So I referred to the Sad Puppies “extreme politics” on Twitter the other day. Somebody questioned that and I didn’t reply immediately because there’s a lot to unpack. Instead, I offered a Twitter poll with the options of replying as
- Threaded tweets
- A linked blog post
- Talking to cat
Six people voted and each option got exactly two votes each. So much for power aw distributions. Luckily Tim tweeted me immediately allowing me to deal with the third option quickly. (more after the fold).
What I was asked on Twitter was “And what might that be, pray tell?” and I think that is a good question. I have covered many aspects of this in past blog posts and I think for regular readers the shape of what I mean there is clear. However, it is worth unpacking.
So let’s deal with some parameters first.
“Sad Puppies” – that was a broad movement and there is no way of surveying everybody or a representative sample of everybody who identified as a Sad Puppy. It is safe to say that there would be some variety of views in that broad grouping.
However, Sad Puppies was not a membership organisation or an organic coalition of communities. It was a specific campaign with specific leaders. In general, when I refer to the Sad Puppies collectively, I am referring to the leadership and the variety of view among them.
Now to “extreme politics”. This was a point referenced in another tweet in the same thread and it is a theme I’ve covered from very early in the history of the blog. What do I mean be “extreme”? It’s not entirely pejorative – some of my politics is extreme. What I mean is:
- views that when placed on a left-right spectrum can be reasonably allocated to one side or the other (with all the normal caveats and limitations on doing that).
- that are held by a relatively small section of the population outside of the broad centre.
But there’s a bit of divergence in meaning when I say the politics of the Sad Puppies. The phrase as three related elements but one element is the core meaning:
- The politics that the Sad Puppies saw themselves as representing.
- The range of views of Sad Puppy leaders and spokespeople.
- The political position of the campaign itself (in itself, what kind of politics was the campaign stating).
I’m going to discuss points 1 and 2 because I think that’s often where the discussion lies but my core point is 3, not 1 and 2.
Is interesting and the best way of looking at that is using one of the few attempts to codify it by somebody close to the Sad Puppy leadership. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/on-petunias-and-whales-part-1/
That was Dave Freer in 2014 making one of the few systematic attempts to articulate case that the Hugo Awards were biased. Dave listed a number of political issues with which he would classify finalists over a number of years of the Hugo Awards. Some of the issues listed were too vaguely defined to treat systematically but these were some I could look at in a quantifiable way:
• same-sex marriage
• affirmative action
• gun rights
• death penalty
These issues (along with broader descriptions) were used by Dave to identify left-leaning people among the finalist and by extension the opposite. i.e. We can infer the politics of the constituency the Sad Puppies saw themselves standing up for as people who broadly took the non-left perspectives on those issues.
Around this point, it is easy for people to make errors of categorisation. Specifically, confuse self-identification data (number of Americans who call themselves liberal) as a good estimate for the level of support on each of those issues. At the time, on each one of those issues only being pro-death penalty was supported by a majority of Americans. The others were either effectively evenly split or the majority was on the ‘liberal side’.
However, if we treat all of these together and look at people who more-or-less follow each of them on either the lefthand side of the issue or the righthand side of the issue then you get much smaller tighter groups. I used the Pew Typology for 2014 to look at this and I found the Steadfast Conservative grouping in that typology to a goodish match to the politics that Dave saw as being unrepresented. That was about 12-13% of the US population.
From that point on I tended to consider the Puppies as attempting to appeal to a constituency of that size, even though they imagined their constituency to be larger (due to a reasoning error incorrectly extrapolating from the fact that more Americans identify as conservatives than liberals). Looking at them that way never failed – various patterns and outcomes for the Sad Puppies tended to work out as if their broader base support was a small but not insignificant proportion of fandom.
Of course, that doesn’t really show them as being “extreme”, the righthand side of those issues are each in turn relatively mainstream positions in US politics.
[An aside: there is more to the whole issue than just US politics and I’m not American myself and neither is Dave Freer, but US politics has been repeatedly the space of ideas the debate has been framed within.]
This is trickier to describe. To start with ANY discussion of their views leads to a chorus that they are being policed for ‘wrong think’ or that the very act of even talking about what they are publicly discussing is some kind of hostile act against them. That they don’t regard the reverse as true (and indeed that they often grossly misrepresent the political beliefs of those they disagree with) is telling in terms of their character but less so in regard to the question of whether their politics are extreme except in one regard. None of them like debate and none show much capacity to engage intellectually and in good faith with ideas they do not agree with – a trait that often accompanies extremism in practice even when the base ideology is more mainstream.
Larry Correia’s politics are best described as a very pro-gun conservative Libertarian. Brad Torgersen’s politics are best described as erratic. I can’t attest to the details of Kate Paulk’s politics other than being sympathetic to her fellows at Mad Genius Club. Sarah Hoyt’s politics are a mix of public libertarianism (primarily economic) with a weird authoritarian bent (she has some quite alarming views around Romany peoples) that sees violent or repressive reaction to a lack of cultural conformity as inevitable (if undesirable).
