay for it!” This is done on-line, of course. Behind the safety of keyboards. And in the company of like-minded compatriots. Because the true path to diversity is to surround yourself with other pseudo-liberals who all show the markers of Knowing and make the correct signs and wear the correct gang garments, to demonstrate correct tribal affiliation.

Oh, sure, the cries of, “BUT THE RIGHT WINGERS DO THE SAME S*** ALL THE DAMNED TIME, SO F*** YOU!” can be heard, even before I push the PUBLISH button on this article. The misbehavior of the Right seems to be the only excuse pseudo-liberals need, to keep perpetrating on the Left. Which is another example of racing to the bottom. Because if the only “standard” you set for yourself is to always be just as crappy as the other people, nobody is going to stop and pause, to ask: could there possibly be a better way to approach our philosophical, societal, ideological, and especially emotional differences?

I know I’ve probably had far less patience — with pseudo-liberalism — than some people would prefer. I’ve lost a few friends over the fact that I am unrelentingly blunt in my (hard) appraisal of pseudo-liberalism’s vacuousness and obsessive attention to superficial identity politics. My wife occasionally asks me why I always laugh to the point of tears, any time we watch an episode of Portlandia, and my answer is always the same: the Club of Cool was in desperate need of savvy lampooning. To take the air out of its tires. To show that the emperor has no clothes. To poke a funny (and occasionally sharp) stick at the people who too often believe they must not, can not, should not be laughed at. Ever.

But lampooning just shines a spotlight on the problem. The problem isn’t addressed unless people on the Left side of the aisle begin to talk about and act on the problem. Us right-wingers can scream about the problem all day long, and the Club of Cool won’t give a damn. Anything coming from the Uncool Club is automatically mocked and derided out of hand, just because it’s Uncool in origin. But when the liberals themselves begin to see an uncomfortable or even alarming pattern, that’s when you know the issue has gotten serious. Because people who give a damn about hearts and minds are realizing that “Smug, self-important asshole” is a rotten way to sell liberalism — especially to the very classes of people liberalism desperately claims to want to help. The blue-collar workers. The middle and lower-middle class. The people who fix your plumbing and do your wiring and re-roof your house and maintain your car. Military folk. Police. Farmers. Firefighters. When so-called “compassionate” liberalism’s response — to being turned away from, by these demographics — is to mock, deride, shame, name-call, or worse, something has gone very, very wrong in liberalism. Thus, it’s not liberalism at all. It’s something else.

The market always wins

Now that the rebooted Ghostbusters is officially being acknowledged as a red-ink bath for Sony Pictures, can we please put down the protest signs, and have a candid talk? About how all the scolding in the world, cannot force the audience to love a thing? Likewise, all the scolding in the world, cannot force the audience to hate a thing, either.

Basically, stop with the scolding. It doesn’t work. It never works.

Remember how the new Star Wars book — that was a prequel to the seventh film — scored more one-star Amazon reviews, than all of its four and five-star reviews put together? And the author proceeded to scold the audience for it? I say, lighten up, Francis! It’s not because the audience is secretly morally repugnant. It’s because you turned in a weird book, written weirdly, versus the straightforward space adventure novel everybody wanted, and were expecting. Was that your editor’s idea? For you to throw an experimental literary curveball at the Star Wars fans, then teach them to hate you — by accusing them of being horrible people?

See, here’s the thing. The market always wins. Always. Doesn’t matter how brave or bold your posturing may be. If your book, or your movie, or your album, doesn’t have enough “there” there, you can hang a million virtue-signals on the thing — dress it up like a damned social justice christmas tree — and the audience is going to give you a big, whopping, “Meh.” And it’s not because the audience is secretly homophobic or misogynistic or racist. It’s because the audience is tired of being sermonized, and cannot be commanded to vote (with its collective wallet) for something it doesn’t want to vote for.

The Ghostbusters reboot failed, not because America hates women, but because America looked at this movie and said, “Two-point-five stars; maybe three at most, if we’re in a good mood.”

The audience doesn’t care about progressive eat-your-ideological-veggies politics. The audience doesn’t care about the demographics of the actors. The audience just wants to have a good time.

Likewise, you cannot command consumers to shun a thing, if that thing has already won them over. Remember Chick-Fil-A? Bunch of Social Justice Zealots (SJZs) commanded us all to “punish” Chick-Fil-A for (insert progressive political reason here) and the response — by Americans — was to give Chick-Fil-A a record week in profits. Any way you slice it, the SJZ plan wholly and utterly backfired. Because Chick-Fil-A chicken is delicious. People have known this for years. It’s why Chick-Fil-A has exploded nationally. Check out any Chick-Fil-A franchise at lunch or dinner, and you will typically see stacks of cars lined up around the lot, sometimes more than once, with a huge crowd at the registers inside. The anti-Chick-Fil-A “punishment” maneuver merely caused those ordinarily packed lines to go out the driveway, down the street, and around the block. Because the consumers said “F*** you, you can’t make us hate good food.” The consumers are still saying it, too.

So, please, let’s pause for a moment; to consider the boots-on-ground reality. Wagging your finger at people is never, ever a winning marketing strategy. Wagging your finger at the crowds is liable to have the crowds showing you a collective finger of their own — and it ‘aint the index finger. Because people like what they like, and they don’t like what they don’t like. De gustibus. You want to freight your product with all kinds of social justice ornamentation? Fine. Just be aware of the fact that you’re putting a stone around that product’s neck. Don’t be shocked when it sinks to the bottom, never to rise. It’s not the audience’s fault. It’s your fault for thinking the audience wanted or needed you to shove your politics up their collective ass.

Again, the crowds just want to have fun. I repeat: they want to have fun. Can you bring the fun? Can you make something that gets spontaneous laughter or applause, without it turning into an imitation of a Politburo session, where grown men collapse because they dare not get caught being the first one to put his hands back into his pockets? Maybe you think the Politburo sessions are an instruction manual, versus a cautionary tale?

Maybe you need to reconsider.

But wait, who am I kidding? Of course you won’t reconsider. SJZs never, ever reconsider. Smug self-righteousness is a hell of a drug. Once a person is hooked, (s)he loses all perspective, and becomes both myopic and deaf. That’s SJZism in a nutshell: myopic, and deaf.

But don’t say nobody warned you. The next time your movie or book — tricked out with all the latest virtue-signalling baubles — tanks. You spent too much time focusing on the wrapping paper, without paying enough attention to what’s inside. It’s the product itself that counts. Just like content of character counts. Remember who said that? I do. It was good advice.

More “there” there, please. Bring the “there” and you succeed, every time. “There” is what matters to the consumer, above all else.

Not what you think you’re saying with the product. Not what you think you have to say, to make people think you’re one of the Good Guys. The audience isn’t paying money to watch you check yourself out in the mirror, take selfies, and broadcast to the world that you’re wonderful.

The audience wants to be entertained.

Not educated. Not lectured. Not have their awareness raised.

Entertained.

Oh, sure, you might get some fraction of the crowd to buy in — as a political duty. And if you can be satisfied with an “audience” that supports you solely and explicitly out of obligation, knock yourself out. Just don’t be shocked when the crowds aren’t beating down your storefront door. Learn to be content with your monthly trickle from Patreon. You’ve chosen to wear your SJZ badge on your lapel. You couldn’t wait to tell the audience how much they suck. You elected confrontation as your mode of communication. The bad’s on you. Make no mistake about it. The bad’s on you.

