More on Virtue Signaling vs. Independent Thinking


In the last blog about social issues, I commented on David Gerrold’s essay ”Humanity’s R&D Department: Science Fiction.” where he discusses the requirement to virtue signal in order to preserve your reputation in the SFF community. My response was that this prevents independent thinking, or even any kind of reasonable discussion about the current direction of the publishing community. I also mentioned that it was an example of “groupthink” where a desire for conformity leads to dysfunctional outcomes. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree about this, so let’s look at some examples:

  • Readers recently complained on the Tor website about K. Arsenault Rivera appropriating Asian culture in her recently published novel The Tiger’s Daughter. This fell into silence when some more perceptive individuals pointed out that Rivera isn’t white. I gather that means it’s an attack that should be reserved for white people.
  • Writer Jenny Trout led a child rape and racism campaign against Fionna Man for writing a fantasy novel titled Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. The campaign succeeded in getting the book removed from book shelves, but then it turned out that Man is an activist African American woman writing about her own cultural history.
  • Speaking about the results, author N.K. Jemisin complained about the 2013 SFWA election in her Guest of Honor speech at the convention Continuum in Australia, “Imagine if ten percent of this country’s population was busy making active efforts to take away not mere privileges,” she said, “not even dignity, but your most basic rights. Imagine if ten percent of the people you interacted with, on a daily basis, did not regard you as human.” This seems like a stretch as an attack on the SFWA, but other people piled on regardless.
  • Generally virtue signaling provokes an avalanche of “me, too” responses, some of which can turn into vicious attacks like the one against Fionna Man. This is where the conformity problem comes into play. Everyone knows they need to publicly express certain views (as Gerrold pointed out), so once an issue is suggested, they pile on the opportunity to show their conformity. This is regardless of whether they have put any thought into whether the attack is justified or what effect it might really have in the long term. Some people really don’t care.

    Last year there was an argument at File770 where posters discussed freedom of expression and how it should be used to dictate morality. Posters apparently supported the idea that it’s fine to attack people regardless of the accuracy of your claims because this publicizes you own views (virtue signaling) and also indicates what views should be considered morally wrong and unacceptable to the public. This also assumes any injury done by the attack is socially advantageous because it will intimidate others who might be tempted to express the “wrong” views. There was no concern about what kind of personal damage this does to individuals who are erroneously attacked.

    Meanwhile, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, says in his new book Principles: Life and Work that independent thinking is the most important principle for an “idea meritocracy” to rebuild our society in a better way. What should we do about that?


Dragon Award Ballot


I’m running a little behind on this, but here are the fiction finalists for the Dragon Award 2017, announced last week. Clearly this award runs on a different system than the usual SFF literary awards. For example, only Chambers, Liu and Jemisin also appear on the Hugo ballot, and only Jemisin appeared on the Nebula ballot.

Vox Day’s recommendations are marked in boldface. There’s already been a bit of a squabble, as Scalzi and Littlewood tried to withdraw but were refused by the awards committee.

Quick analysis: Gender diversity took a clear hit, with 46 of 58 being men (~80%). However, 5 of the works were co-authored by two men, which pushes up the count a little. Apparently 17 of 58 are racial minorities (~30%), and Hispanic/Portuguese/Native American scored much better here than on the Hugo or Nebula ballot with 7 of 58 (~10%). Apologies if I missed anyone.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL (1 woman, 7 men, 1 Asian)
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli
Rise by Brian Guthrie
Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier

BEST FANTASY NOVEL (INCLUDING PARANORMAL) (2 women, 6 men, 1 Asian, 1 Native American, 3 Hispanic/Portuguese, 1 Jewish)
A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Beast Master by Shayne Silvers
Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo
The Hearthstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta
Wings of Justice by Michael-Scott Earle

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Firebrand by A.J. Hartley
It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett
Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

