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!”

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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.

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.

Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

It’s rhetorical pogrom season, in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction.

The 2016 Hugo award selection list (aka: final ballot) has been released, and we seem to be taking a trip down a familiar path. It’s Hatfields vs. McCoys, for yet another year. Or as one reader observed (last season) it’s just Campbellian vs. New Wave, for the umpteenth time. I’ve had several dozen e-mails cross my transom, all showing me what the “other side” is saying (behind both closed and open digital doors) and very little of it surprises me. The same personalities are involved. The same people are lobbying for the same result: NO AWARD for anything deemed to be part of Unfandom, so that Trufandom can rescue the Hugos from those nasty Unfans and their Unfannishness. Just gotta get Worldcon to Europe, so that rules changes can be cemented, and the Hugos will be even better insulated against Unfannery. Meanwhile, another bottle of vintage NO AWARD will be uncorked, to ensure that no rocketships are given to Unfannish types who aren’t properly bred and vetted.

I confess, the NO AWARD result (from 2015) was the only thing that truly surprised me, because not even I thought there would be enough resentful Trufans, all willing to cut the baby in half. But, not only was the baby cut in half, the ones wielding the blade cheered themselves doing the deed. They also handed out wooden CHORFholes, and thought that covering their wooden CHORFholes with a fig leaf of charity, would mask what was — beyond any shadow of a doubt — a complete and total dick move. Yeah, sorry, no. I realize that in the era of virtue-signalling slacktivism, charity is supposed to make dick moves bulletproof. But I am not sure that trick works anymore. That’s the problem with fig leaves: they cover so very little of the actual dickishness behind them.

But really, all of this has been talked to death in past iterations of the same conversation. Everyone knows its madness, and everyone also has an excuse. Everyone expects everyone else to admit wrong, and apologize, but everybody finds him or herself blameless. It’s not any single person that’s wrong with the Hugos, its the entire culture and concept of F/fandom (caps f, small f) that’s rotten. Oh, sure, there’s Scalzi and Beale, hammering away at each other with their egos, but that’s a bit like saying Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invented the present 2016 Presidential mess, when they did not. Hillary and The Donald — two utterly self-serving narcissists — are merely emblematic of a deeper, much more pervasive problem in American culture. We (the nation) have lost our touchstones. We no longer have unifying identifiers, just as F/fandom (caps f, and small f) no longer has unifying identifiers. There are merely circles on a giant Venn diagram, not all of which overlap. And where there is no overlap, there is no commonality. No place in which to reach consensus. There is simply the jostling and friction of competing paradigms.

Which is what the Hugo Wars (or whatever we end up calling them) are all about: the F/fandom (caps f, small f) has ultimately fractured beyond repair. And the Hugos — the former totem for all — has been similarly fractured.

None of this happened overnight. None of it was the invention of a single individual. Just as dysfunctional families do not invent themselves from whole cloth. While the favored son stares in shock as his n’er-do-well sibling sets the drapes on fire, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. The burning drapes are merely the dividend of a thousand slights. And the favored son has the ignorant nerve to act surprised.

Don’t be shocked, then, that the Hugos are in turmoil for another season. There is no longer any unified agreement, about what the Hugos are for. Just as there is no longer any unified agreement about what science fiction is for, much less which types and kinds of science fiction are “worthy” of recognition — above and beyond publication or sales. Similarly, the Oval Office is in doubt. What is it for? What good does it do? Who is qualified to sit in that Oval Office? Some people want to use that office to inflict themselves and their ideas on other people. Some expect the Oval Office to be a single-shot solution to all the universe’s problems. Others have given up entirely on placing any faith in the Oval Office, and openly despise whichever man or woman sits there.

One of my favorite authors of all time — a man of considerable accomplishment and pedigree — remarked to me that he hated winning a major science fiction award. Because winning brought out all the worst, in so many of the people this author formerly considered his colleagues.

Maybe it’s for the best, that the Hugos self-immolate? We (of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction) are evidently perfectly capable of manufacturing plenty of reasons to hate and despise each other. Do we really need another one? Especially with so many oily and competitive personalities involved? Catch the man who has fallen in love with his own mirror — with his self-perception of propriety — and you will typically find the worst sower of rancor. Because he doesn’t openly shout epithets at you across the length of the bar. He quietly poisons the well, with a thousand little shavings of rhetorical and emotional arsenic.