On the gripping hand, if you’re a content producer who’s been frustrated by the fact that the SJZs keep demanding you create the way they expect you to create — otherwise you’re a horrible person who will be punished — take heart. You don’t have to do what they say. You don’t have to kiss the asses, nor the rings. Your options are open. You can have fun doing what you’re doing, and find an audience who will have fun right along with you. And if you can spin the fun up to high enough RPM, maybe you get a feedback effect, go viral, and see some real traction? It’s not a guarantee. But then again, with the market, nothing ever is. You just don’t need to load up your ruck sack with leaden social justice conceits, in a vain attempt to appease people who will never be appeased anyway — because they’re high on their own supply.

Create your stuff. Have a good time doing it. Work hard. And above all else, be gracious with the market — even on those occasional days when they throw pies at you. That’s inevitable. You cannot please all comers. But you can thank them for their time. You can thank them for making an investment. You can honor the fact that they tried you, even if you ended up not being to their taste. Maybe they will try you again?

In this way, too, the market always wins. You’re not standing at a pulpit. Pulpits are for fuggheads. You’re standing in the town square, your cart of wares arrayed for viewing. If you’re good at what you do, and enough people notice, good things will come to you. Be patient. And keep playing the long game. The market favors the long game.

Addressing The Problem™

We’re well into our second decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy publishing tying itself up in knots over The Problem™. You’re no doubt aware of The Problem™ yourself. How could you not be? A monolithic wall of text (stretching into the stratosphere) has been erected, concerning The Problem™ and if you’re so dense as to be unaware of The Problem™ then clearly you are part of The Problem™.

Still, for the sake of review, let’s go over it again.

The Problem™ — according to those who’ve made it their business to fight The Problem™:

SF/F publishing is dominated by demographic W. Demographics X, Y, and Z are underrepresented. This is obviously because demographic W is prejudiced, and therefore excluding X, Y, and Z. Therefore demographic W is on the hot seat for making SF/F into a W-only club. So, what can obligatorily concerned, properly progressive members of W do to be more inclusive and celebratory of X, Y, Z, and also A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, and the ever-fabulous Q?

The chief problem with typical analysis of The Problem™ is that it fails to ask a very important question: wence the readership? Editors and authors are not birthed whole-cloth from the dust of the earth. They always begin as readers first. I repeat: editors and authors always begin as readers first. There is no author, nor editor, in the business of Science Fiction & Fantasy literature, who did not start out as a reader. Usually, in childhood and/or adolescence. 99.999% of all professionals began life (in the field) as avid fans of some sort, whether they were laser-focused on a specific author, or a specific sub-genre, or omnivorous cosmopolitans who imbibed everything the field had to offer. Thus, to understand a dearth (or surfeit?) of any demographic, within SF/F publishing, you have to go all the way back to the beginning.

Which kids are reading, and what, and why?

Thus, how many kids from underrepresented demographics, grew up in households where fiction reading was a common and encouraged form of entertainment? And out of that number, how many gravitated to SF/F explicitly?

Because it is entertainment we’re talking about, and where entertainment is concerned, De Gustibus can be an iron law.

The progressive conceit is that kids from underrepresented demographics don’t read SF/F because these children never “see” themselves enough — not in the characters, nor the stories, nor the ranks of authors and professionals. This argument always strikes me as particularly strange — for Science Fiction & Fantasy — since a great heap of SF/F (past, and present) has concerned itself with crawling around inside the heads of people and creatures who are decidedly different from the creators, as well as the audience. No sector of entertainment literature has devoted more time to examining Difference (note the caps) than SF/F. And even if you take the postmodernist deconstructionist approach (“All fiction is simply allegory for the sake of present-tense social and political commentary!”) you still find that SF/F has gone out of its way to explore the lives and thoughts of the marginalized, the alien, and the outcast.

In other words, this is a field that bends over backwards to put Difference front-and-center.

So, what else might be going on? Besides a subtle or unconscious plot on the part of demographic W, to exclude or marginalize the other letters of the alphabet? Especially when publishing is an enterprise that does not require any prospective professional participant to wear his (or her, or their) demographics on his (or her, or their) sleeve?

1) Kids are busy doing other things. This has been especially true since the invention of the television. The number of explicitly youth-focused, youth-oriented passtimes has exploded over the past 70 years. If it’s not music, it’s video games. If it’s not video games, it’s sports. If it’s not sports, it’s texting and chatting. If it’s not texting and chatting, it’s movies and series. And so on, and so forth. In any representative population sample of pre-teens and teens, you’re liable to lose 65% (or more) of that collective attention span, to entertainment that does not involve reading prose on a page.

2) Kids get their SF/F in other forms. This is a huge blind spot for that sector of SF/F literature that considers itself “true fandom” and which regards all other forms of SF/F — outside of literature — to be subsidiary or subervient. Since the late 1970s, the amount of televised and silver screen SF/F has increased dramatically, thanks to the birth of the Star Wars franchise; as proof-of-concept that spec-fictional content was a massive money-maker. Since then, studios cannot not churn out enough SF/F. Look at the big list of Top 25 all-time silver screen earners, and at least 22 of them are explicitly SF/F in some form. Throw in Japanese animation, and modern story-driven video games, and you’re staring at the greatest part of your average english-language teen’s spec-fictional diet. Movies, TV, anime, and games. That’s it. (S)he may not feel the need to seek out books or other forms of spec-fictional prose, simply because there is a universe of (often spectacular and enjoyable) spec-fictional content readily available — long before (s)he has to crack open a book.

3) Kids who are reading, may only be reading what is popular, or familiar. This is one of the great resentments among almost all spec-fictional scribblers: it’s not fair that movie or TV tie-in books, or the latest J.K. Rowling novel, soak up a vast (disproportionately vast?) number of reader dollars — which may or may not trickle down to the rest of us toiling in the salt mines. Scratch an author or editor taking aim at The Problem™ and you will almost always discover someone who is equally unhappy with the fact that Harry Potter or some other magical Fantasy doorstop series are co-occupying the Amazon bestseller rankings, versus this month’s latest “confrontational” pan-African indigenous perspectives gender-queer anthology — from AngryWymyn Press. (Click to donate to their patreon!)

4) Speaking of which, can we please (finally!) admit that what interests and fascinates your typical Intersectional Oppression Studies undergrad — at Oregon Coast University — is not necessarily what interests a majority of reading teens and pre-teens? No, not even the teens and pre-teens from marginalized demographics. Because not every X nor Y nor Z (nor even every Q) teen or pre-teen spends his/her/their time gazing endlessly at his/her/their navel. Thus, if the number of spec-fictional authors coming into the field from an Intersectional Oppression Studies background is large, the number of readers this pool might be directly speaking to, is pretty damned small. And no, scolding isn’t a great way to gin up audience enthusiasm. You can whip a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Especially the young, who will smell a moral sermon a mile away, and immediately run in the opposite direction.

Of course, that’s just the first layer of the cake.

Assuming a sufficiently large number of marginalized youth can be attracted to reading SF/F how many of them are going to be interested enough to want to publish? To edit? To log the long, hard hours of practice necessary to reach entry-level proficiency? There are 101 easier, more direct routes to money, as well as fame. Devoting that much time and energy to getting good at SF/F takes a special kind of maniacal obtuseness — that only those of us with a fatal fascination for spec-fic are cursed to have.

