Diversity vs. Unity (Or what shall we do about the Puppies?)

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Tonight I heard a speaker who addressed the subject of the last few blogs. He said that one of the hardest issues facing any community of people in today’s climate is the tension between diversity and unity. If you lean too much toward emphasizing diversity, then unity suffers, and if you exclude people with the idea of increasing unity, then diversity suffers.

Because US culture is such a composite, it’s important to accommodate diversity. Otherwise, you end up with a very tiny small group of participants who all think the same way and all perform the same way, in a sort of group think lock-step stagnation. This might be comfortable, but it doesn’t produce much in the way of chaotic brilliant new ideas. However, if you have a lot of diversity, then you get a train wreck collision of philosophies. This results in damage sabotage impacts to the community’s literary awards, for example.

So what’s a conflict-riddled community to do? The speaker suggested that we all need to keep unity in mind when dealing with others in the community. This means respecting the other person’s dimwitted viewpoint and refraining from I’ll fix you! attack language. It means looking after your own self-interests, but keeping the other person’s value in mind, too.

Is the guy right? Will this really work for us?

Wrap of the Sad Puppies’ recommendations for Best Short Story

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So, I’m sorry I won’t be able to get to all the longer works before the nomination deadline comes up. I’m more impressed with these stories than the ones the Rabid Puppies listed. I already noted that these recommendations overlap with the Nebula nominees, which likely means the overlaps will have the best chance for a nomination and win. This includes “Damage” by David Levine, “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer, “Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker and “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong.

What stands out so far in the Sad Puppies’ recommendations is the philosophical bent. This may be an attempt by the Puppies to propose stories with more substance than last year. None of these are really killer stories, but I’m glad to see them featured. Maybe it will encourage a little more effort along this line. It would be a interesting strategy for the Puppies to pit a fully developed philosophical discussion against the kind of sentimental work that’s been winning the Hugo Awards for the last few years.

The head vs. the heart? Good effort on the recommendations, Sad Puppies.

Wrap of the postmulticultural, postblack moment

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55327_girl-writing_mdFinishing up the discussion.

So how do these trends I’ve been discussing translate to what we see happening in the SFF community? It’s kind of hard to sort out, but I’ll give it a try. Change is always uncomfortable, and mainly the recent confusion means is that we’re in the thick of it.

For one thing, there’s now a big difference in viewpoints between generations. The traditional minorities (women, people of color, LGBTQ) have all made great strides toward reaching equality of opportunity, often because of their own activism. Most magazines and anthologies now post a diversity statement and often make proactive efforts to include diverse voices. Young writers are happy to take advantage of these opportunities, but seem unaware of the activism that led to the inclusion. I’m seeing a number of articles lately from older writers and editors that note how the erasure of pioneer minority SFF leaves young minorities thinking they are the first generation to write SFF.

For another thing, bullying about political correctness is on the increase. One reason for this might be the recognition that multiculturalism as a policy only provided lip service to change and didn’t do enough to produce real opportunity. Possibly minority activists are increasing their efforts for change as they now feel the decline in support for diversity. Younger writers especially seem less tolerant of what they see as transgressions and likely to respond unfavorably.

As bullying has increased, so has the backlash. Because multiculturalism as a policy pits minorities against white men, they have in some cases suffered real injury to their reputation, opportunities and careers. This is made worse by political and generational differences. The sentiment in response has not been pretty. Cue the Hugo controversy.

Last, pressures are again on the increase for assimilation of minorities. One reason for this is the shift in public policy. Another influence, which I haven’t seen recognized in the quick research I did on this, is the leveling power of popular culture. Assimilation is a real force. Young minorities are now more likely to define themselves through popular culture than through their traditional cultures, which they may not find entirely comfortable.

All these opposing forces have led to a situation where the cultural mosaic is pretty sharp edged. What should we do about it? Well, multiculturalism did have its good points. We might consider white men and conservatives as minorities and respect their culture appropriately.

Review of “Daedelus” by Niall Burke

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This story is a Sad Puppy recommendation for Hugo Best Short Story. It was published in issue #6 of Holdfast Magazine.

Alistair has been sent to a secret facility to sabotage the city’s AI, which is out of control. The story reviews the history of the AI’s takeover of City Hall and discusses its reasoning and methods. Terrified, Alistair looks for a way to complete his mission and get out of the facility alive.

This is still another philosophical work. I’d classify this one as literary as well as philosophical, as it includes social commentary and a subtext. It depends heavily on exposition and is low on characterization, imagery, etc., but makes up for it in what it has to say. I’d give it a medium score for originality, as it’s not saying anything really new or striking. It runs a bit dark.