And the science fiction field has a surfeit of such individuals.

It’s enough to make any decent person GAFIAte, permanently. Especially since the emergence of the new Dragon Award, basically puts the Hugos into a place of permanent twilight.

Why I can’t be a socialist

I’ve tried (over time) to explain my opposition to socialism in these terms:

1) Socialism’s ultimate disregard for the dignity and rights of the individual.

2) Socialism’s ultimate disregard for the economics of human nature.

3) The inevitable suffering and misery that results from 1 and 2.

First, because the root philosophy of socialism is Marxist (ergo, redistribution and leveling across economic tiers) socialism requires an authority capable of bending the knees of the people to the will of the state. There is no form of national socialism which has ever existed without very powerful governmental authority, and a police force capable of backing up that authority. This authority (and that police force) tend to show little (historical) regard for the individual, because socialism is focused (in the ideal) on benefit to the aggregate, not the welfare of the single person. If you’re going to have socialism, you have to be able to make people with “too much” give up things, so that people with “too little” receive those same things. This incredible power—however well-intended in its origins—invariably attracts the worst kind of bloody-handed leadership: psychopaths, sociopaths, and zealous devotees of various forms of social engineering.

Second, socialism is forever battling against the gravity field of human nature. Ergo, socialism is a state-sponsored moral remedy for the natural “selfish” virtue that individuals are entitled to the fruits of their creativity, intelligence, and labor. This warping—group or state “management” of the creation and exchange of intellectual and physical product, not to mention currency—undermines and devalues the very labor which socialism claims to venerate. Men who discover they don’t have to work to keep their bellies full, usually don’t work. Men who discover that working 50 hours a week, gets them no further ahead than working zero hours a week, also don’t work. Societies which bankrupt the incentives to work, always collapse. Fewer and fewer people carry more and more of the burden, until the whole thing crumbles. It happened in Soviet Russia. It is happening in Greece and Venezuela.

Third, the combination of intrusive and coercive state authority, with social engineering and terrible-minded leadership, and the grinding-down of incentives, has resulted in an overwhelmingly documented record of human woe, unlike anything ever seen in history. These facts are not a matter of rhetorical flourish. The Holodomor. The killing fields of Cambodia. China’s Cultural Revolution. The desolation of North Korea and Cuba. The destruction of national economies. Gulags. Poverty. Hunger. Death. So much death. Death unending. The snuffing out of well over a hundred million human lives, during the 20th century alone. That’s nine figures to the left of the decimal, if you want to write the number on a piece of paper and look at it. Men. Women. Children. Starved. Beaten. Jailed. Tortured. Mutilated. Mass graves. Erased from history—because they were deemed to be “in the way” of progress.

Of course, America’s fresh crop of socialists don’t see it like that. Like almost all socialists, the dream of making Utopia is simply too irresistible to them. It doesn’t matter what happened before—nor what will happen again, because we forget history (and repeat history, on this subject) with soul-destroying regularity. America’s socialists have been told (often from the cradle up) that socialism is not only sustainable, but an unalloyed good. Anyone who objects is deemed obstructionist, or even outright dangerous—we are merely “in the way” of progress.

I fear that the United States is the proverbial frog in the kettle. We’ve been gradually adding components of socialism to our national fabric since the early half of the prior century. In 2016, we seem to want to throw caution to the wind, and give the state unbridled ability to “improve” our lives, by making our decisions for us. We have corrupt political parties who thrive on a bread-and-circuses model; for selection of governing personalities. Sooner or later, that gradually warming water is going to be brought to a boil—and cook us. There is nothing magical about the United States that will prevent all the horrors of the 20th century, from happening here too.

The state that “takes care of” you in the ways you desire, can also “take care of you” in a very permanent, very undesirable fashion as well.

I wish more of my countrymen understood this. Alas . . . socialism is the irresistible flame to which the well-meaning, ever-hopeful moths are eternally drawn.

I try to see a positive future. But it’s mighty tough these days.