Then, assuming a sufficiently large number of marginalized entry-level SF/F pros can be slapped together, how do we know which markets this body is submitting to? What kind of books or stories? Unless we’re dealing with a university or subsidy press (click to donate to the patreon!!) said publisher has to be in the business to do business. This means keeping at least one eye on the marketplace. And the marketplace is notoriously immune to being guilt-tripped into coughing up its dollars for an entertainment product being proffered like a kelp shake from a Whole Foods organic health bar. “Because it’s good for you!” may not necessarily be a winning sales pitch. In fact, it’s usually a horrible sales pitch. Calling the audience names, when they won’t follow the carrot or the stick, is also a horrible sales pitch. The audience wants to have a good time. Period. Non-subsidy prose publishing has to be accountable to this fact. Thus the endless tug-o-war between art and commerce. Between what is deemed “worthy” by the cognoscenti, and what is actually worthwhile to the consumer public.

Okay, so, we’ve tunneled through reader and author origins, the matter of ideology versus economy, and at last come to the ugly worm at the bottom of the Tequila bottle: are SF/F’s editors actually racist? Sexist? Homophobic? Transphobic? Yadda yadda?

Consider the fact that the total number of spec-fictional editors and publishers are self-styled progressives and liberals — by a gargantuan, wide margin — and it’s a head-scratcher. These are the people who go out of their way to broadcast to the universe that they are on The Right Side of History. They will spare no expense supporting the monthly flavor of Disenfranchised Artist. They are extremely proud to be left-wing, and they will haughtily declare their allegiance to progressive economic and political ideas.

And this is the body of people who are scheming — intentionally, or unintentionally — to keep the Other (note the caps) out of SF/F?

This is a field given over almost entirely to the progressive “side” of the ideological landscape. Thus when progressives attack the field for margnializing or excluding X, Y, or Z demographics, it’s a bit like watching a man pick up a hammer and smash his own thumb — because the thumb had it coming. In calling out the field (over and over and over) for failing to be sufficiently supportive and inclusive, progressives are essentially indicting themselves in a self-conspiracy — of the left hand working against the other left hand.

So, the latest rumbles about The Problem™ are another example of the ouroboros eating its own tail. And with each successive bite, the entire thing shrinks just that much more. Until the whole point of SF/F — to have fun! — seems to be overshadowed by a nasty process of the field collectively and eternally attacking itself, for this or that failure; according to whichever flavor of Oppression Theory is popular this year.

And we’ve not even touched the fact that short fiction — the subsector of spec-fictional prose specifically cited in The Verge’s link — is a micro-economy, compared to novels. I should know. I do much of my work in short SF/F prose. It is the nichest of niche markets. A somewhat zombiefied relic of the Pulp Era, when almost all spec-fictional prose was being done in serial format, for the pre-television magazines of the time.

I mean, seriously, put your politics aside for a minute, and check it out:

● Of the total number of children in the english-language world, how many of them read prose for entertainment?

● Of the total number of pre-teen and teen readers in the english-language world, how many of them will fall in love with SF/F as a preferred genre?

● Of the total number of children who read SF/F, how many of them grow up to decide to try their hand at writing, editing, or publishing?

● Of the total number of people who try their hand at SF/F writing, editing, or publishing, how many of them will actually put in the years to be any good at it?

● Of the total number of people who are any good at SF/F writing, editing, or publishing, how many of them will focus on a microscopic slice of the marketing landscape, in the form of short fiction?

● And of the total number of people who are proficient pros in SF/F short fiction, how many of those are from what might be deemed marginalized or disenfranchised demographics?

● And of the total number of people who are not marginalized, but who are proficient pros in SF/F short fiction, how many of them are actually engaged in discrimination against their fellows? Either consciously, or unconsciously?

Especially when (as noted at the start) nobody is required to wear his/her/their demographics on his/her/their sleeve. This is not like a screen test, nor a panel audition. The editor is not casting based on appearance. The editor is (usually) working from a standpoint of taste, combined with knowing what the audience (for his/her/their magazine or venue) wants, along with perhaps a bit of angling at the critics and the awards mavens.

And angling at the critics and awards mavens favors marginalized demographics! Does anyone seriously suspect the people behind Lightspeed or Asimov’s or Clarkesworld or TOR.COM have a problem with the disenfranchised? Of any type or description? What universe did you warp in from?

The SF/F short-fic editors in this universe — with their fingers on the pulse of the awards — know that featuring authors/stories from disenfranchised groups, is a huge plus. Among the cognoscenti. They all drink from the same ideological trough. It’s “sexy” for a publication to hang a sign on the demographically challenged. In fact, markets like TOR.COM will pay top dollar for stories from non-W authors, spread across the whole of the alphabet. And TOR.COM will loudly beam this news to the publishing world at large, “We’re TOR.COM, and we’re progressive; just look at our menagerie of other-than-W authors we publish!”

So, I have a tough time believing that the supposed dearth of other-than-W authors publishing in the short fic markets, is a matter of prejudice.

But I’m just an evil conservative. I keep banging my pot about fun and merit. I don’t have a patreon. I think stories should earn the consumer’s time and money. I don’t believe the purpose of storytelling in SF/F is to “confront” the audience, nor make the reader squirm. That’s a nouveau-lit academic sentiment that’s migrated over to the field since the advent of the New Wave — when Sense-O-Wonder began to collapse inside a Schwarzschild Radius of social critique and victim narratives, all competing against themselves.

Is it any wonder that Science Fiction — in prose form — continues to fight a rear-guard action against marketplace irrelevancy?

Fixating endlessly on The Problem™ is, to my mind, very much like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It doesn’t matter what tune you make the orchestra play, the ship’s still going down. Having struck the iceberg of Social Justice zealotry, people seem to want to rip the hole open even wider. Then they have the nerve to act shocked when there aren’t enough life boats.

Ban guns? We’re a nation of scofflaws!

It’s been roughly a century since the United States embarked upon one of the nation’s most foolish moral escapades: Prohibition. Temperance movements — well-intended, we have to grant — had deduced that alcohol consumption was at the root of any number of household and cultural evils. Therefore, the country was going to be dried up. And since politicians are more interested in getting re-elected, than in having common sense, they went along with these temperance movements’ assertions. And for over a dozen years, the United States was officially a no-booze zone.

Except, that’s not how it really worked. There was booze all over the place. The common citizen was still drinking. The politicians never stopped, either. Even the cops were having a drink, just on the quiet. Everybody knew it, and everybody tacitly agreed that Prohibition had turned into a bad joke. They even invented a new word, for the millions of otherwise straightlaced Americans who were all getting sloshed on the sly: scofflaw.

A combination of the words scoff and law. It meant precisely what it says: a person who flouts the rules.

By the advent of the Depression — surely an event to make even the most stalwart teetotaler consider lifting a glass — the country had come to its senses, and we eventually scuttled the booze ban.

Which should have taught us an important, enduring lesson.

But it didn’t. You’ve heard of the War on Drugs? More Prohibition, that. Just the target of the blockade is different. Equally well-intended, but equally wrong-headed. It guarantees that crime (organized or not) will have a ready cash source, throws countless young men and women into jail, and does not at all stop or deter people who want to do drugs, from doing drugs. In fact, it lends a rebellious kind of cool to the drug scene, that lures millions of teenagers every year — some of whom wind up bottoming out in a state of heroin or meth addiction, which can often be lethal.

