Monday, April 13, 2015

Commentary: Challenging Comfortable Fictions, Part I

As you may have noticed, I've been following the recent Hugo kerfluffle very closely -- and to be quite frank, I'm getting mighty tired of the anti-Puppy leftists and their boring, repetitive "arguments." Consequently, I'll be running a series over the next few weeks that tackles their nonsense point by point. First up:

The Sad Puppies are just privileged white men pitching a tantrum over the imminent loss of their privilege.

Oh, really? Tell that to the Puppies who grew up in less-than-advantaged circumstances. Jason Cordova spent much of his childhood in a series of group homes. Larry Correia grew up on a dairy farm with an alcoholic mother and an illiterate father. Sarah Hoyt remembers her winter shoes being cut into sandals for the summer. For many, frugality and resourcefulness were (and are) necessary virtues, not matters of choice. And personally, I don't know any people on our side who were fortunate enough to, I don't know, attend one of the most expensive universities in the country. We had to settle for more affordable options.

What's more, many of us are quite shocked to discover that our vaginas are mere illusions. You think we're suffering from gender dysphoria?

There is such a thing as privilege, and it often flows just as the SJW's claim it does. But do these folks actually understand its mechanics -- or its complexities? I submit that they do not -- not entirely. For one thing, they oversimplify its origins. For an excellent primer, I recommend reading the following:

Yes, Privilege Exists, But Government Can't Fix It
Joy Pullmann, The Federalist

It may be true that the "system" has made it more difficult for certain groups to build the sort of cultural and financial inheritance that members of the U.S. majority enjoy -- but that hasn't made the hard work and sacrifices of individual members of said majority any less deserving of reward. Further - and this is something Pullmann does not address - the hurdles the "system" presents to members of certain classes are not always the fault of the right. Our troubled inner cities have been almost exclusively run by the left for decades, and the decline of marriage and social capital in certain communities has been accelerated by the logic of the sexual revolution boosted by the same. If we don't address these root causes honestly and with intellectual rigor - if instead we follow the SJW's preferred course and forcibly redistribute the riches of the so-called "privileged" - we will fail to cure the disease and foment a lot of chaos and resentment in the process.

And how does the above apply to the field of science fiction and fantasy? Well, just as injustices in the real world can often be laid at the feet of leftists, injustices in the fandom can often be similarly attributed. For example: If there's one privilege that white, "cis-het" male SFF authors enjoy, it's the privilege of writing whatever the hell they want without feeling the pressure to "represent." Authors of color like Sarah Hoyt, meanwhile, are chided by New York publishers if they don't write about their "heritage" and toe the party line. Is this the fault of the Sad Puppies campaign? Hardly. The belief that culture is inherited and not a choice is a tenet of SJW radicals, not their opponents.

But let's now take a larger view: As I recently observed:
Inequities in the fandom, I suspect, stem from inequities in the way we rear and educate our children. Writers are not born; they are bred. My parents tell me that I've always had an imagination and a natural talent for writing, but that talent would've wholly languished were it not for my "word-rich" childhood. In order to write, I had to read first to see how it could be done effectively -- and my parents were educated enough to encourage the habit. What's more, I had to attend strong schools at which I could learn the conventions of my native language and be exposed to literature that was not available in my father's personal library -- and here too, my parents' eternal vigilance ensured that I largely got exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, not all children are offered these same opportunities -- and that is where the true problem lies. If you want more minority authors in the fandom, take the long view: Catch good prospects when they're children and make damned sure they are not shortchanged by the lousy curricula and disciplinary chaos that disproportionately impact their communities via the dysfunctional urban public schools. Band together and create after-school tutoring clubs to build proficiency in reading and writing. Start writing groups for inner city kids. Drive around in a truck and pass out books to kids in culturally impoverished neighborhoods. Build literacy and cultural capital wherever they are absent or tragically insufficient.
In sum: Go from the ground up, and the impact will be lasting.
This path, of course, is much harder - and consequently less attractive to the internet activist - than simply demanding equity in our annual awards. It is, however, the only path that will lead to genuine and organic diversity in the fandom -- and the only path whose results will be permanent and universally lauded.

Of course, the other thing the typical SJW fails to understand is that privilege doesn't always cut in one direction. Privilege and power are multidimensional and dependent on the context -- a fact dramatically highlighted by the events of the past week. I've lost count of how many influential media outlets have parroted the SJW viewpoint - without making any attempt to contact Larry Correia or Brad Torgersen, mind - that the Sad Puppies are a racist, misogynistic outsider group intent on destroying the Hugo Awards. Some conservative media have attempted to respond, yes, but I ask again: Whose narrative is getting more mainstream exposure in the end? And what does that suggest in re: which faction really holds a position of power in the fandom as a whole?

Or, to put it another way: If Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen are the privileged participants in this controversy, why don't they have a direct line to Entertainment Weekly?

No: If you have the media in your corner, you don't get to claim that you are the downtrodden. You also don't get to claim that status if the folks on your side feel perfectly free to make politicized pronouncements in inappropriate contexts while the folks on our side bite their tongues. As Sarah Hoyt recently related, prominent left wing SFF authors see nothing wrong in using a con-provided platform to sing the praises of Howard Dean -- and fans of that bent see nothing wrong in insulting John Ringo to his face by insinuating that he is pro-slavery. You may think I'm kidding about that last part, but this happened at Dragon Con just a few years ago, and it caused one of my acquaintances to gafiate -- at least when it comes to volunteering for cons. Now think real hard: Why are these SJW's so confident and so brazen? Because they're in charge. They're not "speaking truth to power"; they are the power. They have control of the field's professional organization and the backing of big-name editors. We have -- the indies and a few Baen authors. Whoo.

Bottom line, when the left chides my friends for their supposed "privilege," I'm inclined to scoff. They may - may - benefit from certain advantages in other arenas, but in this particular fight? Nope. The radicals' Manichean categories simply do not reflect reality.

(Coming up next time: The question of "quality.")

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