BEST MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY NOVEL (1 woman, 9 men, 2 Hispanic/Portuguese)
Allies and Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy
Caine’s Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey
Invasion: Resistance by J.F. Holmes
Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox
Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Starship Liberator by B.V. Larson and David Van Dyke
The Span of Empire by Eric Flint and David Carrico

BEST ALTERNATE HISTORY NOVEL (2 women, 6 men, 1 Asian)
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught by Eric Flint
A Change in Crime by D.R. Perry
Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli
Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

BEST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (1 woman, 7 men, 1 black, 1 Arab, 3 Jewish)
A Place Outside the Wild by Daniel Humphreys
American War by Omar El Akkad
Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
ZK: Falling by J.F. Holmes

BEST HORROR NOVEL (2 women, 7 men, 1 black, 1 Hispanic/Portuguese)
A God in the Shed by J.F. Dubeau
Blood of Invidia by Tom Tinney and Morgen Batten
Donn’s Hill by Caryn Larrinaga
Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn
Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells
The Bleak December by Kevin G. Summers
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

Black male privilege

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Edward Lear
Here’s an interesting perspective. Since African Americans are one of the minorities that count, who would think any segment of the black population would experience privilege? Here’s the report, though, provided by sociologist L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy (2014) in Brittany C. Slatton & Kamesha Spates (eds) Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?: Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Black Men (p. 75). According to Lewis-McCoy, black men experience privilege. This seems contrary to common knowledge. Evidence shows that black men in the US typically experience the most discrimination in employment, relations with the police, early death, imprisonment, etc. So where does the privilege come from?

According to Lewis-McCoy, the very fact that there are only 83 men per 100 women in the black community leads to privilege, especially if these men are accomplished. This includes entertainers, sports figures, college graduates of all kinds, writers, doctors, artists and sociologists. Because of their relative rarity, these men experience a strong systemic privilege relative to other minorities, and especially to black women (though not to white men, of course). The obvious example in this case would be in affirmative action. Looking back at the previous blog, if we reserve affirmative action for the most oppressed minority, this is certainly black men, and according to Hugo award finalist David van Dyke’s very insightful comments on the last blog, this translates to advantage.

Additionally, all black men in the US experience privilege, according to Lewis-McCoy, when it comes to accountability. Expectations for black men are low because of high levels of discrimination, so everyone takes it as a matter of course when things go wrong, never looking at the underlying personal deficiencies. Everyone blames oppression instead. This leaves black men with an out as far as personal responsibility goes. Because it’s clear they can’t accomplish anything for themselves, their families or their community, many don’t try. Instead, according to Barbara Reynolds, a certain group engages in acting out as a form of protest, which they mistake for effective activism.

The other big privilege for accomplished black men that Lewis-McCoy identifies is in negotiating sex. You can read his article for more info on that.

Looking again at the SFF community, the conventional wisdom holds—I don’t see much privilege for black men here. Instead, they are hugely under-promoted. Sites like this generally only include black women writers. How did Samuel Delaney ever make it?


Gays no longer a minority?


Another group that apparently no longer qualifies for the diversity category is ordinary gay men. See one article here that explains how “white” gay men are no longer discriminated against. In this case the UK National Union of Students (NUS) wants to ban gay white men because they’re somehow responsible for discrimination within the organization. Referring back to the last couple of blogs, presumably “white” in this case means Caucasians, plus any other ethnic groups that have also achieved the privilege expected from whiteness. In other words, discrimination based on just gayness is no longer appropriate, and you have to be one of the counted minorities (black or Latino in the US) in addition to being gay, in order to be judged still a great diversity hire.

One clue to what’s going on is in David Kaufman’s article on the same subject here. He suggests that gayness has allowed underqualified white men to be promoted at the expense of women and minorities, and that “…diversity and inclusiveness policies must address the needs of those who’ve been excluded most…” So, looking at it this way, there’s only so much diversity space available and it needs to be reserved for particular, especially oppressed groups–not gay white men.

Considering the SFF community then, there’s only so much space available on those book pages. Does it need to be reserved for those particular minorities who have been most oppressed in the past?