Sad Puppies and the future

Many people have already seen George R. R. Martin’s optimistic (and well-intended) commentary at his LiveJournal. However, just as with George’s hood ornament Alfie awards (also well-intended) there is more than one way for a thing to be perceived. My perception — and I am not alone in this — of George’s desire for an end to the rancor, is that George still seems to think that a) the rancor was flowing almost entirely one-way, from the Puppies’ side to the Trufan side, and also b) none of the Puppies are themselves fans. Not Fans (caps f) and certainly not Trufans. No. Puppies are still an outsider bunch, who carry an outsider’s stigma.

There is also a bit too much parentalism in George’s tone: dear kids, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, now wipe those dirty looks off your faces and come give your mother a hug!

As long as that’s George’s take — and he’s certainly not alone in this — then attempts at reconciliation will be difficult at best. Because as long as Puppies are deemed to be subservient, second-class citizens within the field proper, the emotion that spawned Sad Puppies, will remain. I don’t know anybody who easily accepts being a second-class citizen in her own country. Especially not after certain people within George’s beloved community — including certain individuals at George’s own publisher — moved heaven and earth to slanderously and libelously smear all Puppies indiscriminately.

Also, consider the carpet-bombing of the Hugo awards in August. And the infamous wooden asterisks — the CHORFholes.

An analysis of the post-Hugo numbers identifies a 2,500-vote block of individuals who seemed to think the best way to annihilate the infamous forces of the Kurgan — Vox Day — was to accept Vox’s challenge to play chicken. Now, I warned everybody that chicken is the Kurgan’s favorite game. But that 2,500-vote block went ahead and played the game anyway, nuking five whole categories, and cheering themselves in the process. It was their finest moment. It was also precisely what Vox Day wanted them to do, because it gives Vox his pretext for further assaults on the Hugos in future years, while also radicalizing and alienating many people who wanted nothing to do with Vox, but who did want to see justice done at the Hugo awards proper.

And the CHORFholes? A straight-up dick move, covered by a fig leaf of charity. Sorry, there’s no excusing that one. The CHORFholes were a deliberate insult, done deliberately, and there is no way possible to put enough lipstick on that pig to make anyone who received the insult — loud and clear! — believe it was not an insult. I don’t think George knew about the CHORFholes. I suspect strongly that this was David Gerrold and some snickering Trufans, being too-cute-by-half. Only, it was ugly. About as ugly as watching the annihilation of the categories, by people who think burning down a thing, is the equivalent of saving or celebrating that thing.

Is anyone else struck by the fact that we’re living out a They Might Be Giants classic?

Now, I don’t hold George R. R. Martin responsible for David Gerrold, nor the people who worked together to conduct the CHORFhole, nor do I hold George responsible for the 2,500-vote block bombing. George is on record opposing the game of chicken with the Kurgan, and he said he hated the results of the block bombing, in the editor categories specifically. (Note: George, I think I can speak for every Sad Puppy when I state that warm-blooded human beings with souls hated what happened in the editor categories.) So I don’t think George has to answer for the burner-downers.

I’ll say it again, for emphasis: I do not hold George R. R. Martin responsible for the burner-downers.

I bring all of this up, however, to demonstrate — for George, and any other onlookers — that there have been some horrendously poor decisions made on his “side” of the fracas. And until or unless some accounting is made for these horrendously poor decisions, I can’t see attempts at reconciliation — with the Sad Puppies — producing much fruit. Because almost nobody on the Sad Puppies side has ever received anything like an apology that is worth a damn. Far from it. What Sad Puppies gets, is being blamed for Rabid Puppies, and being treated like the Rabids and the Sads are no different from each other. It’s Putin bombing the Syrian opposition, to get at ISIS. Putin doesn’t give a damn because Putin only cares about Assad, just as the 2,500-member block bombers and CHORFholers only cared about “defending” the Hugos — from people who have just as much right to participation, as anyone else who’s in this field.

Many Sad Puppies find Vox Day and the Rabids to be revolting. It didn’t save any of the Sad Puppies from being treated as synonymous with the Rabids — which is (again) exactly what Vox wanted. And, to be truthful, it’s what many CHORFs wanted too. As long as the CHORFs don’t have to reckon with Sad Puppies honestly — as long as Vox gives the CHORFs an excuse to be zealously hateful toward all things even remotely canine — the CHORFs will happily use that excuse, and hate with a clear conscience.

