What Political Campaigners Can Learn From The Sad & Rabid Puppies

…apart, of course, from “don’t be like them”…
For those who haven’t been following this on my blog, there are

two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.

I think the massive, massive unpopularity of these people may have something to teach us about political campaigning. Obviously this unpopularity is, in part, because they’re truly horrible people who do things like call for the murder of one of my friends because he has a different understanding of the word “mysticism” — the correct response to Phil Sandifer saying something you disagree with (which happens in my experience about once every three blog posts or so, as he’s no stranger to controversial statements) is to tut, maybe roll your eyes, and move on, not to say that it would be right and proper to murder him.

But even aside from them being horrible people, I think their strategy was doomed to unpopularity. The basic argument of the two Puppy slates is (paraphrased but, I think, keeping the sense — I’m trying to steelman them here, presenting the best possible version of their argument):

The Hugo awards are no longer fit for purpose. Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic. This material is *so* bad that there must be reasons other than its popularity for it to be successful. Therefore, it is the fault of “social justice warriors” (defined here as anyone to the left of, say, Dick Cheney) who, as we all know, are evil. They must be voting for those writers because they’re black or female or gay or otherwise “SJW”. The system is too broken to fight fairly, so to save the Hugos we must have a slate, and all vote the same way. Here are the best examples of the work we should be voting for — go forth and vote for them.

Now, this is in many ways the kind of narrative that has huge success in motivating people — hence the strong motivation of the two hundred or so people in the Puppy camp. It has a golden age in the past in which “people like us” were in charge and everything was good, but then the bad people did a bad thing, because they’re bad, and now everything is *their fault*, but the good people can fix everything. This is a traditional fascist narrative, but you can very easily change it to work for, say, Liberalism (if only that dastardly Labour party hadn’t usurped the true progressive voice…) or the Labour party (if only Thatcher hadn’t bribed those selfish bastards into voting for her…) or really insert your political organisation here.

But the problem is, this is a complex narrative (a rarity for the Puppies… thank you, I’ll be here all week, tip your waitress) made up of several separate controversial links, and unless you buy into *every one* of those links, the Puppy story fails and you’re no longer a Puppy.

Take me, for example. I could easily agree with the statement “Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic” — I’ve made many similar statements myself over the years (check my previous years’ Hugo posts if you don’t believe me), though I would disagree with the Puppies about what those traditional strengths are. A campaign that was *purely* about promoting “traditional SF” and raising awareness of it to get it onto ballots would be something I would at least look at sympathetically. I’d end up saying “No, not for me, thanks”, because what I want out of SF is closer to Greg Egan than Doc Smith, but I’d have gone away thinking “I hope those nice people do well with their campaign, at least it’d mean something different would be on the ballot.”

But at the point where you try to drag in the US-centric “culture war”, and argue for the right-wing side of it, you lose not only the “SJWs”, but basically anyone in the Western world outside the USA, because even the most barking right-winger in the UK would be considered a leftist by US culture war standards, and the UK is right-wing compared to most of the rest of the West.

Then there’s the claim that the Puppies’ work is the best of what’s out there — on a purely aesthetic ground, that claim is a nonsense, and I get very annoyed at people pushing clearly sub-par work.

So even if the Puppies hadn’t made an actual enemy of me by including among their membership white supremacist homophobes who advocate rape and murder, I would wish them to fail purely because of their promotion of poor work and their culture war agenda.

But then there are other people — right-wing Republicans who like the stories — who are also voting “No Award” above the Puppies because they’re angry that those works got on the ballot thanks to voting slates, which are against the spirit of the awards and break the unspoken agreement among fandom not to do that kind of thing.

I have to say that personally, that bit doesn’t annoy me too much. I mean, it annoys me a bit, because it’s cheating, but if they’d cheated and got a *really great* bunch of stories on there, I’d have had a sneaking admiration for it. I’d not have approved, mind, but I’d not have been that angry.

And this is the point I want to make — the Puppy position, as I summarised it above, has seven different controversial assumptions by my count, all of them taken as obvious statements of faith rather than actually substantiated. *Each of those assumptions is a reason for people to disagree* — and even if 80% of people agree with any one of the assumptions, that would make only 20% of people actually agree with *all* of them. And if you don’t agree with all of them, then the Puppy campaign falls apart (unless of course you don’t care about anything other than “sticking it to the SJWs”).

