Regular readers know that this blog has been nominated for a Hugo Award. This morning I saw a trackback in my WordPress stats to one voter’s critique of my writing. I fell into a “No Award” category based on my “weaker” political fare. An example of my “weaker” efforts was a Dec. 12, 2015, post that warned of “Shariah Police” legally patrolling the streets of Germany — and how Christianity differs from Islam. (I’m not sure how my thoughts on Shariah law have anything to do with The Amazing Spider-Man, but I digress.)
“Ernst’s more political/social commentary posts are much weaker but the guy is saddled with having to defend poorly thought out positions,’ the writer said. “Overall, a bit middling with high variability. There are many better writers out there but as there is a danger of political bias on my part leading me to undervalue the rest of his writing I strongly considered putting him above No Award. However, even the best of his writing just isn’t up to award-worthy.”
Here is my “poorly thought out position” from that post: Shariah Law is dangerous (e.g., it allows for the execution of gay people, domestic terrorism, etc.), and 2 million refugees from the Middle East and North Africa will pose significant security problems for German authorities in the years to come.
Let me ask my Magic 8 Ball if “political bias” was at play with that “No Award” vote.
Answer: “As I see it, yes.”
I’ve replied at his blog as follows:
Thanks for the link. Yes, I think that piece was weak writing because it lacked cohesion. You took it as read that it was outrageous that a German court would find that some religious extremists (specifically Islamic extremists) could dress up in hi-vis vests, call themselves “police” and hassle people. You asked rhetorically how people would have reacted if they had called themselves “Jesus police” – the odds are that would also be legal in Germany.
Dressing up and being an arsehole is largely not illegal – perhaps it should be but that isn’t an idea you examined.
What is notably different between your comics-review writing and your political writing is in the former you critically examine ideas and attempt to persuade, whereas in the political writing you take everything as axiomatic. Are their communities/groups of Christians who organise themselves and actively harass people? Sure. Do you think such groups are different from the “Shariah Police” group in your article? – obviously, you do, but rather than say why you just assert such groups don’t exist. Good writing anticipates counter-arguments and counter positions and it connects ideas logically and thematically. That piece didn’t.
Of course, that standard that I’m saying is award worthy isn’t easy. I certainly don’t write to that standard and lots of political things that I write just blithely assume that the people reading already agree with me. However, when considering the quality of a writer for an award it isn’t on the basis of “best polemic”.
A wider issue, that follows on from last year, is Puppy/Rabid nominees suddenly finding that people are discussing and critiquing their work and the nominee finding that variously either confronting, uncomfortable, aggressive, judged against seemingly unreasonable standards or just unwanted attention.
Yet it is part of the territory – picking what to vote for isn’t just picking out a treat from a box of chocolates but rather a process of considering the quality of the work. Ernst asks what his thoughts on Shariah Law have to do with The Amazing Spiderman, but that is a question he has to answer not the reader. If (as I do) you mix different strands of opinion together on a single blog then you are presenting a common voice. If you want different strands of writing to be seen as more distinct then you need to separate them – which has its own disadvantages.
There are further replies but I’ll just partly quote this one:
On top of that, I’m not writing a grad school dissertation. I don’t have to present all sides of every issue — precisely because guys like you are open to challenge me any day of the week. In fact, I encourage it.
And that is fair enough as far as it goes. Should every blog post that anybody writes be brilliantly argued? Of course not – people would end up just not writing. That is not a standard I’d ever follow for myself but then I’M NOT ASKING PEOPLE TO JUDGE WHETHER THIS WAS THE BEST FAN WRITING OF THE YEAR*. Writing to a Hugo Award-winning standard should be HARD and either done to a consistent standard or the exceptional bits need to be truly stand-out, exceptionally good/important/innovative etc.
*[It isn’t IMHO 🙂 ]