Knowing what I know about the personalities behind the CHORFholes and the block-bombing, they will never, ever regard any of it as a mistake, because for them, it’s been blood sport from day one. All is fair in love and war, and for the block-bombers and CHORFholers, this was absolutely a war. Before, it was a cold war — when they could treat the not-quite-good-enough-fans like shit, and nobody said or did much about it. Sad Puppies became an exercise in second-class citizenry demanding full participation and recognition, which caused the block-bombers — and the CHORFs, with their crybully accomplices — to launch not just a wide media slander campaign, but a deliberate destruction of the Hugos proper; in direct violation of their own stated principles. Remember how many people were so upset at Sad Puppies, because Sad Puppies was supposedly a block vote, and block votes are bad?

So, while I respect George’s sentiment — I truly do think his heart is in the right place — I think George still isn’t recognizing the full scope and nature of what’s gone on, and how what’s gone on has its roots in the deeper divisions which trace back through fandom and science fiction publishing for decades. This isn’t a fight that manifested from nothing. 2015 was all of that shit — years and years of it — boiling to the surface, and it was ugly, and a giant amount of that ugliness was on the Trufan side, and now that the block-bombers have given Vox Day his pretext for an all-out assault on the Hugos, I suspect what’s going to happen is that Vox will keep fucking with the Hugos — regardless of what anyone says or thinks — until Worldcon literally has to shut off the faucet. Make the Hugo a juried award, or at least cordoned off from direct public participation — voters being screened and vetted. Because it’s obvious (at this point) that the defenders of Hugo propriety do not want everyone being able to have a say. Too much of the “wrong” people, and the village will get burned down; so as to save the village.

I don’t know how bridges get built from here. Most of the CHORFs and the crybullies will hate Larry Correia and myself forever. I knew in April that for me specifically, there would never be any kind of going back. I was, and would forever be, an outlaw in the minds of the CHORFs and the crybullies. And since the CHORFs and crybullies occupy numerous seats of prestige and influence within the SF/F establishment, this would relegate me to the role of desperado — forever riding the fences. I can get away with it because, as I told one critic, my career path doesn’t depend on me bending my knee to the SF/F establishment. That’s a big reason why I knew I was a good pick for running Sad Puppies 3 in the first place.

But the future of Sad Puppies isn’t in my hands. It’s not mine to say.

I will, however, hypothesize.

I suspect that in order for a genuine mending to take place, between your average Sad Puppy, and the SF/F establishment, there would need to be several things.

1) A very public admission by the establishment that the NO AWARD bombing of the 2015 Hugos was a gross error.

2) A very public admission by the establishment that the CHORFholes were also a gross error.

3) A very public apology from the establishment, for the deliberate conflation of the Sads, with the Rabids.

4) A cessation of the endless game of shibboleths and street cred checks, on the part of Trufans, as conducted against everybody else (looks hard at Steve Davidson.)

Frankly, I think the chances are slim to none that any of this could come to pass. And while some Sad Puppies might be wooed by enticements and promises of amnesty — we saw this leverage playing out over the summer — most Sad Puppies are not in the mood. They are, if I put my finger to the wind, quietly determined. And this is not a hot thing. It’s the old, tired sentiment of a people too long ignored, spurned, neglected, overlooked, even mocked and derided, who played by the rules in full view of the arena — so as to have their place in the sun — and were shut out and shouted down, by an establishment that pretended (falsely) that it was the afflicted party in the whole affair.

Meanwhile, I fully expect the quiet manipulators of Hugos past, to double down on that manipulation. I suspect the behind-closed-door games are going to be hotter and heavier than ever before. Now that they know there is competition from a competent body of people. I also expect the crybullies will continue framing the Hugos as part of their larger culture war — the Hugos are exactly that at this point, no question — which means they will have to attack future iterations of Sad Puppies, regardless of who is running the store. (aside: can the crybullies bring themselves to admit that women are running Sad Puppies 4? That’s a bit like asking zealous Democrats to admit there are black Republicans.)

I suppose it’s always possible that people just mutter to themselves, reach a hand over the fence, and hope somebody takes it — sans joy buzzer. This would require a kind of across-the-aisle, deliberate amnesia. A mass forgetting: that what has happened, has not happened. There may be a few willing to do it. But my finger to the wind (again) tells me that the Sad Puppies are not in a mood for forgetting. On the contrary. There is memory here — like wormsign! — the likes of which even God has never seen.