If we try to ban guns, I can guarantee you it will be more of the same. Why?

1) You can’t close the barn door, when the horse has already run out to pasture. If firearms were a new(ish) sort of import to these shores, you might have a realistic chance to keep the ports shut to guns. But guns are a thriving domestic industry, as well as cottage hobby. Some estimates place the number of privately-held firearms at or about the number of privately-driven automobiles. You cannot ban or restrict something which already exists here — legally — in such high numbers. There is no known force capable of policing them all up, much less disposing of them. It was the same for the booze.

2) Are you going to throw Granny in jail? How about your uncle? Or your brother? Or your best friend? Yes, many people will voluntarily turn over their weapons, if a ban is made into law. Americans are — despite the protestations of the cognoscenti — a generally decent lot. Law-abiding, by choice. But far more Americans will conclude the law is absurd, and simply refuse to comply. Do you go out and put the cuffs on? Lead the country to the slammer? Where to house the millions of instant criminals? How to try them? Especially when most of the law enforcement will also conclude the law is absurd — and in fact, many of the law-keepers will be law-breakers too, just like during Prohibition.

3) The underground gun scene will thrive like kudzu. Secret gun clubs and gun ranges will become the new speakeasies. It will be chic and daring, to belong to such organizations, and to be seen in such circles. Again, the rule of cool: flouting stupid laws has always been the hallmark of adventurously free-minded people. The dumber or more clumsy the law, the more it’s flouted. Having and shooting guns would become like having and smoking weed used to be; and in some places still is — something the “cutting edge” do for fun, as well as pleasure. And to hell with the risks. Life is short! Go for the gusto.

4) Because the underground gun scene will thrive, the underground gun market will also thrive. Both the cottage machinists, and the black market importers. Price will be no object. In fact, the competition (to cut out or undermine the competitor) will be so fierce, rival black market operations may start dividing the country up into zones of turf. And since laws never stopped true criminals from having and using guns anyway, the amount of gun-related crime will climb as ordinary petty crooks and gun-runners alike, along with average citizens getting caught in the endless dragnets, will stuff the courthouses to overflowing. Not to mention the morgues.

5) Fly-over country don’t give a damn, no how. Small-town America will basically pretend that federal gun bans do not exist. County judges will suspend sentences. The cops will develop “paper bag eyes” for good American citizens who just happen to have and keep firearms in the home. Both the authorities and the common man will collude to keep the dreadful news — that guns are not, in fact, going away — from reaching the eyes and ears of the gentrified do-gooders from the cities. Special dispensations will be invented, to quietly circumnavigate federal prosecution. Own x amount of land, for y amount of farming? Why, you just got to have a critter gun. Or three. Or twelve. Plus ammunition. Don’t want coyotes getting into the chickens. Surely we can open up a loophole for that?

And so, the great moral crusade to “end” guns in America, will go down in historic flames. Being essentially unenforceable, the law(s) will eventually hang like stones around the necks of those politicians who supported such laws in the first place. The gun-banners will be voted out, and voted down, and the law(s) will be struck from the books.

Or . . . we can save ourselves a lot of grief and heartache, and just not go there in the first place.

No gun bans. No silly laws with good intentions, but achieving opposite results.

We know this dance. We’ve done it before. We ought to have learned by now. But memories can be short, and do-gooders always think that human nature can be bent to suit any kind of moral reform program. Which is essentially what the gun-banner brigades are after: moral reform.

Except, you can’t do it like that. Nor should you want to try. The answer to “gun violence” is to merely remove the noun, and focus on he verb. Why does a disturbed young Muslim man walk into a gay club and begin capping people? Could it possibly be that he’s been raised in a belief system that is amenable to violent “solutions” to the moral decrepitude he sees around him? Hell, in Da’esh territory, they chuck gays off rooftops, and Allah smiles. Or so the mullahs of the Middle East say. Maybe that’s got something to do with it? The Boston Marathon bombers used pressure cookers to inflict carnage. Same intent: to murder in the name of Allah. Just different method. You can seek to ban the method six ways from Thursday, and never even touch the intent.

And it’s the intent that we — as a culture, and a nation — should be most concerned with. Grappling with and confronting intent, whether it’s Islamist fanatics (Orlando) or emo outcasts (Columbine) would be a direct way to confront “what’s wrong with America” rather than concocting effigies of “gun culture” at whose feet we pile blame, every time there is a media frenzy about a crime involving firearms.

Again, simply passing a law, won’t solve anything. In fact, the only law which will be obeyed, will be the law of unintended consequences.

Is all of this supposed to assuage the outrage of people upset that we’ve had (yet another) spectacular spree murder? No. But then, we lose tens of thousands of Americans on the highways and freeways of America. Every year. And you seldom hear the same outrage. Not even when it’s a multi-auto pileup on the interstate. We’ve successfully conditioned ourselves to accept these deaths as merely the cost of doing business, in a world which is (rightly) free to engage in impulse travel on public roads.

I, for one, would love to invent a magic solution — to events like the Orlando gay club murders.

But I have lived enough life to realize that there is usually no such thing as a magic solution.

Want to curb murders? Convince the next would-be spree slaughterer that (s)he’s better off finding a different hobby? Join the club! All of us law-abiding gun owners are right there with you, hoping that there might be a way to reach these people, before they decide to begin taking innocent lives. We’ve got friends and families too. We think about them every day. Some of us have raised our hands in front of the flag, dedicating life and limb to the defense and protection of the very laws that ensure our freedom and prosperity in this country. We literally are the “well-regulated militia” so often debated in that controversial Constitutional phrase. And we do what we do, so that you — American man or woman — can go into a firearms store, and purchase the means to protect yourself from rapists, thieves, and murderers.

Is freedom idiot-proof? Nope, alas. Nor is it safe-spaced against all potentially random harm. And that’s a shame. But you still get in your car, and expose yourself to the bone-headedness of your fellow citizens — for minutes (or even hours) every single day. The joker texting on his phone, when he ought to be watching the road, is far, far more likely to hurt you or the people you love, than “gun culture.” In fact, you’ve probably been that joker a few times yourself — yes, even you “good” drivers. Don’t look embarrassed. You’re just normal.

As nearly every law-abiding firearms owner, is also normal.

Should you be punished, because some jackass in the other car decided to cause a wreck today? No?

In the end, we’re wired to buck the system, if the system is too much of a pain in the ass. That’s why we speed like hell, all over the country, daring the highway patrol to catch us. We know that speed limit is there for our safety. We also know that we can handle it, going well over the limit. So we do. And the “game” of daily cat and mouse (millions of mice, only a comparatively few cats) occurs with ritual-like predictability. Even when speeding is a contributor to any number of serious auto accidents in any given week: accidents which take lives.

Do we ban the car? Nope.

Do we lash out at all law-abiding drivers, indiscriminately? Nope.

Do we label those same drivers domestic terrorists in the making? Nope.

Look closely at such answers to such questions, and you can tease out an important conclusion. About who we are, as human beings. And why some things shouldn’t be tried, no matter how well-meant they may be.

Herping your derp, with Damien G. Walter

Imagine a man. A man who thinks he loves Science Fiction. He also thinks he’s a writer of same. He fancies himself being one of the Smart People in the field. He talks what he believes to be Smart People talk. He reads the Smart People blogs. He name-drops the Smart People names. He even has a home with one of the Smart People media outlets — no guessing as to how much (if anything) The Guardian pays him. He’s tremendously concerned with making sure that the Smart People see him being Smart. Because that’s the key to being an Important Guy.