There’s an important lesson here. The Puppies are targeting the small number of people in the *intersection* of all their beliefs — ideological purists who don’t question any of their assumptions. The anti-Puppy “faction” is simply the union of all people who disagree with even one of their assumptions. And this might point a way forward for campaigning — rather than saying “these are our policy positions, if you agree with them, campaign for them”, allow a much greater disunity of messaging and of campaigning. Give seven *separate and independent* reasons for voting reform, for example, rather than a long chain of steps like “MPs don’t work hard enough, and AV would make MPs work harder, and MPs working harder would be a good thing” like the Yes campaign in 2011 or “Labour are too left wing. The Tories are too right-wing. Moderation is better” like the Lib Dem campaign this year…

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22 Responses to What Political Campaigners Can Learn From The Sad & Rabid Puppies

  1. Hollistic Tendancies says:

    But at the point where you try to drag in the US-centric “culture war”, and argue for the right-wing side of it, you lose not only the “SJWs”, but basically anyone in the Western world outside the USA

    This is, of course, not just because the U.S.’s politics are so dangerously skewed compared to the rest of the Western world, but also because the Puppies are the kind of Americans who are not just xenophobic or racist (though that would be sufficient to put the rest of the world off them) but who axiomatically believe the rest of the world is inferior to the U.S. — the “golden age” they’re hearkening back to is a very U.S.-centric one — and no one takes too kindly to being at the wrong end of that kind of unjustified egotism so of course the rest of the West is lost to their cause at that point.

  2. Pingback: The Day the World Turned Pupside Down 6/15 | File 770

  3. JK says:

    “So even if the Puppies hadn’t made an actual enemy of me by including among their membership white supremacist homophobes who advocate rape and murder, I would wish them to fail purely because of their promotion of poor work and their culture war agenda.”

    Well said! When all this started I had some sympathy with the Puppies. Whether or not it’s true, it certainly felt as if the disposition of the awards had fallen into the hands of a clique, and I do think there was an unpleasant whiff of entitlement coming from some of the SJWs.

    But to pack the slate with third rate derivative rubbish? Multiple nominations for John C Wright? He’s a bad writer in every sense: lazy, slovenly, bigoted, bombastic and utterly lacking in empathy. And he’s too stupid understand that even if he did by some ‘miracle’ win, his award would be worthless. (As you can probably guess, I’ve just finished dutifully wading my way through his part of the Hugo packet.)

    • MadProfessah says:

      The part that gets me is that they packed the ballot with multiple examples of the writing of Wright (and Kevin J Anderdon’s horrendous novel) and when the response of unsuspecting SFF fandom is “What just happened?” They say “Just read the nominated works and vote your conscience!”

      But when something has been put on an award ballot because of a slate of questionable provenance WHY should it be treated as if it got there through the regular process and treated as such? Can someone explain that to me?

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        It shouldn’t, of course. But I think the Puppies’ argument is that their process is legitimate — which it isn’t — and that if people just read these works “objectively” they’d see that they were great. The fact that Kevin Anderson and Jim Butcher — two authors who could most politely be described as “adequate”, and who have not given any sign of supporting the Puppies’ wider aims that I know of — are by far the best things on their slate says an awful lot about how delusional they are about the quality of their work.

  4. Mike Taylor says:

    Not that I disagree with any of your substantive points, but I do think your “steelman” would be much stronger (and so your argument would hold much higher ground) if you’d been able to avoid such unnecessary sideswipes as “… “social justice warriors” (defined here as anyone to the left of, say, Dick Cheney) who, as we all know, are evil.”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      But if I did that, it would have passed into active mischaracterisation of their beliefs. They consider John Scalzi, for example, to be a “leftist SJW”. Scalzi is a centrist by US standards, and has both donated money to and voted for Republican candidates. He describes himself as a “Rockefeller Republican” who votes Democrat at the national level because of the Republicans’ pandering to a hard-right base, and his expressed politics don’t seem that different to those of, say, Ken Clarke. If he’s a “leftist SJW”, then I don’t think it’s a mischaracterisation to say that anyone to the left of Cheney counts.
      Likewise, they really do hold it as an article of faith that “SJWs” have *as an explicit goal* the destruction of Western civilisation. Quoting John C Wright (who uses “SJW” and “socialist” interchangeably, and who is nominated for *six* Hugos by the Puppies, so we can take him as a fair representative):
      “This is the mere antithesis of a social justice warrior approach. They hate questions.
      Now, there is one exception that proves the rule: The socialist insists only on using skepticism to destroy the moral authority of the institutions he wishes to destroy (namely, Anglo-American Law, Greco-Roman philosophy and science, Judeochristian morals and theology, or, more briefly, the socialist wants to destroy monotheism, monogamy, marketplace).”

