Are Hugo finalists suffering from affirmative action?

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Now that it looks like the cat is out of the bag on how WorldCon members feel about the Hugo finalists, maybe we can analyze what went on with the programming. For anyone who missed it, WorldCon staff sent out the following about finalists who weren’t included on the program: “There’s a generation of new Hugo finalists who are exciting to the nominators but completely unfamiliar to attendees.” Then I had a conversation with a WorldCon member who admitted she didn’t really read anything, but actually nominated and voted based on the authors’ minority status.

Because of the volume of material out there, I suspect this is a standard practice for WorldCon voters. You feel obligated, so you look through the lists of recommended works, check the biographies and pick out the writers who advertise the most minority status. This discharges your responsibility as a progressive, and then you can spend your time at the con enjoying activities and authors you really like. (In this case, that looked to be panels full of white men.)

The problem is, this leads to a reality gap. It means that various authors are being promoted by a literary award system based on who they are rather than the quality of their work. It also means that quality now means pretty much zilch in the award. Certainly as a faithful reviewer of Hugo finalists, I’ve noticed wide variance in the quality of works nominated (both by Puppies and “organic” WorldCon voters). So, do members ever get around to reading these books at all? Will they get bored and impatient if they have to listen to too much from those darn finalists? After all, they got voted in, right? What else do they want?

Meanwhile on the other side of the story, a group of authors thinks they’ve been recognized because people appreciate their work. They’re excited to go to the con and interact with their fans, and instead, they’re being brushed off into back rooms by the programming committee. This is disrespectful considering their status as finalists for a prestigious award—and they feel like their careers will suffer as a result.

So, are these finalists actually being harmed? Affirmative action has been around long enough for people to judge the results, and a few research studies have investigated both the short and long term affects. The conclusion is that affirmative action policies do generally work in increasing diversity within a population, but not always how you’d expect. For example, the most noticeable result is that affirmative action tends to strongly benefit white women. Meanwhile, minorities who are targeted by the worst discrimination, like black and Hispanic men, may actually lose ground.

Currently there’s some soul searching going on because of an Asian class-action suit against Harvard University alleging discrimination in admissions. This has brought up the topic of “mismatch,” a theory that suggests some minorities might actually be harmed by promotion into an environment where they don’t really have the skills to compete. This would be beginning authors, for example, who are nominated before they’ve really gotten control of their skills as a writer. This means people might lose respect for them, stop reading their work, etc. So, is this happening to minorities who win the Hugo?

So far, it doesn’t look that way, complaints from this year’s finalists notwithstanding. They still get the name recognition, and appealing winners have gone on to become poster children, nominated again and attractive for film and TV deals. For example, see recent winners Nnedi Okorafor, Nora Jemisin and Victor LaValle. There’s also at least a small bump in readership.

Maybe it’s a question of whether the ideas actually stand up?

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Identity politics bullies versus SFF Con management 2018

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At the end of July, WorldCon became another in the list of SFF conventions that experienced partisan conflict this year about programming, guests or treatment of guests. Special interest groups have apparently moved on from insisting on strict Codes of Conduct for the conventions to insisting on excluding certain guests and demanding particular programming as part of the same agenda. The complaints flying around are the same ones honed for use in the Code of Conduct campaign, words like “unsafe,” “disrespected” and “harassment.” These loaded words are apparently based on such ordinary things as fiction releases and errors in biographies. It seems mostly a problem on the progressive left, but after conservative author Jon Del Arroz didn’t get what he wanted from a kerfluffle at BayCon, he filed suit for defamation—an indication of how far people will go to get their way.

Most of this problem is just victim/identity politics, where people maneuver for advantage through bullying tactics. If you’re a minority and want recognition, then the best way to do it these days is to make noise about being victimized and disrespected and otherwise causing a stink. Progressives are trained to respond with abject apologies and to jump to make adjustments that give you what you want. Because the cons have limited resources and can’t afford massive disturbances and bad press, most have folded to demands. This has led to complaints from other groups harmed by the changes, such as conservatives or older writers. This must have been a particularly aggressive group of activist bullies at WorldCon. See Mary Robinette Kowal comments on trying to work with them. The only failure of this strategy so far seems to have been DragonCon, which ignored guest withdrawals and fired agitators from their positions on staff.

Whatever, WorldCon management busily tried to accommodate the complaints and save their reputation as progressive. There was quite a scramble going on in the last weeks before the con, where the staff completely tore apart the programming and started over. Sensitive guests withdrew to make room for minorities. Teams were called in to help. But, the truth is, they can’t satisfy the demands because it’s not just about appearing on a panel. The progressive ground has moved out from WorldCon members’ feet. An article in the Daily Dot actually classifies their standard demographic as “overlapping” with the Sad Puppies. Who would have thought?

Next, interesting questions about the Hugo voting that emerged in the crisis.

More on Virtue Signaling vs. Independent Thinking

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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

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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

BEST YOUNG ADULT / MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL (3 women, 4 men)
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?

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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?

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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.

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