And yet, when Damien G. Walter goes “Derp!” in a forest, and nobody is around to hear him . . . does he make a sound?

Let’s face it, Science Fiction and Fantasy has a surfeit of commentary. Everyone who ever dreamed of writing spec fic lit — or writing lit about spec fic lit — has established a digital outpost for himself. Could be a blog. Could be a collective “genre news” outlet. Maybe it’s simply a Twitter or Instagram account? Thus you will never, ever lack for jabbering about SF/F books, movies, and television.

Especially jabber from people suffering a paucity of actual reading depth. They don’t know speculative literature, as much as they know the conversations and Names that get circulated by the Smart People. Which lends itself perfectly to performing as a gadfly. But does not, I am afraid, gift said gadfly with the ability to make observations which make sense.

Consider Damien G. Walter’s assertion:

If you want to make the world a better place, you need a space to imagine what that place might look like. From George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, way back to Thomas More’s Utopia and even further,

It’s been said before, by better men than me. But somebody really needs to remind 21st century Western progressives that Orwell was writing cautionary tales, not instruction manuals. 1984 remains a chillingly current examination of the power of the tyrannical mindset. Reading 1984, one is reminded of this observation, by C.S. Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Nobody — and I mean absolutely nobody — should want to live in the world of 1984.

Just as nobody should want to endure a society akin to the allegory of Animal Farm — which is, in fact, a dire criticism of the collectivist state, and the eventual degeneracy of both leadership and conditions, in any environment that goes down the Marxist path.

Now, being very much a moral busybody, and a Socialist, Damien G. Walter might like the fact that his iteration of busybodiness is in vogue. Our entertainment spaces presently endure a locust-like plague of activists and haranguers, all eager to wag their fingers and scold us for being Wrongfans of Wrongfun. Maybe Damien sees himself among the Great Minds who will remain safely on the other side of the glass — from us common proles? Damien, the Outer Party man who is desperately playing at being Inner Party.

Or maybe Damien hasn’t read any Orwell at all? He just knows the name, and he knows two of Orwell’s enduring titles, and he drops them into his article — hoping that if he salts his bland mashed-potato progressive lit observations with enough Smart People sign posts, he will himself be magically transformed into the picture of a Smart Person.

Consider the fact that Damien G. Walter praises Samuel Delaney — infamous author of Hogg — while condemning John Norman’s Gor novels as being, “little more than misogynistic S&M fantasies.”

Better check yourself, Damien. Apparently some misogynistic S&M fantasies are more hip than others. Or must we simply assume that depraved sadism and sexual perversion (in literature) is cool when the Smart People do it?

Probably the latter. Natch. Got it.

Moving on, we’re treated to explosive diarrhetic diatribes against Military Science Fiction et al:

During it’s Golden Age sci-fi became deeply associated with the values of the American dream. As those values have unwound America’s conservatives have retreated to sci-fi as a safe space to indulge their nationalist military fantasies. Amazon’s Author Rank for science fiction is packed with military SF novels, most of them repeating the same themes of Earth under attack by aliens, through to full fledged survivalist “prepper” fantasies, most self published and appealing to a small but committed audience of Donald Trump supporting SF readers. Given their aggressive, paranoid tendencies it’s hardly surprising these fans are fighting an imaginary war against the other tribes of sci-fi by protesting the Hugo awards.

Setting aside the fact that values cannot “unwind” in the manner described — situations can unwind, without question, but this is why it’s a good idea to have and know your values; so that they carry you through those times when all others about you lose their minds — Damien seems to be claiming that he can read both hearts and minds. Everyone who reads Mil-SF is a Donald Trump supporter? Is that why Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s prospects got a colossal shot in the arm, the moment the Republican Party blundered into ensuring Hillary Clinton’s election, by putting ultimate-RINO Donald Trump at the top of their platform? Those “Donald Trump fans”?

Methinks Damien not only doesn’t know any Donald Trump voters, he doesn’t really know many Mil-SF readers (or authors) either.

Now, he’s close about one thing. There is a rhetorical war going on in SF/F right now. Mostly it’s about fans and authors and publishers who like to have fun, fending off the busybodies talked about earlier in this article: the moral and intellectual scolds who come to tell us all we’re Wrongfans having Wrongfun. Of which Damien G. Walter is a tedious, but perfect, example. But this rhetorical war stretches across the entirety of the field, and is not limited to Mil-SF. Much as World War Two was not limited to North Africa, or the Pacific. This rhetorical war is about style, and taste, and belonging, and recognition, and whether or not SF/F as a coherent form of literature is even going to survive the next twenty years — when there is no “center” to hold it all together.

The rest is merely Damien G. Walter performing a chicken-cluck dance, wherein he demonstrates (again, for the sake of trying to appear like one of the Smart People) his distaste for the un-progressive purveyors of “nationalist military fantasies.”

Does Star Trek fall into this category? For Damien? It’s hard to determine. After all, if 1984 is a progressive fantasy that somehow shines a light on the desirable future of mankind, surely Star Trek — with its regimented space navy, forever defending the Federation (and especially Earth) against alien invaders of all varieties — qualifies, under Damien’s “nationalist military fantasy” criteria.

I mean, my God, Gene Roddenberry flew bomber missions in World War Two! It doesn’t get more nationalist or military than that.

And here we all thought Star Trek was trying to portray a positive future. P’shaw!

But wait, isn’t Grandpa Heinlein also a purveyor of nationalism and military fantasies? Damien praised Grandpa Heinlein, earlier in the article. Probably because progressives love to draft dead conservatives, much as Teresa Nielsen-Hayden used Jim Baen’s corpse as her socket puppet — when it suited her.

But wait, Damien not only reads minds, he can tell the future too:

With Charlie Jane Anders All The Birds In The Sky and Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper among a wave of recent titles presenting challenging visions and re-imaginings of our reality, progressive fantasy seems more and more like the future of sci-fi.

This is a common conceit of all Leftist rhetoric — that history is a more or less straight line trending forever in whatever direction Leftists are infatuated with this decade. Considering that Damien put 1984 among these supposed positive re-imaginings of reality, it’s a bit tough to discern the “win” Damien is prognosticating for the field. Again, 1984 is a cautionary tale. And Animal Farm even moreso. If the progressives are re-imagining our reality in positive ways, the citation of Orwell seems oxymoronic at best. Or maybe totalitarian hell-holes are a desirable end state? Certainly Venezuela qualifies, as a perfect example of the inevitable outcome — when men of Damien’s flavor are given access to the levers of power.

Is Venezuela the kind of “positive re-imagining” the Smart People (to whose ranks Damien aspires) have in mind?

We don’t really know. Damien spends so much time salting his bland mashed-potato article — namesy nameses, droppsy woo! — it’s tough to grasp what his actual opinion of the cited contents may be. Again, one senses that Damien has not read any of it. He’s merely scanned the Smart People conversations, and believes that recursively regurgitating other peoples’ shit, itself substitutes for cogent commentary.

And if he thinks YA “adventurous coming of age tales” can’t hold the attention of older readers, there’s this little series called Harry Potter that’s worth noting. Damien might want to jump on that one. He even talked up J.K. Rowling, among the commercial fictioneers. Harry Potter has only blazed an eight-lane interstate through the heart of the Science Fiction ghetto, demonstrating conclusively that not only will adults flock to a solidly imaginative and evocative YA universe, they will drive that universe to the top of the charts.