A comment about Stolen Valor

So this piece of news has been floating through the military ethersphere. Stolen Valor has become a very hot topic over the past 15 years. It is a literal crime for someone to wear medals, tabs, or badges (s)he did not earn, just like it is a literal crime for civilians to impersonate military personnel. But we (in the various branches) read and hear about such cases all the time. And those cases generate a tremendous amount of anger.

As in all things, though, righteous passion can turn to zealotry. And zealotry can make even good men do stupid things.

The world is filled with poseurs. The world is also filled with people itching for an excuse to be assholes to other people, sans guilt.

My take?

Service records have been getting embellished since Alexander the Great. And probably before. Always, the ones who have done the most, tend to talk the least, and the ones who have done the least, tend to talk the most.

I have admired the military, and members of same, since I was a tot. One of the reasons I joined (after 9/11) was because I didn’t want to be sitting on the sidelines. I didn’t want to be one of the people who desires to know what the uniform feels like, but never put his hide on the line to earn one. I didn’t want to be that guy.

I also respond with the same answer any time anyone asks me what I do/did in the Army Reserve: paper pusher! (said with a smile and a laugh) I am fully aware of the fact I am on the dull end of the spear. I go out of my way to claim my cake-eating civilian-most-of-the-time status. Because the truth is, I like being a civilian most of the time.

And I like being able to stand up and do my little part in the giant machine, when called for. In this way, I don’t think I am any different from the original militiamen who left their farms to march with Washington, then went back to those farms when the marching was done. They weren’t soldiers for life. They were simply patriots when it counted.

And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be: a patriot, when it counted. No more, and no less.

I actually feel sorry for the guys (and it’s almost always men) who are so tied up in knots over their service records (or lack of same) that they have to embellish or lie. That’s a psychic wound that clearly cannot heal, and I believe it must be a miserable thing to stand in front of a mirror every day, chest pushing out medals you did not earn, or telling the world stories that aren’t true, knowing all along that you are a fraud.

Because ultimately, God knows it too. And that’s the man all Stolen Valor perps ultimately have to answer to.

What does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Two pieces crossed my desk this week, each of them tangentially connected to the other. Both of them discuss what I’d call the more unfortunate side-effects of adult fannishness. In the case of the one, the article-writer is essentially complaining that adults who were born in the 1970s and 1980s have so thoroughly coopted kid culture, that today’s kids are kinda getting squeezed out of the picture. Everything that used to be made explicitly for kids, has been all-growed-up and is now pitched to an explicitly adult market: video games, comic books, TV cartoons, etc. It’s a billion-dollar consumer party, and kids — anyone below the age of 16 — aren’t necessarily invited. The other article-writer engages in no small amount of self-praise because of the fact that he’s skipped paying bills and even skipped buying food, so that he has enough money to attend his favorite science fiction convention(s) — because you’re not a real fan until you’ve suffered and sacrificed for your street cred. It takes the maniacal dedication of an aesthete to make a fan (mundane) into a Fan (caps-f).

Now, I am the last guy in the world to jump up on the “You’re doing it wrong!” soap box. I generally say, hey, whatever floats your boat, it’s your life — you go ahead and live it.

But not paying bills? Not buying food?

I think 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 has something to say about all of this:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I’ve had enthusiasms all my life. Just about everybody does. Such as rooting for a favorite sports team. Or loving a favorite movie. I’ve also let some of those enthusiasms go, simply because I haven’t had the time — all-growed-up! — to keep pursuing them. Like scale model airplanes. From age 9 through age 16, my bedroom was festooned with replica fighters and bombers. In my late teens and early twenties, I switched over to scratchbuilding starships from the Star Trek universe. But even that hobby took a back seat, as the demands of being a responsible adult increased. Taking on two careers (civilian and military) followed by, eventually, three careers (batcave job: author) meant making choices about where to devote my time. And this was on top of having a marriage and a family to look after, including church responsibilities.

But at no time did I ever fool myself into thinking that a mere enthusiasm should take priority over real world commitments and necessities.

Look, everybody scripts her own existence. No one person’s life is ever going to be lived exactly like any other person’s life. This is the beauty of free agency. But being a free agent doesn’t mean having a free pass from adulthood. Paying the bills and putting meat’n’taters on the table are so basic, so completely fundamental, they shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. This is rudimentary maintenance stuff, like brushing and flossing. If you actually have to decide whether or not you’re going to buy groceries and pay your power bill, versus spending that money on a convention . . . I’m going to gently suggest that not only is this not noble, nor does it elevate you above others, you in fact may have a serious prioritization problem that goes way beyond the silly hubris of declaring yourself more-fannish-than-thou.

