How Political Was Sad Puppies 3?

Over at Mad Genius, Dr Mauser has a sensible comment here http://madgeniusclub.com/2015/11/05/that-moment-when/#comment-68029

Well, one bit of fact and history that needs to be discussed, based on my quick reading of the article before I left for work today is that you were mixing up Sad Puppies campaigns, citing SP2, to refute the claim about SP3 being apolitical. The thing is, yes, SP2, run by Larry, WAS political. THAT campaign was to prove a point that Conservatives were deliberately campaigned against (Larry said there was bias, they said “That’s just because conservatives don’t get on the ballot. Get some there, and we’ll see how they do.” Larry: “Challenge Accepted” Faans: “Die die die! No award!”. Larry: “I win.”) SP3 was run by Brad, and he wanted to run works that should have been nominated, but wouldn’t have been by the CHORFs, and it was politically, culturally, and otherwise diverse, and would have been great if Vox hadn’t come along and muddied the waters.

The two campaigns really were apples and oranges, but the results were the same, Kate’s version promises to be a Pomegranate, and I imagine they will still try to kill it with fire. (Although actually, I haven’t heard a lot of noise about it this year compared to the previous two).

There is a lot to unpack there and some good challenges to critics of the Puppy campaigns. In particular:

  • To what extent should we distinguish between each of the iterations of the Sad Puppy campaigns and to what extent can we discuss them collectively and generalize based on all of them together?
  • To what extent, and at what stages, was the Sad Puppy 3 campaign overtly political?
  • Is Dr Mauser’s characterization of Sad Puppy 2 campaign correct?

To what extent should we distinguish between each of the iterations of the Sad Puppy campaigns and to what extent can we discuss them collectively and generalize based on all of them together?

This is an important point. It is wrong to imagine that any of the Sad Puppy campaigns have had a clear set of aims and objectives that together form a sustained campaign based on some identified core principles. Consequently it is wrong to assume that because something was true of one Sad Puppy campaign that is necessarily true of the next. Larry’s original plan (which gradually had the name Sad Puppies attached to semi-ironically) was different from his overt Sad Puppies 2. The third version was Brad Torgersen’s approach and hence was different again in terms strategy and in terms of the different personalities of Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen. Sad Puppies 4 will be different again.

However, the environment in which each Sad Puppy campaign has evolved is relevant to each of them. As Dr Mauser relates the reaction (or the perceived reaction) to the Sad Puppy campaigns was part of that environment. Nor was Brad Torgersen some random stranger who just so happened to be running a Hugo nomination campaign that coincidentally used a similar name. Sad Puppies 3 developed in a community of people who (based on blog posts and comments) saw the conflicts in the Hugo Awards and the past Puppy campaigns as a culture war.

I’ve mentioned before this from 2014 (during the SP2 period) at According to Hoyt which casts SF awards in terms of US culture wars:

But are the popular awards worth fighting for? I’m not sure our side has ever really tried, though there are indications that previous attempts to rally readers of non-in-group books were thwarted in ways that were against the rules of the game. And yet, to quote Heinlein, “Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you. If you don’t bet, you can’t win.”

I think the problem is that folks just really feel they have no possible conversation with the other side any more, that the battle for this part of the culture isn’t worth fighting. And I think again SF is mirroring the greater American culture. Our country is different because it, like science fiction fandom, was built around an idea—not geographic or linguistic accident, but an idea—we hold these truths to be self evident. And it is becoming more and more obvious that the two sides of American culture no longer share a frame of reference, no points of contact, no agreement on the meaning of the core ideas.

This was Baen Book’s publisher Toni Weisskopf, not an official ‘Puppy’ at all except in terms of being a nominee. So it really is fair to say that the notion of the Hugo Awards being a front in US culture wars is a notion that preceded Sad Puppies 3 and was ‘out there’ among the wider community in which Sad Puppies 3 evolved beyond people who we might call ‘core’ Puppies (i.e. people who publicly identified themselves as Puppy supporters) and was part of an evolving view of culture wars within Science Fiction.

So, I don’t think we should ignore the history of Sad Puppies as a campaign when considering the political dimension of Sad Puppies 3. Now note that this I am not trying to address here the ‘who started it’ question, just the question of whether we should be considering Sad Puppies 3 in isolation when considering its political dimension. Note also that I do believe there are other dimensions to this beyond the specifically ideological.

To what extent, and at what stages, was the Sad Puppy 3 campaign overtly political?

From the first announcement. I already raised this in my Open Letter post but I’ll repeat the most obvious example from Brad’s SP3 announcement:

https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/announcing-sad-puppies-3/
Brad claims it is about fighting affirmative action:

Likewise, we’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.

Brad claims it is about fighting the WorldCon zeitgeist:

So, SAD PUPPIES has tended to push back. Against the Worldcon fandom zeitgeist.

Brad claims it is about politics.

https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/how-you-can-aid-the-valiant-sad-puppies-3-campaign/
As noted in earlier SAD PUPPIES 3 posts, the point of the PUPPIES campaign 2015 is to try to get both people and works onto the ballot who are both a) wholly deserving and b) unlikely to ever be there, due to Worldcon’s ever-skewing and ever-more-politicized voting trends.

Now there is a potential counter-argument that Brad was trying to UNDO the politics of Worldcon i.e. depoliticize it. Well sort of – I think that Brad and some Puppies probably did sort of see that as a kind of rationalization. However, at best that counter-argument shows that Brad has a very confused notion of politics. He overtly defines his opponents in political terms and attempts to challenge from his own position – that is an inherently political fight. Now in theory it could be a fight that involves some very ‘broad-church’ politics, for example a whole bunch of people from very different ideologies banding together to reduce the political influence of a given group so that in the future things overall will be less political. That scenario would have still been a political one though.

