Positivity and Gibberish Ideology

Way back in 2018, I talked about I called “the thing” in the context of the nonsense that Jordan Peterson was putting out. I still don’t have a better name for it. What I said at the time was:

“To perceive yourself as inadequate or weak-willed or to see unhappy circumstance as your own fault for being weak-willed is not good but what is extraordinarily toxic is to regard OTHERS in that way. In other words to see people who have problems of one kind or another (from being overweight to being bullied or to being poor or being abused) and thinking the blame lies with that person because they are weak-willed is the common thread that joins the pieces of this ‘thing’ together. It’s how Ayn Rand ties into modern Fascism and why Nietzche is peppered through Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/reading-peterson-3-n-things-of-for-y/

It’s one of those tricky conceptual itches that is hard to scratch because this thing I’m tying to describe often looks like a side-hustle of online grifters who are also pushing right-wing ideas or it looks like innocuous advice for people just trying to cope with the stresses of modern life. Partly it is about a method for making money and recruiting men struggling to cope with modern life (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/some-links-relevant-to-the-thing/ ) but it is also a common ideological thread.

I’ve also discussed before how Vox Day doesn’t like Jordan Peterson but the difference in their underlying ways of thinking is small. The objection Day has to Peterson is one of a rival in a similar space (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/11/22/ye-olde-skull-lobster-reading-vox-day-so-you-dont-have-to-part-n1/ ) and different ways of trying to employ a pseudo-psychology of positivity that is both pseudo-scientific and theological.

Why I am rehashing all this again? Just that Day has been saying weird things in this space again:

“Then keep in mind that the effect works both ways. Over time, you’ll begin to observe that luck, like confidence, builds on its own success. I don’t merely hope to be fortunate and I don’t just know I’m fortunate, I fully expect to be fortunate. Remember, the ancients’ idea that Fortuna personally favored some individuals and disfavored others wasn’t an invention ex nihilo, it was an observation.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20210711181738/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2021/07/always-watch-your-tongue.html

At one end, Day is saying to his followers “happy music can cheer you up” and that negative comments can get you down — both of which is true. At the other end, he really thinks this is SUPERNATURAL in nature.

The additionally odd thing is that Day is critical of two similar versions of what he is endorsing:

“This is also why the Prosperity Gospel, also known as “name it, claim it” theology, is fundamentally wicked. It’s literally practicing psychological magic in order to obtain material wealth. Scott Adams, for example, is a very successful practitioner of this sort of psychological magic.”

For those of you following the Debarkle, a lot of the oddly boastful claims Day makes about his numerous failed or under-delivered projects become clearer. These claims are akin to magic for Day. I assume the distinction he makes between his version of essentially trying to wish things into reality is that he is trying to make a project work rather than just make money. Who knows? I don’t know how to untangle the ethics of using magical powers that you don’t have but sincerely believe you do have.

A different view of culture wars and Science Fiction

I haven’t linked to Sarah Hoyt’s Mad Genius Club blog for a long time, mainly because much of what she is posting is not well structured. However, a recent post was germane to my interests and has some overlap with the Debarkle project. The post is rambling and full of odd leaps and flawed premises but that is the normal situation. The opening paragraphs states her premise relatively clearly:

“Perhaps it makes perfect sense for the science fiction genre — literature and movie, and all its glorious expanse — which achieved prominence in the 20th century to have become in a way, sideways, in small sphere the guinea pig of societal trends to come.

I’m only half in jest and all in seriousness, mind you.

This isn’t some half baked idea, like pretending to see the universe in a droplet of water or the conflagration of a match. (Both of which things I was convinced were perfectly valid, due to having learned them in science fiction books, which by the time I got my hot little — emphasis on little — hands on them were over fifty years old.)

It’s rather the fact that because the twentieth century was riven by two primary and — if we have a future as a species, I’m sure to our descendants — insane ideas: the idea that “science” — by which one must understand the knowledge at that time, not the process by which knowledge is acquired, with its heresies and toppling of accepted theory — could explain and ordain everything; and the idea that “great men” in charge would leads to glory by use of that “science.””

https://madgeniusclub.com/2021/06/30/the-guinea-pigs/

I don’t agree with her general idea and certainly not with the specific claims in the essay but I’d see two related ideas as sensible ones:

  • Science fiction is a genre in which people have often explored big ideas including social, economic and political change including positing (unreliably) some changes that actual occurred.
  • Science fiction as a genre is caught up in social change and on occasion changes that are already occurring may be more visible in science fiction literature and communities focused on that literature.

The second dot-point is sort of the premise of Debarkle i.e. science fiction is downstream of social change but not very far downstream. The first dot-point also suggests that science fiction is upstream of social change and can anticipate it but that’s only true in the way that a gambler who bets on every horse in a race can guarantee they picked a winner.

