Are Conservatism and Progressivism inborn?

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Following up on my comments about Jon Del Arroz being discriminated against for his conservative politics (regardless that he’s a marginalized minority), here’s some interesting research about political views. Wait for it—these may be inborn. That means discrimination on the basis of political views may eventually be classified the same way as discriminating against individuals for other inborn traits like sexual orientation or skin color.

In recent years, researchers have started looking at what personality and emotional responses have to do with politics. In one study Kevin Smith et al. looked for emotional responses that they could use to identify conservatives and liberals. Conservatives, on the one hand, turned out to be more easily grossed out by pictures and tended to get emotional over people they disliked. Liberals, on the other hand, were less grossed out and tended to get more emotional over people they liked. Next, James Fowler et al. identified DRD4-7R, a variant of the gene that linked to novelty-seeking behavior as being linked to liberal views when combined with early socialization. Fowler made the point that political views can’t be tied to just one gene, but it does suggest how inborn personality can affect political viewpoints. Michele Vecchione et al. conducted a study in Italy that looked at people who voted conservative or liberal and classified them according to the “big five” personality traits. The results showed that people who rated high in the “openness” trait tended to vote liberal, while those so rated high in the “conscientiousness” trait tended to vote conservative. Another study of twins by John Alford et al. found that genetics clearly had a more significant influence on politics than socialization. Because people tend to marry spouses with similar political views, the researchers surmised, these traits tend to run very strongly in families.

Another interesting support for this viewpoint is the interpretation of personality tests. The DISC system, for example, breaks personalities down into four types: dominant, inspiring, supportive and cautious. People who lean to dominant and inspiring personality traits tend to be movers and shapers of change, while the supportive and cautious people, on the other hand, tend to be conservative, valuing security and stability. Besides this, the Myers Briggs test identifies 16 personality types, some of which actually include the descriptors “conservative” and “novelty seeking.” These personality types tend to be remarkably stable over time. They’re identifiable as early as kindergarten, and don’t change much after young-adulthood.

Enjoy classifying yourself through these links. As I recall, I tested out as a dominant and an INTJ.

Virtue Signaling vs. Independent Thinking

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On September 9, David Gerrold posted an interesting essay at the Amazing Stories website. Yeah, I know that was two months ago, but I running a little behind on my reading. What makes this interesting is that I can’t make out if it’s a warning, a complaint or an apology.

Gerrold’s title is “Humanity’s R&D Department: Science Fiction.” He starts off saying that the universe is a place of constant change and that SF is a way to investigate that. “This literature is the laboratory in which we consider the universe and our place in it,” he says. “It is the place where we ask, ‘Who are we and what is our purpose here? What does it mean to be a human being?’”

Because he’s talking about SF, I expected this would be about technology and how this impacts the human condition, but instead, he’s aiming at social issues and how it’s inevitable these concerns will be reflected in SF publishing. Then he gets to what’s really bothering him, which is the current traditional vs. progressive split in the SFF community. He calls out some people who have said things that were “ill-considered,” (apparently aiming at just the traditionalist side). He then moves into a parable about “throwing shit,” and what you should do if you’re standing next to a person who’s doing this. His answer is that you need to speak up about it because your reputation in the community is at stake. What he’s talking about is virtue signaling, where you separate yourself from the other side through criticisms, attacks and “me, too” statements that are socially prescribed.

This is now a requirement in the SFF community? That’s what he’s saying, right? So, what does he mean by this?

First possibility: A warning.
Does Gerrold mean that you’re in danger of being black-listed as an author if you don’t take sides? If you don’t clearly indicate your support for the current progressive direction of mainstream SF publishing? In this case, you don’t have to think about issues at all, you just announce your support and you’ll be fine.

Second possibility: A complaint.
Does Gerrold not like being forced to fight this battle? You have to remember that he’s been in the thick of the conflict, He was SWATted in 2015 by Lou Antonelli in response to the conflict about the Hugo Awards. Is he tired of being the figure-head for the progressive movement that crashes into things and takes all the damage?

Third possibility: An apology.
Is this explanation Gerrold’s apology to the traditionalists? Does it indicate that he feels forced into supporting the progressive movement and therefore has no choice other than to attack a lot of people who were probably his friends before this all got started?

In the current climate, I think all these possibilities are disturbing. It all comes back to that first possibility, where you’re required to say certain things and attack certain people because of social coercion. Where you don’t get to think first, or consider the issues, or look at arguments from the other side at all. Instead, you say the right things in support of the right people and you’re fine.

This is pretty much the definition of “groupthink.” According to Wikipedia, this is “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” In other words, the desire for conformity displaces independent thinking and criticism. Note the part about the dysfunctional outcome.

More on this later.

Review of “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright

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This story is the Rabid Puppies’ recommendation for the Hugo Best Short Story Award. It was published in the themed anthology God, Robot from Castalia House. The blurb calls it “a collection of intertwined stories from some of the best known names in superversive science fiction. Written in the tradition of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and edited by Anthony Marchetta, the book contains stories by John C. Wright, Steve Rzasa, Joshua Young, L. Jagi Lamplighter and others.” The theme is theobots, programmed to love both God and man.

A human and a theobot are in the midst of a questioning session within a glass box, high above the world. The woman is naked and beautiful and the man calls her a whorebot. He is a robopsychologist, tall and florid with a double chin and big belly, known for the number of robots he has maimed or destroyed by flaying. He questions her regarding the Three Laws and about her beliefs. He calls her answers inappropriate, beats her and then demands sex. She refuses. He orders her punished for her heresy.