Of course, every stopped clock is right twice a day. Damien got this one on the nose: Lit Fic dilettantism does breed some dull books. Mostly because Lit Fic dilettantes don’t actually read much SF/F, and mistakenly believe that it’s “easy” to write and come up with original, or at least interesting, SF/F-ish works — while still thudding us in the face with the usual Lit-sy navel-gazing, angst, ennui, and nihilism. Putting my finger to the wind, I get the sense that many SF/F readers love SF/F precisely because it’s not pretentiously MFA’d to the nth degree.

And lots of SF/F authors want the approval of the “proper” Lit Fic scene?

I’d rather have a root canal, sans anesthetic.

Again, it’s tough to tease out actual analysis, when the bulk of Damien’s doggerel seems to involve mistaking bling-wordsieness, for substance. A common enough malady among those with nothing interesting to say, but for whom the pretense of meaning is paramount. Are there tribes in SF/F? Without question. Do they look anything like the fat-crayon scribble pictures Damien has gifted us with?

I was talking about this over two years ago.

Draw your own conclusions. You will undoubtedly do better than Damien.

Panel: how to protect science fiction awards from Bad People™

MODERATOR: My friends, it is with deep regret that I must come before you — the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction — to announce that Bad People™ have come into our country, and they are seriously messing up our awards.

AUDIENCE: (gasps, shouts of outrage)

MODERATOR: (bats hands down toward the floor, in a plea for silence) I know, I didn’t want to believe it either. For many decades now, the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction has been a bastion of inclusiveness and tolerance, because as every caucasian progressive over the age of 45 knows, the way you demonstrate your diversity to the public, is to occasionally welcome in an Asian person — who has identical politics to caucasian progressives over the age of 45.

AUDIENCE: (cheers, applause)

MODERATOR: Yes, yes, we know we’re wonderful, don’t we? Well, friends, it’s time for us to take a stand. The forces of Badthinkery® are upon us. Our Hugo award — silvery, phallic, entirely sausage-like — is being invaded by Bad People™ intent on inflicting their Badthinkery® on our beloved field.

AUDIENCE: (more gasps, more shouts of outrage)

MODERATOR: It’s true. We can’t deny it any longer. The Bad People™ couldn’t leave well enough alone. I mean, aren’t they satisfied, clinging like they do to their God, their guns, and their Megyn Kelly? Why did they have to come after us poor, innocent, dafodil-scented Fans in our beloved little nation of Trufandom?

AUDIENCE: (wailing, tears, gnashing of teeth)

MODERATOR: I know, friends, I know. It’s beyond horrible. For how many years has our beloved little country been a bastion of light amidst the cultural darkness of the mundanes — those nasty outsiders who have lives, and jobs, and families, and who haven’t been going to Worldcon (like it’s a religious duty) since they were teenagers?

AUDIENCE: Throw them out! Throw them out!!

MODERATOR: Yes, well, I think it has come to that, friends. Indeed. The Bad People™ have pushed us too far. Drastic times call for drastic measures. We must find a way to purge our Peoples Republic of Science Fiction of Badthinkness© perpetrated by Bad People™ who do not share our tolerant, inclusive values, which stand for never tolerating anyone who might be a Republican, a Tea Partier, a Baen fan, or a Wheel of Time reader.

AUDIENCE: (wild cheering)

MODERATOR: We will cast out the Unfans™ and their Unfannishness®!

AUDIENCE: (more wild cheering)

MODERATOR: We will make the Hugos a juried award, and end this hideous pox upon our beloved genre!

AUDIENCE: (titanic, wild cheering — with a few boos)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: *ahem*

MODERATOR: Oh, pardon me, our Guest of Honor would like to add a few words. Yes, please, the floor is yours, sir.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Back when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, the Hugos represented something special in this field. They were the yearly culmination of the collective Fannish spirit. Our communal celebration of what is best in this genre. We did this together — the many, come to unite as one.

AUDIENCE: (tepid applause, some straining forward in their seats, not quite sure where this is going)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Now, it’s all well and good to get rid of the Bad People™ because Lord knows I’m as sick of them as you all are.

AUDIENCE: (a spontaneous roar of agreement)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Our genre has never, ever been about Bad People™ nor should we ever be forced to tolerate the intolerant, who of course were never real Fans in the true meaning of Fannishness anyway, because we say so.

AUDIENCE: (collective orgasm of hearty ascent)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: But this has to be done very politic-like. Why do you think all the great Socialist reformers of the past hundred years, have always staged elections? It didn’t matter if they were at the pinnacle of a one-party system, and gave themselves titles like “President.” What mattered is that their subjects — excuse me, citizens — were able to vote. That is the basis of the Republic — allowing people to pretend that there is actual democracy happening.

AUDIENCE: (murmurs, a few shouts, some scattered golf claps)

MODERATOR: (coughs nervously) But, sir, how are we to preserve and protect our glorious accolades?

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: I know nobody included me in this conversation, but I am going to include myself anyway, because everybody knows it’s all about me, in the end — me, me, and me. In fact, the only reason the Bad People™ exist at all, is because they are out to get me. That’s why there’s trouble in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction. There are individuals who don’t like me, and have decided to get militant about it.

MODERATOR: (fawning over Shrimpy Famous-On-The-Internet Author) Well, please, by all means, have my chair! We would love to hear more.

AUDIENCE: (cheers, laughter)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: I agree one hundred percent with my lovely and esteemed colleague, who is wealthier and more famous than me, so I will suck up to him at every opportunity — just like I do with that rock star Sandman guy. We of the pure and true fold, don’t need to tolerate the intolerant. Diversity means ensuring that a rainbow spectrum of ethnicities, genders, and sexualities — who all vote the same in national politics, have the same ideas on economics, and also literary taste — are afforded the opportunity to come celebrate with us, this most wonderful thing we call Science Fiction and Fantasy.

AUDIENCE: (massive, outlandish, squeeing approval)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: But we have to be careful about how we go about ensuring that the Baen people, the FOX News viewers, the homophobes — did I tell you this hour how much I love and adore all gay people, for all time, everywhere? Because I, like, totally do! — and the transphobes, islamophobes, and other assorted Heinlein devotees, are kept out of the awards process. Do it too bluntly, and we risk sacrificing the public face of the field. We have to be sure we can say to the world — with straight faces — that Science Fiction and Fantasy is still a field that celebrates all ideas. Even though we want to make damned sure that SF/F’s power people and core literary prizes remain firmly on the side of the right ideas. Progressive ideas. For all definitions of Progressive which include, “Whatever Jon Stewart is being cute about this week.”

AUDIENCE: (murmuring wonderment at the great man’s epic intellect)

MODERATOR: (crying) My God, that was so beautiful . . . (reaches for tissue)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (steeples fingers) We’re kind of stating the obvious at this point. So, since we agree that we can’t be direct in addressing the problem of Bad People™ meddling in our business, what’s your proposal?

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: (clears throat) Actually, it’s not his proposal, it’s mine. Because when it comes right down to it, we all know you writers would sell your souls for the right offer; from my house specifically. I can make or break any of you, any time I want. Same goes for people like that chump moderator over there, licking the hand of the caterer who’s putting out the lavish spread of food and treats — a spread my company is of course paying for, because the best way to win the hearts and minds of Fandom, is to give them free shit. Anyway, you all will rubber stamp whatever I want, in the end — just like when we split the editor category — so I’ll have my wife draft something on our blog later in the week. We can assume it will pass with flying colors at the business meeting, right?