Meanwhile, I do think my generation (we’re crossing into middle-agedness now, oh noes!) and the generation after mine, have a legit problem with extended adolescence. All over social media lately, I see people joking, “I had to go out and adult today!” or “I can’t adult today, I just don’t have it in me,” Where adult is a verb meaning, “Doing the unpleasant chores of the real world, which all grown-ups have been forced to do since the beginning of time.” Which is really kind of sad, considering the fact that most first-worlders live lives of astounding convenience and luxury, compared to their great-grandparents. We live much longer, we generally don’t have to worry about diseases like polio, and many of us sit in comfortable chairs behind comfortable desks, only having to log eight hours a day, a mere five days a week. Yet we talk as if this is a nigh-unbearable burden — a psychically crushing and existentially soul-destroying purgatory. Because reality won’t let us follow our bliss every waking minute of every day, all week, every month, each year.

I suspect our generational clinging to the loves of our childhood — comics, video games, cartoons — is a coping mechanism. And coping mechanisms can be good, so long as “coping” does not become synonymous with avoidance in actual practice. Real life doesn’t go away. In fact, the more a man avoids real life — escaping into his enthusiasms — the larger the problems of real life loom. In past eras, men who couldn’t deal, typically descended into pointless violence, or crawled to the bottom of a bottle, or simply ran away; abandoning wives and children. In our era? Adults who can’t deal may find themselves utterly lost in an enthusiasm, such that real life is just an annoying distraction. The enthusiasm itself becomes a replacement for reality — a secondary, preferable world. Could be a MMORPG. Could be the convention circuit. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. When the thing becomes more important than fundamentals — paying bills, taking care of yourself, and also taking care of family — you might have a problem. Dare I even say, a serious problem?

Now, lest I be accused of being a fun-hater, I want to emphasize that I am not saying we should all dump our enthusiasms and live a completely hairshirt existence. But I believe there’s got to be balance. And I do think there are times when we — all-growed-up, in body if not in spirit — have to put away childish things. At least until we’ve successfully reckoned with real life to the extent that we can plop down in that mythic beanbag chair, pull out the video game controller, and enjoy some well-earned R-and-R; knowing that the bases have all been covered.

I also think we can afford to let some things remain kid-friendly. We don’t have to drag every single damned thing we loved when we were kids, forward into our disillusioned middle age, where the sunshine of youth gets clouded over by the grimdark of maturity. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Cartoon Network productions such as Regular Show, Adventure Time and Chowder so much, is because they work for my daughter as well as they do for myself and my spouse. The jokes, the situations, the references, all of it operates at two levels. Which, if you think about it, is also true for much of the classic animation of yore. Example: the Looney Tunes shorts were originally written and produced for adult theater-going audiences. Not Saturday morning cereal viewers.

Regardless of whatever sort of balance each of us strives to achieve, it’s important to remember that the total universe of enthusiasms is an egalitarian universe. You like football. I like basketball. Somebody else likes baseball. You like Skyrim. Your friend prefers World of Warcraft. I prefer my throwback video game from twenty years ago. You attend a lot of conventions. I attend a few conventions. Our mutual acquaintance attends none. And it’s all good. As long as people are taking care of the fundamentals — doing what needs to be done for house and home — I think it’s no-harm, no foul.

The problem is when things get out of balance. When an enthusiasm becomes an obsession. When we get so caught up in our formerly childhood passions, we take over the landscape and crowd out the real kids. When we begin to depend on others to take care of our fundamentals for us, so that we can remain distracted by the alternate world of our formerly healthy diversions. And — last, but not least — when we mistake our out-of-balance obsession for proof that we’re better than the merely “normal” people who’ve managed to successfully keep one foot planted in the real world, while also being actively engaged in the fun of their choice.

And yes, I know, you can’t say stuff like this without making somebody angry — that’s expected. This is the internet. You can’t talk like this, and not make somebody on the internet flamingly mad at you.

My answer to the angry folk?

Let’s go back to the question I first posed: what does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Both of them tell us to get a life.