Twitter Polls Suck

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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:

  1. The politics that the Sad Puppies saw themselves as representing.
  2. The range of views of Sad Puppy leaders and spokespeople.
  3. 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.

Point 1.

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.

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
• abortion
• 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.]

Point 2.

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.

Point 3.

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.

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25 responses to “Twitter Polls Suck”

  1. Point 4. The puppies, in all iterations, are gigantic hypocrites.

    They decry racism, unless they’re being racist;
    They denounce online mobbing, unless they’re doing the mobbing;
    They fear doxxing, unless they’re doing the doxxxing;
    They hate getting anyone fired for their views, except when it’s their ‘enemies’ they’re getting fired;
    They loathe affirmative action, unless they’re going to benefit from it (this is, after all, the entire purpose of all the puppy campaigns).
    They believe that cheating is the only way to win, that everyone is cheating and therefore cheating is fair.

    These characteristics are shared across the entire “alt-right” iteration of the Nazi Party which has seized American politics this past decade. Hypocrisy is the Right’s defining characteristic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “They denounce online mobbing, unless they’re doing the mobbing;”

      Oh yes:

      “We are concerned consumers expressing our views, you are virtue signaling, they are a twitter mob”

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I tend to equate extremism with advocacy of violence. Extremists push policies that would need a police state to implement and/or lead to mass incarceration, executions, or (maybe) seizure of vast amounts of property without compensation.

    The folks who want to deport all illegal immigrants (even ones with US-born families) are extremists. The people who want to make an end of capitalism are extremists too. Supporting (or opposing) the death penalty is not extremist, since it affects very few people.

    By this definition, views can be wrong and harmful but not be extremist.


    • Well, you can’t get much more violent than the death penalty. And while sadly supporting the death penalty is not considered extremist in the US, it is certainly an extremist position pretty much everywhere in Europe and much of Latin America. And US style gun rights are considered extremist pretty much everywhere except in the US.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Abolitionism was an extremist position at one point as well. I’m not sure that the support of the use of violence is necessarily a very good way to distinguish ‘extremists’ from their ‘non-extremist’ counterparts. After all, there are a lot of forms of violence that are passively and actively accepted by moderates.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think there’s also another aspect of the sad puppy campaign that appealed to some people, and that is the theory that self published works were being ignored and rejected by various traditional publishers and the elites and that the Hugo awards were not representative of this.
    If you’ve ever been to a self publisher blog, like the passive voice, youll find that there is a pervasive us versus them mentality, and I feel like right wing ideologues can prey on people who think like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree in terms of the prevailing attitude and a lot of the views (particularly at MGC) about publishers but in terms of what they promoted it wasn’t very orientated to the self-pub market.


    • Yes, the us vs. them and indies vs. trad pub mentality among many, if not all self-published authors, certainly plays into it as well. And many of the Mad Genii as well as a lot of the authors on the puppy slates, whether they landed there willingly or were co-opted, are self-published. Plus, the Mad Genius Club blog is half political ranting and half advice for self-publishers.

      Ironically, before I embarked on the self-publishing route, I weighed the pros and cons. And one point on the con side was “award nominations will be even harder to get”. So I have problems imagining that the various puppy types never made their own version of that calculation.

      Besides, self-published works have been nominated for various major genre award. Seanan McGuire became the first author to win a Hugo nomination for a self-published story before the puppy movement took off. Jonathan P. Brazee was nominated for a Nebula for a self-published novelette this year and Ian Sales won the BSFA Award with a self-published novella several years ago. If you look at other genres, several of the RITA Award winners this year were self-published.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s Col. Jonathan P. Brazee, USMC (Ret)!

        A middle-aged SWM American who’s a Marine.

        Just the sort of person Puppies support and claim gets no attention. And he got nominated in the more professional, more lit’rary awards with his self-published story.


      • Yes, Jonathan P. Brazee is exactly the sort of writer the puppies claim gets no attention and yet he managed to get on the Nebula ballot under his own steam. He also seems to be a good guy, by all accounts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I keep meaning to read his nominated story. It must be pretty good to have made it. I haven’t heard anything bad about him either.


        • Lurkertype: I keep meaning to read [Brazee’s] nominated story. It must be pretty good to have made it. I haven’t heard anything bad about him either.

          I was really looking forward to it, because it sounded as though it would really be in my wheelhouse. But it’s just the usual “[character] Saves the Day!” Military Fiction, and about the only thing science-fictional about it is that it’s stated to be taking place on a planet other than Earth.

          It gets into some really tedious detailed description of firearms, and I’m guessing that some or all of the weaponry is science-fictional, but as I know nothing about firearms, it doesn’t read as SF to me. It was clearly written for an audience of gun fans.


      • So in short, it’s exactly the sort of thing puppies like. Well, there are no tedious theological debates, but there is gun porn, lots of gun porn. And it still made the Nebula shortlist without the puppies’ questionable help.


  4. 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

    And the ugly subtext to this is that women and people of color naturally don’t write as well as white men.

    But of course Correia et al object to anyone’s saying this, because it’s worse to accuse someone of being racist and/or sexist than to actually be racist and/or sexist.

    (Also, wasn’t the “popularity” thing a running theme also? That is, SFF books that sold well should be given awards, regardless of whether said book is objectively any good? re: Fifty Shades of Grey, and whatever book, presumably Larry Correia’s, would be equivalent)

    Liked by 1 person

    • In that case, give Hugos to J.K. Rowling (okay, she’s got one), Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb (my Mom and I keep nominating her, but I fear we’re a minority of two), Stephen King or George R.R. Martin (has several, but from his pre-mega bestseller days). However, I don’t want to imagine the puppy wailing and gnashing of teeth, if a Hugo shortlist were ever to look like that.

      Larry Correia may be popular among his base, but he’s nowhere near the level of those mega-sellers. I suspect he’s not even on the level of Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, etc…

      Liked by 2 people

      • No, you forgot I like Nora/JD too! There’s 3 of us!
        Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a hissy fit if Collins had ever been nominated, particularly now that we have Series and YA.

        For that matter, if alt-history counts as SFF, then Dan Brown’s eligible and he outsells everyone. He’s had major modern-day events happen in his books that don’t/haven’t happened in our world.


      • One of these days, the three of us are going to manage to get J.D. Robb’s In Death series on the ballot and then we will blow everybody’s minds.

        And if the YA and series awards had already existed back then, Hunger Games would have been a most worthy contender.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Sarah Hoyt had a quote on her blog that said something like “Taking over the world and then leaving it alone.” (I say “had” because I’m not sure it’s still there, and I say “not sure” because going over there does bad things for my blood pressure.) Anyway, when I saw this my first reaction was disbelief. It seems obvious from her posts that if, dog forbid, she took over the world almost nothing would be left alone, that she has definite views of how the world should be run and she would be implementing them. In other words, she wants to be considered libertarian, but only if everyone else agrees with her.

    Or, as you said, “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).”


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