MODERATOR: (in between mouthfuls) Weeth willth maketh thure of it, thir! (grabs more food)

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Splendid. Just make sure to get that business meeting packed with our guys. Shouldn’t be hard. Nobody but Trufans gives a crap about the business meeting anyway. There won’t be enough Bad People™ there to override or overrule whatever we decide to adopt. Then we need to be doubly sure that we pack successive business meetings, to lock it in. We’re progressives, dammit. We know more about bending bureaucracy to our will, and instituting rules that suit our agenda, than anybody else! The Bad People™ think this genre is about having fun? HAH! Pathetic fools. This genre is about making sure people know who is in charge! That the right authors and the right publishers are rewarded for creating the right product that affirms the right politics and ideas! We’ll have those Bad People™ shut out very quickly. It won’t be hard. Most of them have jobs and lives that prevent them from focusing on this field full-time, like a proper Trufan should. They will get discouraged, and move on to other things.

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: But what about that one guy who, like, totally hates me personally? He’s not going to quit, and he actually has fans who do what he says!

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Which guy that hates you personally? They are legion. With more springing up all the time.

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: you know, he’s short, brags a lot, has a gargantuan ego, and thinks he’s the center of attention, even when he’s not.

MODERATOR: (stares)

AUDIENCE: (stares)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (stares)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: What?

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Look, are we about done here? I have more important things to do than come be on a panel in front of a bunch of little people. (begins to tap rapidly at cell phone . . .)

MODERATOR: (with chicken salad on his cheek and collar) Absolutely, no problem! Uhhh, we’ll just keep an eye on your wife’s blog. Whatever she sends out, we’ll make sure it’s all done up formal and everything, for the meeting. Perfect. That solves that.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frowning) I’m not sure, now that I am really thinking about it. I mean, obviously we have to do something. But what if we go too far? What if we end up excluding a bunch of people who shouldn’t be excluded? I mean, how do we tell for real who the Trufans are, versus the Bad People™? In the end, no genre award matters unless it has the blessing of our people. Make it too hard for them to nominate and vote, and we wind up driving them away too.

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: You’re familiar with Arnaud Amalric?

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Of course.

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Same thing here.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frown deepens)

MODERATOR: (quickly gets the roaming mic into his hands) Okay, well, this has been a rousing and illuminating session, friends. I just want to say again how proud I am to call all of you my comrades. The Peoples Republic of Science Fiction will not only survive this latest onslaught by Bad People™ engaging in Badthinkery®, it will thrive like never before. In fact, we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever! A purer, more correct Fandom! More inclusive of people who think and talk and act just like we do! Is that not a thing to cherish and celebrate? I tell you, friends, this is surely a golden age for us. The Bad People™ will be buried by history. As they always have been.

AUDIENCE: (wild applause, hooting and fist-pumping)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frown continues to deepen)

MODERATOR: For those interested in staying until the next panel, stick around. In five minutes we’re going to hear from four old white people — and, I am told, one angry not-white, possibly genderqueer person — about how Science Fiction and Fantasy have together been a Nazi literary hell-hole of racial, sexual, and gender oppression. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

AUDIENCE: (hoverounds begin to queue for the exit — it’s a big queue!)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Just so everybody knows, I love this next panel coming up. In fact, I am going to invite myself onto that panel too. Because I think we should all care about how privileged we all are, and how this privilege makes us bad. Well, except for me. I am awesome, because I just said that. Did everyone hear me say it? I said it. You back there, recording this on your phone? Post that shit to Twitter. Do it. Because I’m wonderful, and the world needs to know.

The Martian and Mad Max

Two spectacular movies were released in 2015. Both of them were set in the future. Both of them focused on a single man desperately trying to survive in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. One of these futures was depressingly bleak, populated with violent, deranged maniacs. The other future was incredibly positive, where human beings worked together, and put substantial amounts of hardware — not to mention astronauts — on another planet.

One of these futures would be a delight to live in — the conquering of the solar system, by a planet Earth which has somehow managed to overcome its problems, enough to reach for the stars.

The other future would be a literal hell — civilization has fallen, tribal war is the new normal, and human beings have regressed to a state of endlessly cruel barbarity.

Guess which future the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) voted as their favorite?

Now, anyone who knows anything about the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) shouldn’t be surprised — no, not even a little bit — that Mad Max: Fury Road was the top pick of SF/F’s so-called professional body, for professionals. The fans of Andy Weir’s book-to-movie hit The Martian gave it a valiant try, but SFWA isn’t about Hugo Gernsback’s “scientifiction” anymore, as much as SFWA is about soft science majors (lit and humanities degrees) using SF/F as a tool to critically examine and vivisect 21st century Western society.

Did I mention that The Martian had a world-wide take of $630 million dollars, while Mad Max took in just $378 million by comparison?

Clearly, audiences across the globe had a much greater preference for the science fiction movie that focused on actual science being employed in a setting where science — and mankind — are making miracles happen.

But the professional body of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers liked their bleak future better. The future where a despotic madman keeps women as breeding and food stock, while the young men all die very bloodily, and too early; before the lymphoma and blood cancers (from the nuclear fallout, naturally) can kill them slow.

I saw both films, and I liked both films a lot. As a huge fan of the second, original Mad Max installment — known to United States audiences as The Road Warrior — I put Fury Road second on my list (all time) of Mad Max movies. It wasn’t quite as good as Mad Max 2 (the title by which the world knows The Road Warrior) but it showed us just what kind of insane, pyrotechnic brilliance director George Miller is capable of producing, when equipped with modern technology, and a modern budget. Fury Road was everything The Road Warrior wanted to be, except The Road Warrior was shot on a virtual shoe string.

Nobody is really sure if Fury Road is supposed to be a reboot. A sequel seems likely — which may tell us more, about how the Fury Road universe meshes with the old movies. Will we see more of Furiosa? How about Nux? Because, frankly, the single largest flaw in Fury Road is that it is focused on both Max and Furiosa, while Nux had the fullest, most satisfying character arc. Both Max and Furiosa are largely the same people — at the end of the film — as they are at the beginning. Nux, meanwhile, did a complete 180. Naturally, Nux died. So his reappearance would seem problematic at best. But when has the death of a character ever stopped moviemakers from bringing him/her back for more?

I would have liked to see Furiosa sacrifice herself to save the Wives, with Nux returning to the Citadel. I think this would have worked much, much better, for both character arcs. But that’s just my back-seat writer talking.

The Martian is equally boggling, in terms of the visual grandeur being offered to the audience. Also, like Fury Road, this was a case of one of the trendsetting directors of the 1970s-1980s cusp period, coming back to gift us with some of his best work in a long, long time. But The Martian is a classic man-versus-nature story, with a single survivor of a space disaster working tirelessly — to the very limits of his mental, emotional, and physical endurance — to save his own life. Along the way, his comrades must overcome huge technical and bureaucratic hurdles, culminating in what essentially amounts to a crew mutiny, in order to return to Mars — and rescue Astronaut Watney.

The future Earth of Weir’s imagination, is as far from the future Earth of Miller’s imagination, as Mars is from Venus.

Of course, The Martian was every inch a Campbellian movie, while Fury Road was almost entirely New Wave.

