The Sandifer-Day Debate: updated

Well, more of a discussion than a debate. I was going to start with a boxing metaphor but I know so little about boxing that it was never going to be sustainable. EIther way here is the background so that this post is intelligible in the future.

So a debate between two notable figures in the Puppy-conflict. The pod cast is here: and there is additional post-interview podcast here which is a bit more biting and yet light-hearted and has a talking cat in it (yay!).

[Update: a full transcript is now available here ]

El Sandifer: author of a notable blog that covers: posts on Game of Thrones; a long serialized history of the careers of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison called The Last War in Albion; a series of posts about 1990s Nintendo games; and, most famously, The Tardis Eruditorium – a historico-cultural look at Doctor Who in the context of the society that was watching it. Sandifer’s interest are the occult, Willliam Blake, popular culture and here is firmly of the left. She has written too major posts on the Sad/Rabid Puppy controversy: The Day Fandom Ended and the longer Guided By The Beauty of Their Weapons. Sandifer has advocated a blanket No Award in all categories for the 2015 Hugo Awards.

Vox Day/Theodore Beale: also an author of a notable blog as well as owner and chief editor of Catsalia House. Day (his name as an author) has made many controversial statements on his blog which pitches itself at a right wing audience and the most polite description I can give is “contrarian”.  Notable for saying things which appear to be him saying one thing but which contain interesting conditionals which imply he isn’t saying what he appears to be saying. Vox Day had previously been nominated for a Hugo in an earlier iteration of sad Puppies and in the current kerfuffle was the mind behind the Rabid Puppies campaign.

Notably Sandifer has been quite overt in her attacks on Vox Day’s politics. She has referred to the Rabid Puppy success at gaming the Hugo nominations as a “neofascist” takeover. Sandifer also believes, at least to some extent, in a ‘No Platform’ policy toward racists and fascists. Consequently a live discussion between outspoken rightist Day and outspoken leftist Sandifer sounds like a recipe for fireworks.

In reality any one expecting a brawl will come away disappointed. Instead the discussion was intelligent and civil with both parties. Both parties kept their cool and offered insights and perspectives on their viewpoints.

The structure of the discussion was around two books proposed by each speaker:

  • John C Wright’s Novella: One Bright Start to Guide Them. This is a Puppy nominated candidate for the Hugos this year and was edited and published by Vox Day.
  • Iain Bank’s breakthrough novel: The Wasp Factory. A disturbing work which introduced many of Bank’s recurring themes.

The chosen works gave an obvious advantage to El Sandifer. The Wasp Factory is a critically acclaimed classic and has been widely discussed for year. One Bright Star to Guide Them is a mess – a story with some good qualities but which is in dire need of strong editing. That put Day at a double disadvantage, this was a book with his fingerprints all over it.

Consequently the strongest parts are in the first half, in which Sandifer carefully tackles Day’s extreme rightwing views. At one point Day is clearly feeling cornered as Sandifer pressed him on the issue of obedience to ones superior. Day was increasingly sounding like he was desperately trying to endorse the core principles of theocratic fascism while distancing himself from sounding like a fascist. When Sandifer mentioned Cicero complaining about civilisation decline, Day saw his chance and jumped on the offensive. Day felt more confident on the topic of ancient Rome and it also proved a way for Day to change the subject.

The discussion on the occult in the first half and “magic systems” during the Wasp Factory section was additionally interesting. Neither Day nor Sandifer are people inclined towards scientism. Day has an oddly manichean view of Christianity that has Gnostic overtones while Sandifer has an occult view point and a deep and scholarly interest in William Blake’s own gnostic flavored mysticism. For people hoping for an epic battle of dueling wizards – this was the closest you were going to get.

Overall, Sandifer won on points – an outcome that was inevitable so long as she kept her cool when faced with Day’s usual tactics of provocation.

It is also worth considering what the debate told us about the Puppy campaign. Consider: can anybody imagine a similar discussion between El Sandifer and key characters from Sad Puppies? I find it hard to imagine Brad Torgersen would have worked as well and the result would have been Sandifer and Torgersen just talking past each other. The difference is Day is genuinely interested in Sandifer’s position – the other Puppies are not interested in either leftwing politics or deep literary criticism and may not even distinguish between the two. Day is interested, if only from a “know your enemy” viewpoint.

Should Sandifer have given Day a platform? I think Day’s stated views are sufficiently threatening that he is not somebody that I would want to visit a place I frequent to give a public speech. Whatever his actual inner-views maybe (i.e. regardless of whether he is mega-trolling or actually believes some of the stuff he says), his statements, I believe, will be attractive to a section of the population that are more likely to offer violence to women, LGBTI people or people of ethnicities they dislike. However a pod-cast isn’t a physical meeting and I don’t think Day’s more obnoxious views were any more greatly promoted by this than Day’s actual website or his Puppy antics.

I do note, however, the timing of this debate with the Irene Gallo controversy that seems to have been partly stage-managed (in terms of timing) by Vox Day. I wonder if he was partly motivated to have a storm on another topic blowing in case he came off badly in the discussion? In reality El Sandifer is far too nice a person to savage Day despite Day’s views. Aristotle identified goodness as an inner virtue acquired by practice – Day should learn from Sandifer in this regard,