Of the four who at various points were seen as being the main person running a Sad Puppies campaign, Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt are the most politically outspoken (that’s not a bad thing in itself). Both are vehemently anti-left. Both were initially anti-Donald Trump’s nomination as GOP candidate on the grounds that he may be too like a Democratic (i.e. a right opposition to Trump). Both Hoyt and Correia have overtly stated their opposition to what I would call ‘ideological racism’ i.e. beliefs that systematically regard one group as inherently inferior to the other based on their descent. However, both tend to reject explanations of differences in outcome between different ethnic groups as due to systemic racism.
Extreme? Well certainly we are into a much smaller subset of beliefs but there’s a lot of variety within the core Puppies. The main uniting principle would be best described as being anti-left and that by itself isn’t extreme. However, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to describe Hoyt’s political position as an extreme one, ‘confused’ might be more accurate. Larry Correia is considered less radical (just louder) but his vocal support for Gamergate shows a willingness to side with people employing extreme harassment techniques (even though he decries online ‘mobs’ if they are of the left). However, that anti-leftism comes with something else – a willingness to ally with, support (to some degree) or provide cover for far right people and views who are also anti-left. That aspect is most relevant to the Sad Puppies campaign itself.
The issue though is not points 1 or 2, the issue is the politics of the Sad Puppy campaign. The tricky part here is that multiple and conflict purposes for the campaign have been offered over time. The first iteration (a ’stacking campaign’ entitled “How to get Correia nominated for a Hugo”) cast the issue in terms of Larry and fun books versus snobs and literati. Retroactively this became known as Sad Puppies 1. The culture war aspect was not absent but it wasn’t front and centre initially. That changed with Sad Puppies 2 with the intentional inclusion of Vox Day in the slate. Likewise ,Sad Puppies 3 contained works by people of multiple kinds of politics but the overly political works came from the far right (John C Wright’s radical catholicism). [SP4 and SP5 were essentially non-events for various reasons.] The views of nominees or those contained in the works were not necessarily those of the campaign though but either way there were works such as John C Wright’s non-fiction nominated works Transhuman & Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth is a work that the Sad Puppies campaign, as a campaign, officially regarded as one of the best pieces of related works published in 2014 and deserving of high award.
Now while we might have a range of stated purposes to choose from when it comes to the Sad Puppies (and they continued to revise what it was all supposed to be about years later) it is reasonable for observers to look at recurring themes and to look at primary sources of conflict. For example, while SP1 may have characterised itself as fun versus literary, in terms of the collected campaigns and who voted for what, practically that was not the main conflict. However, a theme that did keep recurring is around diversity and identity. Indeed, right now you can find ex-Puppy leaders saying that them ‘warning’ fandom about identity politics was yet at another case of what it was all about.
A second theme was corruption and collusion, that is, that powerful people behind the scenes were controlling the Hugo Awards in various ways. This theme was repeated many times both in how Larry Correia characterised events (e.g. a brief mention of him in a column by Damien Walters is still characterised by Correia as a hit-piece that involved a secret tip-off to Walters that Correia was a finalist – based not just on zero evidence but active misrepresentation). Other low-evidence conspiracy theories have been promulgated by the Sad Puppies (including at least one about me, weirdly enough). Conspiracy ideation is not exclusive to either left or right but it is always consistent with extremism.
A third related theme was quality of works above author identity as a consideration. Stated as is, I don’t think this is an extreme belief, even though it is simplistic and flawed. However, it comes in two flavours. 1. just as a general principle (i.e. judge works as works seperate from their author) versus 2. a belief that any steps to improve the range and diversity of background of authors leads to a decline in quality.
Which brings me to a fourth theme: that the works nominated for Hugos in recent years were not just aesthetically not to the Puppies taste but that they had declined in quality. The distinction between the two is hazy but inevitably kept returning to the second claim. It wasn’t just that the Hugos were rewarding good books of a kind the Sad Puppies didn’t like (although that’s close to the argument of Sad Puppies 1) but that the works were getting WORSE.
Putting that all together: The Sad Puppy campaign’s politics (whether they thought this through or not) asserted that:
- The Hugo awards
- due to the machinations of a conspiracy
- had increased the diversity of background of finalists
- leading to a decline in quality
The Sad Puppies very much regarded any accusation of racism as a defamatory attack on them. Yet repeatedly the same points kept being raised by them. Whether it was dismissive comments by Larry Correia about other finalists because of their ethnicity or Brad Torgersen repeatedly calling winners the result of “affirmative action”, the implication was clear. They did not believe it was possible for the Hugo Awards to have increased the diversity of finalist *AND* maintained the quality of the nominated works. Note that this wasn’t even a case of maybe the second best novel winning over the first best but that across the board the majority of works had got worse and that people had conspired to do this.
There’s no shortage of political groups that have offered equivalent stories over the years (i.e. hidden conspiracy designed to make things worse for everybody to promote an otherwise marginalised ethnic group) but such groups have ALWAYS been politically extreme.