Guess which aesthetic dominates and excites the imaginations of SF/F’s cognoscenti?

I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?

Now, I think there is a very strong argument to be made, for the fact that Campbellian vs. New Wave is merely the manifestation of a deeper problem — a field which no longer has a true center. The two “sides” in the discussion have been taking shots at each other since long before I was born. The enmity may be so ingrained — in the internal conversation of SF/F — that nothing can reverse it. Save, perhaps, the total explosion of the field proper. Like a puffball of dandelion seeds that’s been hit with a strong wind, the various sub and micro genres within SF/F may simply fly away into the bigger world of literature, sprouting up separately all across the spectrum, with no single colony being identifiable as the “source” or capitol of SF/F.

Lord knows that those New Wavers within SF/F who are covetous of “proper” literary recognition, acclaim, critical applause, etc., are perfectly happy to shed their “skiffy” skins when it suits them. They desperately want to have a seat at the literary grown-ups table, despite desiring to also keep a hand in with the snot-nosed propeller-heads at the kids’ table. It’s a cake-and-eat-it-too problem. Just look at some of the covers being put on “science fiction” books these days, and you can tell that there are a lot of SF/F authors, editors, and marketers, who wish very much that SF/F literature would look (and read) very differently, from the SF/F that helped make the field successful — as a broad-market force, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

My personal stance has always been, “To hell with the hoity-toities! Give me my space cruisers and galactic adventure, like that which fired my imagination in the beginning!” But this is a very passé attitude. Nobody wants nuts-and-bolts SF/F anymore, do they?

Do they??

Maybe those who avidly attended screenings of The Martian, know.

Clinton and Trump are Scylla and Charybdis

In 1992 — my first year voting in United States national elections — I was a Perot man. Unhappy with the choices and rhetoric put forth by the Republicans and Democrats, I was excited by the fact that there was somebody making a very strong push; as a third option. I watched Perot’s presentations, and also his performance during debates. I knew I wanted him to be the next President. He even got my Dad’s vote, and Dad was a very reliable Republican supporter.

Unfortunately, we simply wound up handing the White House to Bill Clinton.

In 2016, I am afraid the terrible two-party calculus, will again wind up handing the White House to a Clinton. The Trump supporters just don’t realize it yet.

Look, seriously, I get it. I get the frustration with the establishment. I get being tired of the endless lies, and being pandered to. I get that the Republicans are always betraying principle, for the phantasm of “electability.”

But Trump is not anti-establishment. He’s as establishment as they come, and he’s actually on Hillary’s side of the fence!

Oh, sure, he’s out there saying whatever he thinks he needs to say, to make you — reliable Republican — believe that he represents a true turn away from business-as-usual words-not-deeds soft-serve Republicanism. He’s the dude who is going to shake everything up, piss off all the right people, and get America back on track. Sounds great. And if Trump did not have a history, even I might be inclined to buy his schtick.

But Trump does have a history, and it’s the very history — of talking like a Democrat flunky, of donating money like a Democrat flunky — that convinced me Trump is not serious. He is, at best, trying to ego his way to the White House. Or, at worst, he is merely playing a role, so that Hillary Clinton is ensured an error-free path to the Presidency. Does that sound crazy? It makes perfect sense, if you believe that the Republican base is both gullible, and easily led astray.

This is a crucial moment, not just for the Republican party, but for American conservative and libertarian principles. For decades, we’ve labored under derision — from progressives, liberals, Democrats, etc. — that we’re a bunch of mouth-breathing goons. We will follow any damned fool to hell, so long as he tells us what he thinks we want to hear. Guess what? Putting Trump forth as the “anti-establishment candidate” pretty much tells the universe that the progressives, liberals, and Democrats, were all right about us. We are going to follow a damned fool who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.

If I am a lifer Democrat, liberal, or progressive, I am laughing my ass off right now. The ascension of Trump could very well mean the final end of the Reagan coalition legacy, and the consignment of the Republican party to permanent minor-player status. If I am a lifer Democrat, liberal, or progressive, I am rubbing my hands with glee. The “enemy” are happily destroying themselves, and destroying any ability they might have had to stand in the way of progressive policy-making — especially where erosion of basic liberties and financial independence is concerned.

So, the country will get one-party rule. Democrats, for the rest of my adult life. And the Democrats are putting Hillary and Bernie forward, as the shining beacons of progress. These are the poster children for our political future: a pathologically lying narcissist who only cares about herself, and a dippy old socialist who thinks economics can be turned Marxist without destroying the value of the dollar.

If that doesn’t make you weep for the future, I don’t know what will.

Because I don’t want to be a vassal. I am a citizen, dammit, and citizens shouldn’t let punks be in the White House.

Alas, punks are all we’re allowed to choose from in 2016.

Oh, sure, I know, it’s time to unfurl the Unicorn Cavalry flag, and put money down on Gary Johnson. But this will simply lock Clinton in, the same way Perot locked Clinton in, because far fewer Democrats detest Clinton, than Trump, and far more Democrats will gleefully consolidate under the Clinton flag, than Johnson’s flag. So the Unicorn vote is a protest vote only, and the Democrats don’t have to give a crap about protest votes. Hillary is going to be guaranteed her eight years in office, and the Republicans will be demoted to second-string status in both the House and the Senate — barring some unforeseen resurgence of a fresh crop of actual conservatives — so that sixteen combined years of Obama policies and Clinton (for the second time) policies, could result in America being a very, very different place; by the year 2024.

The truism goes: in a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

Looks like we’re gonna find out just how badly we deserve unchecked one-party domination in Washington D.C. Because even if by some strange turn of events, Trump does win — and he won’t — Trump is still a Democrat, far more than he’s a Republican. Far more. And even if a rebellious resurgence by a third party does make a dent, it will only be a dent. Just as Perot was merely a dent, and provided the perfect triangulation Bill Clinton needed to win in 1992. Because there are far more lifer Democrats who will always and forever vote Democrat, at all costs, than there are Republicans and independents who could rally to the Unicorn flag.

Like I said: Scylla, and Charybdis. The ship breaks up on the rocks, or gets sucked into the whirlpool.

It didn’t have to be this way. But decades of voter inattention and apathy, combined with over a century of money, power, and influence consolidation — by both the two big parties — have conspired to give us the absolute worst Presidential choices of this generation. Perhaps, even of several generations. We’ve faced poor choices before, sure. But right now, we’ve got a lying, self-absorbed narcissist with liberal tendencies on one side, and a lying, self-absorbed narcissist (also with liberal tendencies) on the other side.

And no, the American Republic is not bulletproof. I firmly believe that one-party domination (by the Democrats) will put the United States on track to becoming a super-sized version of Greece, or Venezuela. And these are the soft crash outcomes. I don’t even want to think about the (also very possible) hard crash outcomes.

If I disliked the two-party calculus when was just 18 years old, I now absolutely loathe that same two-party calculus. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have principles. They are simply interested in keeping themselves elected. And we — the voters — apparently can’t be bothered enough to take our national elections seriously. On the one hand, we have people eagerly rushing to become serfs on the one-party-rule Democrat plantation, and on the other hand we have people lining up behind bozo the clown, with an orange face, zero ethics, and a titanic ego.

I want to think God can see us through this. I suspect God’s simply sitting back and shaking His head, saying, “I warned you what would happen, and you didn’t believe me — have fun with your mess I told you you’d make, if you stopped paying attention to me.”