A longish post on Debarkle history today. Too many elements for me to resist – in particular, an overlap between the nature of truth, belief, memory, knowledge and ethics. Also, can a genuinely held belief still be a lie?
One reason I decided to keep a timeline of quotes and events in the Puppy Debarkle was that I suspected that quite rapidly people would start distorting events – indeed it had already begun early in the conflict. I didn’t assume having a timeline would stop that process but I did think it would help me not add to the process. It is easy to confuse cause and effect around events that occur in close proximity and it is easy to conflate somebody saying something that IMPLIES X with that person directly saying X. Worse, such error compound themselves as people come to believe the revised version of what was said in a revised order in which it was said.
There are a few things I would still like to unravel and find the ‘real’ story for as a version still gets repeated in Puppy circles. Some though are lost for all time… [more after the fold]
A oft-discussed example is Larry Correia’s claim that a “European snob reviewer” or a “British blogger” (obviously those two aren’t exclusive) said either “If Larry Correia wins the Campbell, it will END WRITING FOREVER.” (here) or “if Larry Correia wins the Campbell it will end literature forever” (here) or “it will end literature forever” (here) (a hybrid version using ‘literature’ from the first version but in all caps like the first version appears in Vox Day’s SJWs Always Lie). Searches for these terms, in full or just from ‘it will…’, take you nowhere but Larry’s blog or people quoting Larry. He made no mention of the quote at the time it was alleged to be made and if it was ever said, it has long since vanished from the net. Nicholas Whyte has speculated that his review of the Campbell nominees in 2011 might be the source of Larry’s “quote”:
” To an extent the John W. Campbell Award is about the future of the genre; books like this take us way back to the past, with the incidentals slightly jazzed up for the twenty-first century, and I think it would be embarrassing for the genre if Correia won on the basis of this.”
I can see how Larry Correia may have misremembered this and quoted it incorrectly but even as a paraphrase rather than a direct quote there is a huge gulf between embarrassing for a genre to the END of either literature or writing. Perhaps somebody, somewhere actually did use one of those phrases, perhaps TWO people did (one a European snob and the other a British blogger)? Who knows. Hyperbole and misremembering by Larry is a far, far more likely explanation.
Hyperbole can be fun of course (TREMENDOUS fun) and it can add excitement to writing but when that hyperbole is requoted in earnest and then deeply believed there is an issue. The awful European snob attacking Larry in a panic about him destroying literature became enshrined in Puppy mythology.
Here is a more recent example. In a piece primarily discussing his view on Catholicism, John C Wright defends the reputation of Pope Francis. Many on the right dislike the current Pope but Wright feels the Pope’s apparent leftwing positions are actually media distortions. What has that got to do with Sad Puppies, I hear you ask. Well Wright has also experienced media distortions, or so he claims:
“there was a kerfuffle over the Hugo Awards where I was nominated for six awards, the highest honor SF fans bestow. But because I am a Christian and a conservative, I was libeled to an infinite degree by international newspapers, including the Guardian in Britain, claiming I was a neo-Nazi, a sexist, a homophobe, that I had bought votes and was stuffing ballots and on and on. ” http://www.scifiwright.com/2018/05/three-questions-about-catholics/
The space of all “international newspapers” is quite large but Wright names one (The Guardian) and it was also the newspaper (as opposed to ‘zine or blog) that covered the 2015 Hugo Kerfuffle in most detail. It is safe to say that if you can’t find Wright being called those things in the Guardian then he probably wasn’t called those things in any organ that could reasonably be called a newspaper – but not entirely impossible. Suffice to say Wright doesn’t give links, nor can I find any links on his site where he directly points to a newspaper calling him a neo-Nazi.
A Google search of “John C Wright” targetted at The Guardian produces lots of links but it is a manageable number:
Some of those only mention Wright in the comments. One of them (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/26/george-rr-martin-relieved-after-sad-puppies-hugo-awards-defeat ) does describe Wright’s views as ‘homophobic’:
“But on Saturday, members of the World Science Fiction Society rejected the finalists for the Hugos in an unprecedented five categories, voting for “No Award” rather than any of the nominees backed by the Puppies, which had included work by John C Wright, an author known for his homophobic views.”
Nazis do get a mention in one article: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/20/george-rr-martin-hugo-awards-vote-game-of-thrones-science-fiction
[George R R Martin] ““Who are all these new supporting members? Are they trufans rallying to the defense of one of our field’s oldest and most cherished institutions?” he asked. “Are these the neo-Nazis and rightwing reactionaries we have been warned of? The truth is … no one knows … All I know for sure is that every vote will count … Let this be fandom’s finest hour. Vote.”
Naturally, The Guardian does not call Wright a Nazi – it doesn’t even call Vox Day a Nazi – because surprisingly newspapers have some standards and a legal department. The Guardian DID imply that Wright is homophobic but his views on homosexuality are a matter of record and yup, those views are pretty extreme. I can’t find anywhere a claim that Wright was stuffing ballot boxes or had bought votes. Maybe I haven’t looked far enough or in enough places?