Three and a half stars.

How is postmulticulturalism changing US society?

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More on the ongoing discussion of social change.

There seem to be a number of changes appearing in US society that have built on past policies. First, minorities have had about 50 years to get used to promotion and concerns about their needs. Affirmative action wasn’t just a government policy, but has been embraced by progressives as a way to increase social justice, and in many cases, right the wrongs of the past. Although retrospective discussions of multiculturalism complain about lip service to diversity, minorities made real gains during this period.
Regardless of this, many young people seem to have lost touch with the movements that led to their current position in society. For example, white women have benefitted greatly from affirmative action and the second wave feminist agenda, but in a recent poll came out 67% against affirmative action policies. Clinton’s bid for the presidency also also lacks support from young women who take the idea of a strong female presidential candidate for granted.

In the same way, young African Americans have lost touch with Civil Rights Era activism. A recent spring break history quiz from Bill O’Reilly found that some young African Americans don’t even know what the Civil War was about. Native Americans managed to maintain their traditional ways through abuses of the assimilation era, but now they’re now losing their young people to the attractions of cell phones and social media.

In the midst of this, young people are also expressing strong concerns about safety and minority treatment, with mixed results. Although figures of authority are clearly feeling the pressures, it’s unlikely the demands will made headway. Student demonstrators at the University of Missouri, for example, found that their activism had immediate results in the resignation of the school president. However, it quickly became clear he was only a small wheel in the larger power structure. Once the state legislature stepped in, the school suffered budget cuts and faculty involved in the demonstrations lost their jobs.

In the face of these societal changes, many US residents continue to hold highly conservative views about values, politics and social change. Some of these voices are undoubtedly behind the wane of multiculturalism. As issues with national security have arisen, these conservative voices have grown stronger, increasing the calls for greater national safety in assimilation.

Review of “A Flat Affect” by Eric Flint

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This is a Sad Puppy recommendation for Best Short Story in the Hugo nominations. It’s published on the Baen website.

King Bertrand is bored, so he plans a grand festival where his favorite poet Garrick will perform. His chancellor Hubert Reece is dismayed by the costs, but knows the results of telling truth to power. Garrick arrives and performs in the new stadium built for the event. His forte is war epics, and he is loudly applauded by the troops. No ladies are seen to swoon. The king is satisfied for a while, but soon he wants to commission a new work, of the imagination this time, where foes from the future attack and have to be repelled. Garrick accepts the commission with the stipulation he will outline the epic and have a lesser bard do the work of actual composition and performance. Newcomer Fulchard is chosen for the execution, with conflicted results.

Although the Sad Puppies have announced they’re not into literary fiction, they do seem to be deep into philosophy this year. There’s a philosophical thread that runs through this story, along with allusions to the past and future. I’m not sure if the title is a grammatical error or not. The story was listed as “The Flat Effect,” but when I got the website, it definitely says “Affect” which would change the meaning. I’m thinking this is about the traditional vs. literary SF conflict in the SFF community, but there’s nothing I can pin down to verify this. Still, I’m sure it’s message fiction. I’m going to give it a few extra points for the subtlety.

Four stars.

The politics of postblackness

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The term “post-blackness” was coined by museum curator Thelma Golden and artist Glenn Ligon back in the 1990s to describe liberation through tossing off the burdens of race. This is about feeling constrained by the necessity to meet some definition of blackness and to represent the entire black race at every moment of time.

According to writer and journalist Touré, post-blackness questions the definition of “blackness” in the 21st century. There is currently a huge diversity among African Americans. The average genetic background includes large chunks of European and Native American as well as African DNA. Although older African Americans remember the Civil Rights struggle, many younger African Americans have grown up since, enjoying the benefits of improved opportunity. There is a black middle class in the US, and a wide range of accomplishment. Not only has Barack Obama been reelected as the first black president, but Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan have joined the ranks of US billionaires. However, when Zoe Saldena was recently chosen to star in a biopic about Nina Simone, she was attacked for not being “black enough.” Film distributor and BET founder Robert L. Johnson called the backlash “a relic of slave-era mentality.” He went on to say this wasn’t a matter of white racism, but of black against black.

It’s true that too many African Americans are still trapped in poverty and that too many young black men are in prison, but post-blackness frees individuals with talent and drive to go after opportunity and to succeed without feeling obligated by this kind of attack. Saldana replied to the bullying with a quote from Nina Simone, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me—No Fear… I mean really, no fear.”

