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?


More on Double Standards. Is it racism?


In the last blog I asked why Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Sunil Patel have been treated so differently after bad behavior within the SFF community. Under her persona as a lesbian Thai writer, Sriduangkaew has been promoted in various high profile magazines despite being exposed as a notorious online bully. On the other hand, Patel has recently been blacklisted by several publications because of complaint by women via Twitter that he engages in “manipulation, gaslighting, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment). So, why the difference? Is there an issue here? I checked around on the Internet for different opinions on the matter.

Here’s one from last fall where Billy D offers a fairly standard view that the Twitter charges are vague, non-specific and unsupported by any real evidence.

Here’s an interesting opinion by Natalie Luhrs. According to Luhrs, “…if Patel were a white man, I don’t believe the people he abused would be getting nearly the same degree of support from the community.” She goes on to give examples of white men who have been accused of similar behavior without much effect. She also notes that Patel has moved to position himself strongly within the community, but he’s actually just an up and coming editor/writer without much of network that would give him real power and influence to resist the charges.

These opinions are interspersed by announcements by publishers about cutting ties with Patel because of the complaints. These include Lightspeed, Book Smugglers, Alliteration Ink, Mothership Zeta and Around the World in 80 Books Blog, who pulled an interview with Patel.

No one has brought charges of sexual harassment, but clearly Patel is out of line in a major way. Luhrs thinks his behavior would be considered standard in a white man. So, is the problem here really that Patel is a dark-shinned man-of-color? No one has uttered the word “racism” in this discussion, but Luhrs’ comments about Patel’s status in the SFF community lend to this idea. In previous blogs, I’ve noted that men-of-color clearly have lower status than women-of-color. Patel is ambitious, and he’s probably following the standard formula as outlined by John Scalzi, which is “sucking up and punching down.” However, he’s missed the fact that this only works for men with “white” privilege. The result is a serious offense.

I’m not coming out in support of Patel’s behavior. However, he’s clearly being treated differently than Sriduangkaew–or, for example, YA author Greg Andree, who was accused of similar behavior but escaped unscathed.

So, is the issue racism, or not?

A Question about Double Standards


The Nebula nominations are closed now, so while they’re producing the list of finalists for review, I’ll talk about something else for a few days. First, a question seems to have arisen this week about whether racist Internet bullies and/or abusers should be forgiven even if it looks like they’ve reformed their ways, or whether they should be blacklisted in some way.

The pertinent issue right now is about Requires Hate, an Internet personality who spent years harassing and bullying writers under different screen names, especially young writers of color. Her different personas were eventually connected to her pen name for fiction, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Laura Mixon won a 2015 Hugo Award for an expose. Sriduangkaew, in her persona as a Thai lesbian writer, was by then a rising star published by a number of high-profile magazines and a nominee for the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I’ve had commenters on my blog assume that being exposed as a racist, homophobic bully ended Sriduangkaew’s writing career. However, it didn’t. The high-profile magazines continued to promote her stories, while she apparently continued her harassment behaviors. This issue came up last week when Apex Magazine included Sriduangkaew on a roundtable event. After complaints, editor Jason Sizemore issued an apology.

Contrast this with the recent treatment of writer Sunil Patel. After various complaints from women about “manipulation, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment), several publishers cut ties with Patel, dropping him out of scheduled publications. This happened even after he publicly apologized.

So, why the difference? Why does the community of editors (and presumably readers) ignore Sriduangkaew’s racist, homophobic transgressions and continued harassment of writers, while blacklisting Patel? Is there a double standard of some kind in work?

Review of “Girl in Blue Dress (1881)” by Sunil Patel

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This story was published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. It has 6 recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

A girl in a blue dress looks out from a painting. She has no name and people speculate on what she might have been to the artist. He promised to immortalize her. She posed for him and he captured her in the paints. Dissolving as he painted, she found her vantage had shifted to looking out. In the dark of night, she acts out her anger, kicking at his name.

This is flash fiction, very short. It’s a creative idea, and I wasn’t sure it was going to be speculative fiction until she got sucked up into the painting. It also has a nice symbolic feature in that the subjects of great paintings are often immortalized this way, even though their names are lost. After they’re gone, the painting is all that’s left of them. Again, because of the length, this story has little substance and no ideas other than this subtext.

Three and a half stars.

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