Virtue Signaling: Weaponizing the System


Recently I’ve been blogging about virtue signaling, which is publicly stating your opinions on moral issues in order to show your support. Social pressure to conform leads to “MeToo” reactions, and something worse called “groupthink.” In groupthink, no one really thinks critically about issues, but instead responds to the social pressures with knee-jerk, mindless reactions.

This makes virtue signaling a powerful tool in the political arena. In fact, the dependability of the reaction it provokes makes it easily weaponized. All you have to do right now to take someone down is to call them a racist or a sexual harasser. This trend has gotten so obvious in broader US politics that I can almost see powerful and manipulative Puppetmasters pulling the strings—a war back and forth—with attacks taking down Hollywood political donors, artists, senators, members of the press, anybody who influential and on the wrong side of issues. I’m sure these Puppetmasters are laughing all the while, as mindless groupthink lemmings attack one another, doing their work for them. Anybody who questions the process gets a dose of the same.

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were early casualties, and conspiracy theorists immediately speculated that Weinstein was payback. It’s pretty easy to dig up questionable actions over a man’s lifetime, but women are harder. Taylor Swift was attacked as a racist by someone claiming her songs contain white supremacist lyrics. Meryl Streep is currently under attack by anonymous posters that have appeared in Los Angeles, accusing her of knowing and keeping quiet about Weinstein—complicity, in other words. Morning-after remorse has produced calls for Al Franken to unresign, and led Tavis Smiley and Joe Scarborough to wonder publicly what’s behind the attacks. Meanwhile, the Trump administration deftly avoided accusations by taking down attorney Lisa Bloom.

Bringing the focus back to the SFF community, I think these same hazards have been working in the heavy polarization of relations. Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely important to call out people who are actually sexually abusive and racist, but because of the weaponizing, it’s gotten to be important to look critically at the accuracy of the claims and question what might be behind them.

The most obvious example is Vox Day, of course. Articles and comments consistently claim he’s anti-diversity, while a look at his publications and award nominations show clearly that he likes Chinese SF and promotes minorities. Another recent attack, of course, has been on Rocket Stack Rank as racist and sexist because of their dislike of non-standard pronouns. Wasn’t it at one time questionable to attack reviewers? Another example is last year’s attack on horror writer David Riley for holding conservative political views. Still another is the attack on editor Sunil Patel (see also here) for apparently being a jerk, while accusers couldn’t come up with anything more than vague claims about sexual harassment.

There may be questionable issues at work in all these cases, of course. Anyone has the right to feel affronted and to complain, but shouldn’t we be looking at things a little more rationally?


Asking for contradictory things?


I’m probably going to get into serious trouble with this post, as it touches on third/fourth wave feminism. Various people have urged me to address the topic before and I’ve just not gotten to it. Up front, let me say I’m a second wave feminist, and I have opinions that sometimes diverge sharply from the current platform.

Here’s the issue: A while back I watched a panel discussion on the Weinstein scandal, and I was struck with some contradictions. This show was Friday, Oct. 13, Third Rail with Ozy asks: Is sexual harassment inevitable in the workplace? Along with Colorado College Professor Tomi-Ann Roberts, the panel included three younger women.

Roberts related her personal experience with Weinstein as a 20-year-old and her subsequent decision that she wasn’t cut out for work in Hollywood. The panel then went on to define sexual harassment in the workplace to include compliments on appearance and beauty. Hm. Okay, second wave question here: Roberts looks professional. She’s got on a boxy jacket and restrained hair and makeup, but the other women look like they’ve spent hours on their appearance, plus a big chunk of change. They have on form-fitting clothing, heavy make-up and trendy hair styling. Why?

If we assume appearance is expression and therefore a type of speech, what are they saying? Are they trying to provide role models for young girls with self-esteem issues? To garner compliments from other women? To gain respect from the TV host? Or are they trying to meet a standard? What standard? Dare I say this is a beauty standard? So then, who sets it? Is that in itself sexist? I know the current feminist platform says that women need to be respected regardless of what they’re wearing, but why haven’t these women copied Roberts’ restrained, professional style? What is she saying versus what they’re saying?

Next, the panel reviewed Vice President’s Spence’s policy that sets strict rules about when he will be alone with women. The consensus was that this kind of rule limits access for women and is therefore discriminatory. Reasonable person question: How can you police comments by a particular person (or group of people) and then complain when they’re careful that someone else is always there to verify what they say to you?

I have another example of this that provides a flip test. A young woman recently wrote in to an online business advice column. Her boss was a woman who had been mentoring her, offering tips and extra training. The problem was that the boss called the young woman “hon.” The younger woman called her out for this, telling her it was patronizing and that she needed more respect. The boss complied, but the mentoring stopped. The young woman wanted to know how to re-establish that relationship. Any suggestions?

At this point, I’m not even going to attempt to address the Hollywood cesspool.

A pound of flesh: Mark Oshiro and con harassment policies

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I should probably keep out of this argument, as I don’t go to cons much. However, there looks to be a conflict going on between con management and their employees/guests related to harassment policies that deserves a mention.