      I don’t think it’s a mischaracterisation of Wright to say that his argument is, simply, that “SJWs” are evil and want to destroy all that is good. These are not nuanced thinkers, and the belief that their opponents are evil (and that almost everyone is their opponent) is a crucial part of their thought.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        I suppose it all depends on whether you want your line or argument to be taken seriously by third parties who are not already persuaded to your position. I fear that as presently expressed, your supposed steelman is going to look very unfamiliar to anyone who is at all sympathetic with puppies of either flavour. I feel that your case is strong enough without exaggeration. (And it’s certainly exaggerating to suggest there is no left-right gap between Cheney and someone who votes Democrat.)

        The John C. Wright quote is really something, though.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          My point though is that I don’t believe, from reading the things they actually say, that I am exaggerating in the slightest. Scalzi votes Democrat *sometimes*, but also votes Republican sometimes and has donated money to Republican candidates — that would put him firmly in the USian centre, and make him a solid Conservative in the UK. Yet he is someone they characterise as an “extreme leftist SJW”.
          If the Puppies’ political spectrum has someone like Scalzi as the extreme left, they must also be characterising most of the Republican party as at least left, if not “extreme” left. Almost all the people they have called out as being left-wing extremists have been people who — even by US standards — are centrists or on the right of centre.
          I don’t think the Puppies would accept my description of them, because none of them will accept *any* description of them, because being tied down to a single point doesn’t allow them to evade any counter-argument — they won’t even accept their own self-description, and deny ever having said things when their own words are used to describe them. But I genuinely think that, without any exaggeration, any dispassionate observer who reads “Vox Day” or Wright’s writing (to take the two Puppies who are actually willing to give concrete examples of what they’re talking about, rather than just talking in vague unsupportable generalities) would put anyone to the left of Dick Cheney in the “SJW” camp — in fact those two might put Cheney himself there, given his expressed support for same-sex marriage and Wright’s belief that same-sex marriage is a literally Satanic conspiracy.
          (A chunk of his “argument” against same-sex marriage — “So, O Libertarians, we Christians find ourselves in a position where no compromise nor peaceful coexistence is possible because the Pervertarians, the Left, the Democrats, the Progressives, the Cultural Marxists, that amorphous blob of darkness that continually changes its name each time the public becomes of aware of who and what the name masks — they will not leave us in peace. For us to drop the sword of the magistrate now is not burying the hatchet; it is unilateral disarmament. The Sabbath-breakers and idol-worshiper are willing to leave us alone to worship and live our lives as we see fit. The Pervertarians, no matter what falsehoods they mouth, have abundantly proven by their actions that they will not.”
          Again, that’s Wright talking about *a position Cheney holds* and saying no compromise nor peaceful coexistence is possible with such Satanic leftism.)

          And this is the problem with the Puppies — any attempt to set down, plainly and simply, and with as much charity to them as is possible, what they believe, comes out looking like a ridiculous parody of the worst kind of B-movie villainy. I’d be very willing to substitute another description in place of “anyone to the left of Dick Cheney” if there were any other similar-length description that actually covered what they meant by “SJW”. And I think I’ve amply demonstrated here that they do consider the people they call “SJWs” evil…

          • Mike Taylor says:

            Perhaps the construction of a “steel horse” is intrinsically problematic. Maybe it’s better to leave groups to summarise their own positions, and then criticise them on what they explicitly stand behind.

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              The problem with that is that most of the Puppies very deliberately won’t stand behind even their own words from five minutes earlier. “Vox Day” and John Wright will, to their credit, at least make explicit statements about who their enemies are, but even they won’t say what they’re *for*, just what they’re against. What Torgerson is for *or* against is literally impossible to get from his public statements, apart from him being against “message fiction”, “SJWs”, “CHORFs”, “elitists”, “puppy-kickers” and “affirmative action”. He refuses to define any of these terms in ways that point to anything outside his own brain or which aren’t purely circular, and much of his messaging is in US culture-war dog-whistles.

      • gavinburrows says:

        ”they really do hold it as an article of faith that “SJWs” have *as an explicit goal* the destruction of Western civilisation.”

        Well to be fair we do all live together in a secret base inside an extinct volcano. Actually, while we’re on the subject, tonight its my turn to say “it’s all going to plan” and then laugh risibly.

        ”more briefly, the socialist wants to destroy monotheism, monogamy, marketplace”

        Okay, there they got me!

  5. Andrew Hickey says:

    Just a general note about my comment policy, since this has been picked up by File770, and so I’m getting a lot of people viewing this who don’t normally visit my blog:
    This is my space, not yours, and if you try commenting here using terms such as “sexual deviants”, for example, or defending a group whose leaders have, as mentioned above, have actually called for the murder of a friend of mine, then your comment will not be approved, and you will be blocked from commenting further in a way which means I won’t even see your comments, they’ll just go straight into the spam folder. Smear your shit all over your own blogs — I don’t want it on mine.