I’m not going to do a line by line refutation of Hoyt’s essay because that would be tiresome for both you and me but I’ll focus on one part because I like to talk about climate change and I also haven’t done that in awhile:

“And then there was “the Earth is going to freeze to death” — I’m packing my library and hoping that I didn’t throw away the anthology (very convincing) I bought at the end of the 80s in which author after author talked about the Earth freezing due to… well, excess freedom, and “consumerism” and “free market.”

Because those d*mn dirty apes just don’t know how to live, and won’t listen to their betters! The Earth has a chill, and the cure is socialism, population control and the “best” people in charge.

Of course, five years later, there were anthologies about how the Earth had a fever and the cure was socialism.”

https://madgeniusclub.com/2021/06/30/the-guinea-pigs/

Hoyt’s echoing a common climate change denial talking point about the supposed sudden shift in scientific consensus from a looming ice age in the mid-70s to global warming in the mid-80s. The talking point is largely false with some nuggets of truth (i.e. there really were discussions of global cooling as a possibility, leading to a new ice age but not a consensus and this was parallel with growing evidence of potential warming from anthropogenic CO2)

However, she’s also re-writing genre history. There are notable 1960s sci-fi books set on Earth in a new ice age (Moorcock, Silverberg) and books with rising temperatures (Ballard). Asking people to imagine how Earth might be dramatically different in the future and in terms of climate there are two-and-a-half obvious choices: hotter and flooded, hotter and all desert, colder and all ice. Of course, in film we have early 1970’s Soylent Green* mixing over-population fears with an express reference to global warming. Whereas, well past the point where there was any serious doubt about anthropogenic global warming we have The Day After Tomorrow in which global warming triggers a new ice age just to split the difference!

Science fiction affects and is affected by culture and science but not in some neat way.

*(oh and in terms of science fiction affecting the future we now have https://soylent.com/ but the ingredients are closer to the book than the film [I hope])

Narrative reversal

It has never been hard to reconcile this blog covering both science-fiction stories and the toxic weirdness of far-right extremists because both involve counter-factual storytelling. The difference is like the difference between a stage magician whose act involves an agreement between performer and audience to suspend belief and a con artist who uses misdirection and spectacle to deceive. Both the stage magician and the SFF author are also held to higher standards of consistency and elegance in maintaining the audience’s illusions.

Inevitably, I’ll be circling back to the January 6 2021 US Capitol Riot, in which Trump supporters stormed the US legislature to prevent the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election. The riot successfully delayed the vote but only for a time and did not usher in a Trump second term as predicted by QANON supporters.

At the time, there were three kinds of reactions I was seeing on the right:

  • Muted condemnation from some people
  • Praise and excitement
  • Claims that riot was being orchestrated by ANTIFA or the “Deep Sate” to some degree

The last dot point had actually been a common position the day before the protest. There was an expectation that there might be violence or police confrontations and commenters were claiming in advance that if there was any trouble it would be caused by left-wing agent provocateurs.

On the day itself, there was a duel between the bottom two narratives as people tried to sort out which of the two stories was the right one. Was the weirdly costumed “Q-Shaman” (the shirtless man with the tattoos and the horned furry helmet) an obvious infiltrator or a heroic symbol of the Q movement? [Spoilers: he was definitely part of the Q contingent].

Both Sarah Hoyt and Vox Day settled on the second dot point at the time. In particular, Day had been calling for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act as a means to seize power and saw the use of force as a legitimate response. He was also widely predicting that, despite everything, Trump would be inaugurated president before the end of January.

You can read contemporary reactions from Day here: https://archive.is/ZR2Oi and here: https://archive.is/4N7V7

Quotes include:

  • “The President orders his troops to stand down… presumably because their job is done. The certification was stopped and the Congress has been rounded up and secured.”
  • “President Trump’s silence so far suggests a major announcement is coming tonight. And I have to admit, this is already the greatest thing I have seen or heard since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.”
  • “Listening to Anderson Cooper’s voice shake as he tries to explain why it was right for blacks and gays to protest but wrong for the DC protestors to take over the Capital building is hysterical. You can hear the fear in the voices of the CNN commentators. They are TERRIFIED that Trump is crossing the Rubicon.”