The problem with that imagined scenario is no matter how much that may have been playing in Brad’s head it wasn’t how things were actually playing out. Proponents of the SP3 being apolitical idea are ignoring the extent to which the whole framework Brad was working within was overtly political. It was simply an adaptation of the standard trope on the US Right in US culture wars of the mainstream media bias due to entrenched left-wing elites but applied to the Hugo Awards. It is ‘apolitical’ in the sense that Fox News is ‘fair and balanced’ as in not at all.

Is Dr Mauser’s characterization of Sad Puppy 2 campaign correct?

The Puppy story of Sad Puppies 2 goes like this. After Sad Puppies 1, Larry Correia set out to prove that conservatives were actively campaigned against by running Sad Puppies 2 and when various people campaigned against Sad Puppies 2 this proved that he was correct. Ok, from a strictly methodological point of view what Larry Correia demonstrated was that if you put a lot of effort into it you can get people to campaign against conservatives by using slate voting tactics and including Vox Day on your slate. As the hypothesis was that in recent years some sort of undocumented anti-conservative campaigning had been going on, Correia’s experimental method left a lot to be desired.

In particular Hugo voters didn’t like:

  • Overt slates in the nomination process for reasons that have been hashed out and rehashed over and over.
  • Vox Day, whose views, it would be fair to say, a way out to the right of things rightish

Now onto the details. The claim is that the aim of Sad Puppies 2 was this test-case/experiment by Larry Correia. Is this how Larry portrayed it at the time or is this a post-hoc rationalization?

Here is the first SP2 announcement: http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/01/07/back-from-texas-and-now-it-is-sad-puppies-season-2/

Nothing to quote there as there is no indication that SP2 is qualitatively different from SP1.

Then next SP2 post from Larry (the one with the genuinely funny comic strip) is also silent on the notion of any experiment http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/01/14/sad-puppies-2-the-illustrated-edition/

Again – nothing that suggests that SP2 is inherently different in purpose than SP1.

OK, OK, sure Larry Correia doesn’t announce his plan at the START of SP2 because that would be giving the game away. The test-case/experiment plan is a cunning plan and not one that you can just announce to everybody. So to track this notion it is best to head to the end:

Hugo Aftermath Post

” My stated goals this entire time was to get some political untouchables onto their sainted slate, so that they would demonstrate that there was serious political bias in the awards.”

OK, so her Larry does say his goals was to demonstrate that there was serious political bias in the awards. However he has also said his STATED goals were that. I’m sure he probably has said things of some kind like that but in the general sense of the whole campaign both SP1 and SP2. In essence vague rhetoric is becoming more refined as specific plan. Larry’s version in the direct aftermath has more focus on the test-case/experiment notion than his announcements but it is still more vague than Dr Mauser’s recent characterization.

In conclusion. Hard to say. I don’t know what was going on in Larry’s head and what he intended. His words don’t disprove the test-case/experiment notion but it isn’t a slam-dunk proof either and that this notion appears to have crytsalized more during the various defeats of the Sad Puppies makes it feel more like a rationalization.

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3 thoughts on “How Political Was Sad Puppies 3?

  1. (Err, this comment escalated a bit, sorry for excessive rambling). I suppose we have to consider is that each campaign was about more than one thing, and the issues proliferated between campaigns. Politics was never the only thing, but it was always an element. I see SP2 as being about conservatism (mainly in the US sense) and anti-“literati” (as opposed to fun stories with guns and monsters).
    SP3 expanded with the increased influence of Brad compared to SP2, and to a lesser extent MGC members. Brad slightly changed the pro-conservatism to focus more on anti-affirmative action issues and the like (although between the campaigns you see e.g. Freer continuing the conservatism issue with his “red balls”), and the anti-literati element shifted slightly to emphasise the golden age being ignored, and books/covers complaints (influenced by MGC to some extent I feel). Tie-ins were Brad’s own particular obsession, and MGC brought in issues with indie v trad-pub. You then have the individual players with their own political beliefs, Hoyt and Wright being notable there, and Wright effectively bleeding some of VDs opinions in to the mix, especially the anti-Tor feud, so that as well as being about explicit poitial issues there was also a lot of framing in “culture war” terms and the like.
    Anyway, the point of that excessive ramblng is that it’s probably correct to call for some nuance about the different campaigns, as early themes evolve and overall get added to, but politics is a clear thread throughout.
    It’s not “apples and oranges”, perhaps its apple pie progressing to apple and blackcurrent, with a nice custard?

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    1. Good analysis. Part of the wider issue is that none of the campaigns were particularly self-aware about their objectives or viewpoints or particularly clear in expressing them. Added to that the wider Puppy movement had that element of a populist political campaign in which people with quite different movements see the campaign reflecting their own views even if collectively that would be contradictory (e.g. comments by some Puppies suggesting an anti-literary/pro-‘pulp’ aspect and John C Wright claiming that this was a false claim about the Puppy campaign)

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  2. I think there also needs to be some division made between the rhetoric and the execution. I’m unfamiliar to the same degree regarding SP1 & 2, but for 3,while there was a great deal of obfuscation thrown around (as you say, conservatism /self publishing / tie-in/ Tor /Baen etc etc,the execution came down to, IMO, some level of cronyism and favour-mongering

    Mind you, there was a lot of fellow travellers who happily jumped onto the it’s about ethics in gam – sorry I meant ethics in awards nomination bandwagon.

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