Has the Hugo Turned into an Affirmative Action Award?


Another point that came up during the recent discussion at File 770 was how the Hugo Award winners are now regarded. There was commentary on this well before the 2016 awards cycle. For example, various bloggers have noted that the awards are increasingly dominated by women and minorities. In 2015 Brad Torgersen posted his  view of this trend, which is that the Hugos are being used as an “affirmative action award”. For anyone vague on what that means, affirmative action is defined as “an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination.” The fact that anyone sees it this way is another suggestion (see previous blog) that the award voting has become politically motivated. Of course, any reasonable exchange on the idea is impossible. As one poster at File 770 noted, it is “inherently racist” to discuss the results in this way.

This is not to suggest that the winning works are not deserving. The makeup of the SFF community has clearly changed over the more than a century that SFF has been recognized as a genre. This means that readers’ tastes have changed, as well. I tend to lean progressive, and I love the interesting and creative elements that diverse authors bring to the genre. I reviewed all the winners this year and pointed out deserving elements well before the awards were given (as well as undeserving ones). However, the political squabble tends to obscure the positives. For an idea of how the response to this year’s awards went, check this exchange on Twitter.

Because of the virulence of the politics, no one these days can be sure whether they’ve won a Hugo Award based on the quality of the works or because of the politics. It looks to be a damaging experience. The Twitter exchange is another example of Internet bullying of someone who had little to do with allocation of the awards. Regardless of the Hugo committee’s efforts, you have to admit the Puppies are now right about a taint in the awards system.

Note: Mike Glyer has asked me to note that discussions that take place at File 770 don’t necessarily represent his personal views.


Finalists for the Dragon Awards


While I’m looking at awards, here’s the new kid of the block. The Dragon Awards seems aimed to award fan favorites, and they’ve encouraged campaigning and fan initiatives in the nomination process. Although I understand the list below hasn’t been officially announced, it is out and about. So, we can have a look at the results and see 1) who’s popular and 2) who has a fan base that stepped up to nominate.

Clearly white men turned out to vote their taste on this one. Out of the forty-six nominees in the main fiction categories below, there are 12 women. That’s about 4 men for every woman that made the list of finalists. Of the forty-six, 4 were racial minorities (that I could identify). These include Larry Correia (Hispanic), N.K. Jemisin (African American) and R.R. Virdi (Asian). Jemisin is a finalist in two categories. Presumably this reflects the interests of attendees at DragonCon.

Interestingly, I’m seeing some different names in this list. If you normally watch just the Nebula Awards, the Locus Awards and the Hugo Awards, you get the idea that there is only a small group of people who are representing excellence in SF and fantasy fiction writing. However, looking at this group, you get the idea that these awards are only showing one side of the picture.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel (5 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Agent of the Imperium by Marc Miller
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Life Engineered by J-F Dubeau
Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwitheriing Realm by John C. Wright

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal) (6 men/1 woman – 3 racial minorities)

Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
Blood Hound by James Osiris Baldwin
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Grave Measures by R.R. Virdi
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel (4 men/4 women – 0 racial minorities)

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Trix and the Faerie Queen by Alethea Kontis
Updraft by Fran Wilde

4. Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Allies and Enemies: Fallen by Amy J. Murphy
Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson
Chains of Command by Marko Kloos
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber
The Price of Valor by Django Wexler
Wrath of an Angry God: A Military Space Opera by Gibson Michaels

5. Best Alternate History Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

1635: A Parcel of Rogues by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
1636: The Cardinal Virtues by Eric Flint & Walter H. Hunt
Bombs Away: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
Deadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry
Germanica by Robert Conroy
League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

6. Best Apocalyptic Novel (4 men/2 women – 1 racial minority

Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
Dark Age by Felix O. Hartmann
The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
A Time to Die by Mark Wandrey

7. Best Horror Novel (4 men/2 women – 0 racial minorities)

Alice by Christina Henry
Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Honor at Stake by Declan Finn
An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier


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.


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