  6. Danny Sichel says:

    ” if they’d cheated and got a *really great* bunch of stories on there, I’d have had a sneaking admiration for it”

    If they’d got a really great bunch of stories on the ballot, would anyone have noticed that it had been done via cheating?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      If most of them had been from a small Finnish publisher that sells approximately nothing, and if sixty percent of the Best Novella ballot had been from one author, I think there’d be some suspicion.
      (Put it this way, I love most of what Obverse Books (the publisher who are going to put out my first novel soon) puts out. They have about the same level of output as Castalia, and I think relatively similar sales levels — I think they sell more, actually, but not a huge amount, as they’re generally a niche publisher. I honestly think that they put out a *lot* of Hugo-worthy work last year. But if next year the entire contents of all three short fiction categories on the ballot were made up either of stuff they’d published or stuff by the publisher’s friends, I’d email the publisher congratulating him on the deserved nominations, but also asking a few very pointed questions, and I suspect I’d not be alone.

  7. andrewrilstone says:

    Do we know if the Puppies believe specifically in the Cultural Marxism theory? (= Group of Marxist Jewish Intellectuals created ideas like Climate Change, Political Correctness and Health and Safety with the specific intention of destroying Western civilization?) Or is it just a term they are throwing out at people they don’t like?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think “Vox Day” has stated that, in so many words. I think most of the rest of them are just throwing the term around because it sounds vaguely insulting. Certainly Wright, for example, makes literally no distinction between “SJW”, “cultural Marxist”, “Democrat”, “socialist”, “liberal”, “progressive”. “leftist”, “satanist”, “occultist” and terms he makes up himself like “pervertarian”.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      (Torgerson and the more supposedly-moderate “Sad” Puppies, meanwhile, refuse to commit to any position whatsoever that has any correlates in the real world, and so prefer to attack undefined groups, usually named by other Puppyfascists, such as “CHORFs”, “GHHs”, “SJWs”, “Puppy-Kickers” and so on…)

      • gavinburrows says:

        I doubt you would want to be our resident puppy expert, but this is stuff I think you might know…

        Sketchy reading on the subject suggests to me that the Sads are the sort of right-winger who see themselves as apolitical, and everyone else not in their sorry little group as political. So its ‘normal’ to want a whole lot more SF in the tradition of a real or imagined Fifties, where men were real men, women knew their place and alien menaces bore a reassuring resemblance to ethnic minorities. And those who want there to be something new in new writing, of whatever kind, are not only being political but clearly engaged in a consipiracy together.

        The Rabids do have a clear and defined political ideology, but there’s actually only very few Rabids even by the standards of these things. Its just they’ve suceeded in manipulating the Sads into doing their bidding, until they’re the tail that’s wagging the dog.

        Do you think that sounds about right?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          The first part is right. The second part isn’t — the Rabids are, in fact, the larger of the two groups. The two slates were slightly different, and where they differed, the Rabid, not Sad, entries made the final ballot.
          The difference between the two groups is also a matter of PR, not of actuality. They’re doing a good cop-bad cop routine, and the decisions behind the Sad Puppy slate were made by a group who refer to themselves jokingly as the Evil League of Evil (no, I’m not joking myself), consisting if I recall correctly of Torgerson, “Day”, Larry Correia, and Sarah Hoyt (the Rabid slate was decided just by “Day”). Of those, Torgerson portrays himself as precisely the kind of person you describe, and Correia is similar but louder and angrier and more obsessed with guns. Hoyt, though, used to live in Portugal and is an unabashed defender of the Salazar regime ( see eg http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/11/15/what-comes-next/#comment-42161 ), and she’s definitely “Sad” rather than “Rabid”.
          Basically, they’re doing this: http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2014/10/15/the-perfect-crime/
          Those who refer to themselves as Sad rather than Rabid are a mixture of the type of person you talk about and outright fascists. The Rabids are a mixture of fascists and berserkers who don’t care about anything other than having an enemy.

          • Andrew Hickey says:

            Correction, the ELoE is Hoyt, “Day”, Correia, and John “I have never heard of a group of women descended on a lesbian couple and beating them to death with axhandles and tire-irons, but that is the instinctive reaction of men towards fags” Wright. Torgerson put his “Sad” slate together after consulting with them, and Correia described it as “what the Evil League of Evil authors came up with in discussion”

  8. Late to the party, but an alternate post with this title would just read “nothing they couldn’t learn from Saul Alinsky without having to look at anything by Vox Day.”

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