Review of “… And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes” by Scott Alexander

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This is a Sad Puppy recommendation for Best Related Work, self-published by the author at his website Slate Star Codex.

Alexander discusses what would happen if there were pills that would give you the ability to read minds, shapeshift, teleport, excel at any activity, have super strength, make someone love you, control any machine and see into the future.

This is an excellent discussion, delving into the results that could accrue from any of these abilities. It’s light reading, humorous and ironic, and really hits home on a number of counts. I’m not sure this should be classified as a “related work.” It’s a philosophical discussion, but it presents fictional scenarios as reality and has a plot, which I think qualifies it as fiction. Whatever. Recommended reading.

Three and a half stars.

Discrimination against the Puppies?

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Given a few days to find themselves on the Sad/Rabid Puppies’ lists, people are now into arm-waving mode. The list seems to have struck some people as an honor, but others as a crisis. So what’s that all about?

I notice that some individuals who are in strong position for the Hugo nomination (or nice sales contracts) have taken offense. That suggests they think appearing on the Puppy list will reduce their chances of success, or maybe taint their triumph if they, for example, get an award. Other more modest people have announced they appreciate the support of fans, of whatever persuasion. Various bloggers have checked in with snarky comments.

Kate Paulk, who requested and collated recommendations to make up the Sad Puppies’ list, has dug in her heels, declaring that fans of the writers submitted their names, and she expects to honor their choices. Various people have followed up with more snarky comments.

So, is this crisis-mode response discrimination against the Puppy faction? Have their activities of previous years done enough damage to warrant this kind of reaction? Is Kate Paulk telling it straight?

Let’s look at it. The listing has more in common with other lists of recommendations than a slate. If lists of recommendations were a problem, then everybody should be in crisis mode. See Chaos Horizon for an analysis of the various lists and their effects on the awards. Therefore, publication of a simple list shouldn’t be a problem. Fans will vote how they want to vote, and I suspect the “honored to be recognized” response will play better than “you dimwits, get me off your list.”

But, is Kate Paulk telling it straight? I don’t quite think so. Unfortunately I’m not going to have time to read the whole list of recommendations before the award nominations are due, but I have worked through the short stories and some of the related works. I can’t speak for the novels, but much of what I’ve read are not neutral recommendations. If you’re keeping up with my reviews, these works are slanted to present the Puppies side of the recent conflict. That means they are written by SJW’s on the Puppy side.

Who’s right? I suspect the SFF community needs to consider the Puppies’ point of view. If you’re reading along on my social commentary, you’ll note that the 50-year era of multiculturalism has closed, and we are now entering a period where community is becoming more important. This means the actions of divisive activists will be less well received than in the past—on all sides. I know people like to fan the flames, but wouldn’t community building be time better spent?

The politics of postmulticulturalism

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More of the ongoing discussion on social trends.

By the end of the 20th century, multiculturalism was running into serious trouble. Not only did the policy fail to bring real change, but issues like genital mutilation, forced marriage and honor killings just didn’t fit into the culture of the West very well. Problems like these led to a re-inspection of the limits and effects of multiculturalism as a policy and a change to what experts are calling postmulticulturalism. This is anything but a well-defined movement, but it seems to involve a swing away from the mosaic and back toward establishing national cultural identities. Presumably this will de-emphasize the separate identities that minority groups have established over the last few decades and trend back toward encouraging assimilation into the larger culture. Variations on postmulticulturalism include cosmopolitanism, or the idea that all humans belong to the same community, and interculturalism, which emphasizes interaction and cultural exchange.

In effect, experts note that this new postmulticulturalism includes new takes on immigration policy, racism, religious freedom and gender politics. Specifically, immigrants are viewed as a threat to national security and cultural values, and discrimination is increasing toward POC, especially from the Muslim religious tradition. US presidential candidate Donald Trump, for example, has called for a complete ban on Muslim immigration. France has passed laws directed at preventing Muslim women from wearing full-face veils. An increase in fascist activities in the US has been heavily directed toward Muslims. Even the resolution of recent court cases has swung away from policies of inclusion and back toward compliance with cultural tradition, leaving minorities without any legal recourse.

So, multiculturalism has the advantage of drawing lines about what cultural practices are unacceptable within the larger society. However, there are heavy losses for some minorities under this policy. According to Dorota Gozdecka (2014), a “new racism” is about identifying those with “transgressive” cultural values and rejecting or marginalizing these individuals into a cultural ghetto.

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