A while back I featured Megan Frank and her complaints about Lou Antonelli that led to her resignation as a volunteer from Sasquan. She went on to publish the private emails of the committee, which I thought was a form of harassment. Now Mark Oshiro has published complaints about ConQuesT 46 on his Facebook page. This appears to be the new paradigm in dealing with complaints. When the offended individuals don’t get the results they want, they go public, exacting their pound of flesh by bad-mouthing the con and its management. That’s not to say their complaints are unfounded. It’s also not to say I wouldn’t do the same thing myself. In my previous blog on this, I recommended personal self-defense rather than expecting a committee to handle things for you. Still, there are issues.

The first issue is actual offenses. In this case Oshiro has identified a lot of stuff as harassment that looks like just typically rude and overbearing people at the con, but he does have two complaints that are serious. One of these is repeated, unwanted and unsolicited physical contact from another panelist, and the other is being treated as a second-class Guest of Honor by con management. When Oshiro filed complaints in accordance with the con’s policies, it became clear over several months that the committee was paralyzed, unable to act and hoping he would forget about the whole thing. This is wrong. When there have been actual infringements, then the committee needs to get off their butts and do something.

The other issue is why there was no action on Oshiro’s complaints. For one thing, he might have overreached, expecting the committee to censure people who are only being their rude, micro-aggressive selves. I haven’t seen the complaints, of course, but no amount of policy is going to reshape people into something they’re not. On the serious complaints, the question is whether the con’s policies are actually workable. I discussed the possible consequences of zero tolerance policies a while back. Here’s an example of the boondoggle. When there’s a zero tolerance policy and the con management is at fault, what are they going to do? Ban themselves?

Harassment committees need to have policies that allow discretion and intelligent, reasonable responses. Otherwise they’re going to end up useless.

The Offendedness Sweepstakes

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Edward Lear
Here’s more from Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s article called “The Coddling of the American Mind” in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic. You can find the full article here.

In the US there has been a several decades long trend to privilege complaints from victims of social injustice. Because the emotional well-being of anyone who considers themselves a victim is now close to being considered a “right,” it is nearly unacceptable to question the sincerity or reasonableness of anyone’s complaints, especially if they are related to a claim of minority status. Just claiming this status and saying “I’m offended” is generally enough to win the day.

This works quite well if there is a clear infringement. However, the clear superiority of offense as a weapon results in opposing groups using claims about emotional offense in the fight for social or political power. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, contributing editor at The Atlantic, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes” where each side tries to make their case for being the most offended, the most wronged and therefore the most in need of an apology.

Not only is this a social trend in the US, but it’s now something that is supported by law. For example, The DOE Office for Civil Rights used to require that speech be “objectively offensive” before it could be considered actionable. This meant that a “reasonable person” had to feel the speech went beyond mere expression that some other person found offensive. In 2013 the standard changed so speech only has to be “unwelcome” before it becomes grounds for a harassment claim. This is a subjective standard, and it means that emotional reasoning is now considered grounds for a legal action as admissible evidence.

Does the “offendedness sweepstakes” sound familiar? The SF community has just been through a demonstration of this with the Sad/Rabid Puppy battle against Tor Books and other persons possibly left of center. It’s hard to counter emotional reasoning with logic.

Protecting our youth

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If you read my review of Sarah Monette’s “The Goblin Emperor,” I commented on the warm, fuzzy feel and the way the book totally failed to recognize issues like discrimination and social disadvantage in any realistic way. This isn’t the first young adult novel I’ve read recently that does this. Plus, in the last blog I mentioned Lutgendorff’s negative reaction to fictional rape and violence against women situations. The plan seems to be creation an idealized environment where there really aren’t any real, serious problems in life. Issues like bullying, rape, racial discrimination, LGBT bashing, or sexual harassment are soft-pedaled so the readers don’t encounter anything that might be upsetting. Since I personally prefer insightful social commentary, I’m interested in what’s behind this trend. With a little research, I’ve found some clues.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have published an article called “The Coddling of the American Mind” in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic. You can find the article here.

Lukianoff and Haidt call our attention to the issues of micro-aggression and triggers which are currently of great concern in places like schools and college campuses. Micro-aggressions are actions or word choices that don’t have malicious intent, but still make someone uncomfortable. Trigger warnings are supposed to be issued by instructors like TV ratings to let students know when some element of study may have emotional content, such as mass shootings, racial violence, misogyny or domestic abuse. This viewpoint means that instructors can have Title IX complaints filed against them for just discussing issues like gender politics or rape law. It also means that someone is engaging in racial prejudice by asking a person of color “Where were you born?”

This is a matter of nit-picking speech to identify anything which might possibly in any stretch of the imagination be offensive to any person or group and calling it out. This follows up on past SJW efforts to address hate speech and biased language, shaming the users and calling for their ostracism from society. Going further, the new political correctness aims at protecting young people from any kind of offensive reality. It means that their emotional well-being is more important than recognition of the evils that exist in society. It means that words have a potential for violence and revelation that has to be strictly controlled. It’s a really weird trend when this shows up in SF and fantasy.

It’s an extensive article. More on this later.

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