On petunias and whales: part 4

In a bit of a marathon, Part 3 looked at some of the political markers raised by Dave Freer post and looked at those markers compared with survey data in the US. I also discussed why caution had to be applied when thinking about authors as reflecting the US population as a whole. The short version is: US SF/F authors are not a random sample of the US population.

Dave listed a range of issue and his choices were apt in the sense that they do show marked difference between the 15% of Americans the Pew typology calls “Solid Liberal” and the 12% of Americans the Pew typology calls “Steadfast Conservatives”. What should be clear on the data, though is that only on some issues is there a smooth left-right transition. Indeed the only issue on which there was a neat match was gun rights. On same-sex marriage and affirmative action positive “left wing” views on the issue could be found in significant numbers to the right of the US center. The figure of Americans who lean “left” on both of those issues simultaneously has to be less than 60% because of arithmetic but given the correspondence between the issues it won’t be a lot less. Abortion was more complex because of a section of the left that tends to lean “right” on that issue.

The next stage of Dave’s argument was to start considering proportions of authors and here is were his 15% comes into play. Recall that he is using the issues he listed plus a notion of being outspoken to type authors by politics. I’ve already discussed that being outspoken is not something that we can make easy comparisons with between the population in general and authors because authors are by definition people who have publicly published at least some of their ideas (not necessarily political ideas).

In the case of Hugo eligible authors we also need to consider what kinds of issues are likely to coincide with their genre and views. Clearly in a field in which people invent characters, identity politics issues (including debates on gender, sexual identity, sexuality, ethnicity) will arise regardless of political position. Every author makes a choice about who their character will be and people will discuss those choices. Consequently even an author who see it as an apolitical choice to pick a standard white male character may be drawn into discussion about their choice. This part of the Puppy complaint about the current state of the genres. However it also reveals why being “outspoken” on these issues is not a good guide to the overall position of authors when compared to the general population. A baker doesn’t have to pick sides on the question of feminism when baking some bread; an author does not currently get that luxury. On questions of the economy or even on issues like abortion it is a lot easier for an author to keep their views to themselves.

Like it or not identity (sexual, gender, ethnicity) has been the nature of the battlegound in writing rather than economics.

War, foreign policy, guns do also engender discussion because they so often overlap with interests in the genre. However in these fields viewpoint determines content in a more neutral way. Both a pacifist and a war-hawk might write a war novel dealing with heroism and horrors of war. In Ancillary Justice the main character is trying to get hold of a forbidden gun but it is the gender pronouns that led to debate and the role of the gun tells us nothing about Ann Leckie’s views on gun control any more than Han Sol’s blaster tells us about George Lucas’s views.

So looking back at the pew data what can we conclude about Hugo eligible authors being outspoken on identity politics issues WITHOUT there being any inherent bias (either internal or external except for those biases we’ve already accounted for)?

Dave’s 15% is a MINIMUM i.e. the Solid Liberal typology. A reasonable upper range is close to 50% (using Gay Marriage as a marker). It is reasonable to assume that if Hugo eligible authors reflect the general US population then they are (p=0.54) likely to support gay marriage AND, because they are authors, probably have said so. Any additional external bias (level of education, Britishness etc) will push that higher. Further that view is like to be synchronized with other markers to do with identity politics (with the possible exception of abortion).

In his post Dave Freer said “Guys, you can argue about the figure, but essentially you’re splitting hairs. Take it down 0.00005, or up 0.4 (beyond that allows no undecided votes) – the outcome is the same.” Beyond 0.4 is quite plausible not for “Militant Leftist” but for outspoken on issues such as gay rights etc.

Time for another pause.

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