There’s the rub. It can be hard to prove something didn’t happen when the space where it might have happened is vague enough. In this case, I can be more confident that Wright is just bullshitting. If a genuine international newspaper had made those claims about him Wright wouldn’t have only just got around to vaguely alluding to it. It is safe to say that while a newspaper did imply he was a homophobe (because there is repeated and direct evidence of anti-gay thinks he was written) newspapers did not make those other claims about Wright. Instead, he has conflated a whole bunch of things – people calling Rabod Puppies neo-nazis on blogs or Facebook, Wright then applying that general claim to himself specifically and then him conflating that with newspaper coverage he didn’t like.
Two other pieces of Puppy-lore have also migrated over time.
The first, I think, started out as a joke within Puppy circles. This is the claim that critics of the Sad Puppies claimed that Sarah Hoyt was a Mormon and a male. Early instances of Puppies saying this are generally humorous. However, over time this claim has been added to the list of grievances of the remaining Sad Puppy rump. As a claim, it is both vague and plausible that somebody somewhere referred to the Sad Puppy leadership as “Mormon men” or something similar. In context, it may have been a reference to specifically Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen or it may have been more encompassing. Unfortunately, it is another case where nobody was ever directly quoted by the Sad Puppies as saying this (at least that I can find). I’d love to find the original quote that started this nugget of grievance but I can’t. Yet it seems plausible enough that somebody early in 2015 may well have mistakenly assumed that Sad Puppies was ALL Mormon men or made a statement that could have been read that way.
The second one was revived the other day by Larry Correia:
‘When the Guardian crowd sourced their witch hunt, they got a bunch of people to comb through everything I’d ever written, and they were dredging up everything. Literally the very best thing they could come up with was my voluntarily teaching self-defense to women was “victim blaming”.’ http://monsterhunternation.com/2018/05/15/statement-concerning-my-being-disinvited-as-the-guest-of-honor-for-origins-game-fair/#comment-89899
This at least does have a genuine starting point. On Twitter, then Guadian columnist and Larry Correia bête noire, Damien Walter posted:
[If it doesn’t embed: “Can anyone help identify times Larry Correia has “responded poorly” to diversity in genre? http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/30/science-fiction-real-life-war-worlds#comment-36357742 … Seriously. “]
To Walter’s request, people did mention the fact that he cites training women in self-defence as a reason that his arguments on sexual violence are not problematic. However, people also mentioned his reaction to Campbell winners and his reaction to Alex Dally MacFarlane’s essay on the default use of binary genders in science-fiction. The thread on Twitter shows me 22 replies of which many are from Larry’s supporters.
But the tale grew in the telling. From one occasional Guardian columnist to The Guadian. From maybe three or four people replying to the Tweet, to it becoming a bunch of people. From people offering what immediately came to mind, to it ‘comb through everything I’d ever written’. And from three examples (quickly found) it becomes one example (that was found only after much searching). And, of course, the basic thrust of the query is changed.
[The comment section to Damien Walter’s post there is worth a read for Puppyologists but not for anybody else 🙂 https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/30/science-fiction-real-life-war-worlds but it is the jumping off point for the tweet.]
I’m not sure Larry’s evolved version of the truth is too terrible a distortion. It’s not unnatural for stories to change in the telling. It’s wandered away from the truth but it is sufficiently close to the truth that, with a bit of searching, the actual truth can be found.
However, this evolution from fact to tall-tale becomes pernicious when such tales are used as the bedrock of grievances that groups hold on too tightly over years. An embellished story about the time you rescued a kitten does nobody any harm but a tall-tale about how not just you but your in-group were maligned and wronged gains more weight as time passes.
A common theme in the pre-history of the Sad Puppies is lingering grievances that become detached in time and from specific events. Jim Baen not being honoured with a posthumous Hugo for Best Editor, John Ringo being (apparently) deemed ineligible for a Campbell in 2001* (and not even making the list for Live Free or Die in 2013**), heck wooden asterisks have become elevated to something akin to a physical assault.
The tall-tale grievance by becoming detached from details, context and even time (these things just happen in a vague past) carries more emotional weight than actual events. As such they are far more powerful than facts.
But are they lies? It has been common (and something I say myself) to distinguish between incorrect statements a person believes to be true and incorrect statements a person knows to be false. It is this second category that we prefer to call ‘lies’. After all, we all make mistakes and we have all been misinformed. To speak a falsehood honestly is not a lie we might assume but what is ‘honestly’ here? In defamation law (not a lawyer) a different standard can apply which is a disregard for the truth i.e. statements made where the speaker/writer simply doesn’t care what is true or not. Yet this doesn’t cover the issue here.
Instead, we have a different kind of dishonesty. You can follow what people say in these cases and see how they make a concerted effort to convince themselves of falsehoods by taking small steps away from the truth and investing in those steps great emotional weight. What was ambiguous is taken as a given reading being true. A paraphrasing that is possibly misleading is then taken as a quote. The quote is requoted over and over and in turn, the worst reading of that quote is taken as truth. Eventually, a new quote floats free of time, context and authorship. They said this, even though nobody ever did.
Is this an issue restricted to only Sad Puppies or one side of politics? Obviously not. We need narratives and emotional connections to help us both form and recollect our memories. These are powerful cognitive biases in play that we are all susceptible to but this why we need to be self-sceptical and self-correcting.
*[I only know the Ringo side of that story. I don’t know what the actual facts are and given the theme of this post, one side of the story is definitely insufficient.]
**[Likewise. This seems to be a nugget of resentment from which claims of nefarious things being done by admins to nomination tallies comes from.]