Jonathon LaForce has an interesting and at times laudable post at Mad Genius Club: https://madgeniusclub.com/2018/06/01/verified/
It starts with an extended military metaphor but its focus is actually on the veracity of criticism:
“This conflict over culture has consequences. It demands that we not give in to the base instinct of lying, dehumanizing, and othering those with whom we quarrel. Such is dishonorable. Such will not be tolerated. I don’t want you to my left or right, I don’t want you laying down suppressive fire from behind me as I charge forward, if I can’t trust you to do the right thing.”
And while I wouldn’t phrase things the way he has, he is correct. Truth matters, tactically, strategically and ethically.
I assume the post is partly motivated by Jon Del Arroz’s recent tweets criticising well-known fantasy author Brandon Sanderson who has been critical of Utah fan convention FanX (for background on the FanX controversy see File 770 here: http://file770.com/?p=42326 )
It is therefore disappointing that LaForce then partly trips over his own principles:
“I dislike Irene Gallo because she chose to make extremely unprofessional comments about myself and others as being “Nazis,” after which she tendered an “apology.””
The comment here is a reference to a comment made by a Tor employee in 2015 on her personal Facebook page. As was discussed at the time, Gallo did not directly call the Sad Puppies Neo-Nazis and certainly did not call Jonathon La Force personally a Neo-Nazi. (see the timeline for links ) However, her wording was unclear and the quote contained other sweeping statements about the groups collectively being racist, misogynistic and homophobic. La Force also wrote a strongly worded post on the topic at the time: https://madgeniusclub.com/2015/06/07/dear-tor/
I’m not pointing this out as a ‘gotcha’ or to have a dig at hypocrisy – for a start I’m preaching to the choir here and nobody at Mad Genius is going to care one way or another. The point is multi-fold:
- The ‘called us neo-Nazis’ is an exaggeration but it wasn’t the biggest distortion of truth during the Puppy Debarkle but it was one of the most persistent and is now taken as gospel to the extent that it has evolved into individual Puppies being called ‘neo-Nazis’ by Tor employees.
- The comment did describe both Puppy campaigns collectively as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic”. If I was a Sad Puppy and I wanted to nurse a long-term point of anger around this incident, then that’s the point I’d fixate on – rather than the ‘neo-Nazi’ comment. Trying to be truthful and accurate does not mean somehow giving ground on your criticism – in fact, the opposite. The Sad Pups adopted a *weaker* piece of rhetoric that was more easily debunked but which had a greater short-term impact.
- The anger in response to the comment was genuine and that’s important. It is another dimension to issue I was waffling about in this post, a way we all approach truth that can be at odds with more abstract questions of truth. In this case, it is undeniably true that the comments deeply hurt the feelings of many people associated with the Sad Puppies.
- When it comes to fixing a problem like being critical of your opponents but doing so TRUTHFULLY…you have to start with yourself. And that’s hard work. It means making fine distinctions and thinking about how you word things. It also means doing the thing that Irene Gallo did that is most relevant here: apologise and correct what she was saying.
Circling back, truth matters and so accuracy matters. Lots and lots of things were said during the semi-decade of the morose hounds. There was undoubtedly some over the top and histrionic rhetoric by critics of the Sad Puppies. Sticking to what is factually defensible was not always the most emotionally gratifying and correct mistakes could even be painful, but…aside from examples like Irene Gallo’s misjudged (but corrected) statement, the greatest ire from the remaining Sad Puppy rump is towards those who reported what the Pups said accurately.
Moving beyond the Sad Pups and considering the wider ‘cultural war’ and in particular the Trump regime, the same issues apply. Sticking to what is truthful, moderating claims to what is defensible based on evidence, distinguishing between fact, speculation and opinion are all important. Ignoring or actively debunking spurious claims made by people claiming to be anti-Trump but who push nonsense (such as Lousie Mensch) is important. Being wary of stories that are too good to be true or that seem exaggerated or shocking (tricky – considering what is actually happening) and seeking confirmation is important. Honest people can (and will) honestly spread stories that are not true and maintaining a healthy level of non-cynical scepticism is vital. Without that healthy non-cynical scepticism you become vulnerable to ‘fake news’ and propaganda.