Pros: John C. Wright is actually an awesome writer. The number of levels this story works on is pretty amazing. 1) It invokes the Inquisition, i.e. the uppity, beautiful woman accused as a witch and the powerful, degenerate man questioning her. 2) It pays homage to the Asimov robot stories, referring to the Three Laws and similar philosophical issues. 3) It outlines questions in the dialog that fall out from the current conflict between conservative and neo-left politics. 4) It’s pretty erotic. Wright doesn’t fall short on the character descriptions, and the BDSM elements are obvious.

Cons: Wright’s big fault is in overdoing his stories. He has a huge command of meaning and subtext, but more isn’t always better—this ends up being very dense and hard to digest. The story could have been improved by thinning it out some, and Wright could have written a couple of other stories (or a novel) instead to expand on the material. There was a twist ending, but it wasn’t hard to predict. I’m not sure if this was because of subtle foreshadowing or clues in the dialog. Regardless, I’m a little surprised that the story ended up being so cynical. Isn’t superversive SF supposed to be upbeat and affirming?

Three and a half stars.

Tribalism in the SFF community

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In 2015 Brad Torgersen wrote a an interesting piece about tribalism in the SFF community. According to Torgersen, much of what is taken for racism and sexism in the US is actually a form of cultural tribalism, where people from different cultural backgrounds distrust and disrespect one another because of their difference. He lists some fundamentally different groups as examples, including religious groups, regional groups, progressives and conservatives, and notes that even people who think they are the most open-minded often exhibit sharp limits, if not open hostility, which faced with opposing cultural viewpoints.

Torgersen goes on to discuss the current battle over the Hugos, noting that the organizers of WorldCon and the Hugo Awards are a very exclusive group of trufans who consider themselves the in-tribe of science fiction and fantasy. According to him, this explains the small size of the convention and the elitist title, which suggests its members represent all real SFF fans in the world. Torgersen’s explanation of the current situation is that the Sad Puppies represented a different tribal group which was seen as a threat to the convention culture by WorldCon insiders. Of course the situation deteriorated from there. This explanation makes me wonder what the small group of core WorldCon fans thought about opening up the membership to a broad swath of Internet “supporting memberships?” Doesn’t this dilute the trufan blood?

As a side note, Torgersen calls himself a perpetual out-tribe because of never fitting in anywhere. He may have written this blog in response to attacks on Twitter, where one poster called his African American wife and biracial child “racist shields.”

White Tribalism

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Another social trend highlighted by recent politics is the emergence of white tribalism. Here’s an article by David Marcus about how the current social/political climate has increased this development. Normally “whites” come from a polyglot of racial/ethnic backgrounds, from Nordic to Mediterranean to Slavic, all mixed together without maintaining any kind of identity as a single tribal unit. However, this lack of identity has recently shown signs of shifting. The key social trend Marcus identifies as leading to this change is political rhetoric that makes everyone the representative of their race. He thinks progressives are only accelerating this trend with a policy of insisting whites should confess their privilege and otherwise “own it.” According to Marcus, this does nobody any good, and instead leads to solidification of a white racial identity and greater entrenchment of white privilege.

In the run-up to the election, I had thought the extremes weren’t really Clinton vs. Trump, but Sanders vs. Trump. Hillary Clinton looked to be pretty moderate in the beginning, but shifted hard left to pick up Sanders’ supporters. You’d think that white tribalism would be something mostly found on the right, but here’s an article by Barrett Pitner that points to white tribalism among Sanders’ supporters who felt they were entitled to win (and have the benefits Sanders was promising) because of who they were. According to Pitner, both Trump and Sanders were mining white tribalism in their political rhetoric.

On the other side of this vision of whiteness, here’s an article by James Lawrence who thinks this kind of white tribalism is only a “flash in the pan” because people of European descent are basically moral universalists. He’s getting somewhat out of the realm of practicalities and into theology here, but I think he’s right that there has to be new middle ground in the current political split.

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.

Politics and Hugo Wins

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Before disappearing, I was involved in another interesting discussion at File 770. It’s pretty cold now, but I think it warrants at least a couple of blog posts. The debate was about what effect the political maneuvering related to the Sad/Rabid Puppies slates has had on who wins a Hugo Award and how people see the results.

The first point that stood out for me is that posters at File 770 seem to consider the nomination slates as a political move by the Sad/Rabid Puppies, but don’t consider countervotes like “No Award” as a political response. This is part of characterizing the Puppies as a loony, sexist, racist fringe who are only trying to sabotage the Hugo Award because they are angry about diversity, while everyone else is an “organic voter,” presumably focused only on the quality of the work. This isn’t only language used at File 770, but also on various other blog and analysis sites. It seems a curious idea to me that a counter to a political strategy isn’t itself a political strategy. Hm. Something’s wrong there.

In the wake of the recent election, it’s hard to miss the clash of ideologies that went on—Clinton veering hard left versus Trump channeling the alt-right. The interesting thing is that a day after the popular vote showed 47.7% for Clinton and 47.5% for Trump (with presumably some ballots not yet counted). To those on either the conservative or liberal side who think they are a majority, it just ain’t so. Also, the fact that the polls were so far wrong shows that shutting down the opposition can produce a surprise that comes back to bite you in the butt.

And how does that apply to the SFF community? If we accept that the clash of ideologies we’ve just seen in the US election is also playing out in other segments of society, it’s likely that the Sad/Rabid Puppies are representing a valid social/political argument in their complaints about SFF publishers and the SFF awards system. This is quite probably a response to extremism on the left, as described by the various manifestos put out by the Puppies. So what does that make the political reaction from the SFF community? Is it about shutting down the discussion with a club of moral censure? About refusing to listen to heartfelt concerns because they run counter to the reigning ideology?

Shouldn’t we be looking at that roughly 50/50 split that Clinton and Trump achieved in the electorate an applying it to the conflict within the SFF community? Wouldn’t it be helpful if the community were to move a little more toward the center?

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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