Fast forward to June 17 2021 and I am sure you will all be shocked to learn that Day is now firmly in the “false flag” camp. Promoting a story from RT.com (aka “Russia Today”) which itself links to Tucker Carlson/Fox News, as well as an even more obscure right-wing news outlet, Day is advancing the theory that the whole riot was engineered by the FBI. The speculation arose from court documents which (according to the articles) show a number of unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators in the cases laid against protestors who have been prosecuted. The assumption being that these unnamed people are FBI agents who had infiltrated far-right groups such as The Proud Boys. It’s speculation and of course, it’s not impossible but from thin facts to speculation to the conclusion that the FBI organised the riot to discredit the right requires several unsupported leaps. https://archive.ph/3k3y3

The particular theory is not my focus though. What is interesting is the shift. In January 2021 (at least prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration and the complete absence of Trump staging a military coup) Day regarded the Capitol riot as a blow against the Deep State/Democrats/”elites”/SJWs/writers who put romance elements in science fiction novels/sundry other enemies. Now, he’s pushing the claim that the whole thing, even down to booking hotel rooms and flights, was a cunning Deep State plan.

“The false flags are getting a little more sophisticated. This is why Boomer-style mass demonstrations are such a bad idea. Whether the organization is suborned like the Tea Party or false-flagged like the Capital Hill fake riot, the probabilities lie with the situation being very different than the participants imagine.”

https://archive.ph/3k3y3

Anyway, Day has a message for everybody:

“Never take an Internet tough guy at face value, especially not when he’s publicly preaching violence against the government.”

Hey! For once I agree!

What could abolishing the police look like?

Just picking up an interesting thread in the comments to another post about what “de-funding the police” means and what the consequences would be. I was going to use “de-funding” in the title rather than “abolishing” but given the direction of this post, the stronger term is better.

I don’t think science-fiction stories are a good medium for detailing alternate ways of organising society. They are excellent for getting a sense of what it would be like to live in a different society but to do that they have to gloss over details or (like Malka Older’s Infomocracy series) skip over we get from A to B historically. Even so, science-fictional thinking is a great tool for taking a counter-factual premise and thinking “what would this be like?” So I’m thinking of the question here more of one about fictional worlds that are plausible.

In the above case, the counter-factual is: what is a modern, stable society like without a police force? Now, as proponents of campaigns like de-funding the police point out, there is a distinction between “the police” and many of the functions that are currently done by the police.

So what I’m not asking people to imagine what our world would be like if a genie just took a country (say Australia, because it is where I am living) and magically convinced all the police officers to quit and become sourdough bakers or arborists or something. What I’m asking is to imagine a society that is like our current one in many ways but when you look around there aren’t any people who a recognisably “police”.

  • there are still emergency services — Fire & Rescue, ambulance, paramedics etc
  • there are still people who investigate crimes — that is already in most (all?) countries, a multi-agency function. Revenue wings of governments are often some of the biggest agencies involved in criminal investigations. For example in Australia, the Australian Tax Office is involved in investigating organised crime. https://www.ato.gov.au/General/the-fight-against-tax-crime/our-focus/organised-crime/

In every country I’ve lived in, the police have roles in those two functions and in terms of popular culture (i.e. cop shows), the focus is often on those two aspects of policing (mainly because there are obvious frameworks for drama).

Putting aside those two police roles for the moment (emergency service and criminal investigation) what is left? I would contend that the core of police services and the reason why they are organised the way they are with ranks and uniforms and weapons (in Australia that includes guns and tasers) is as a public order service. This can be split into two elements:

  • Enforcing laws: stopping people in the midst of committing crimes, enforcing court orders etc.
  • Enforcing public order: discouraging behaviour that may lead to crimes including things like intervening in arguments, moving on gatherings of people, random alcohol/drug tests of drivers etc.

Literally “law and order”. The police aren’t the only groups who do these things. Your average shopping mall has security guards who act as quasi-police for example but what is notable is that they still sort of look like police. That leads me to one dissatisfying way we could imagine a society like ours but without a police force per se but one in which we effectively have privatised police. I’m not sure that gets us into a better society but is it much worse? Not sure but either way I don’t think it counts as abolishing the police as you still have uniformed quasi-military people engaged in a law-and-order function.

I think we can imagine different ways of minimising police or police-like bodies with a law & order function in a society that in most other ways resembles a modern western society. However, to move beyond minimising and imagining a society where there simply isn’t anything like the police imply more radical change. Much of the law & order aspect of policing arises from the defence of property and wealth. It is this aspect of policing that intrinsically ties up the police with the politics of capitalism. Put another way, we can imagine hypothetical socialist or anarchist societies without police — they still might not actually work but we could construct a plausible world for a story. A right-wing libertarian or anarcho-capitalist world without a police force of some kind (including private security) would be inherently more implausible even as a fictional setting.

A person on the right might naturally contend that the imagined socialist or left-anarchist societies also need something police-like to make people behave in the right way for the society to work and I’ll park that as a reasonable critique of any utopia (i.e. if you don’t think people will behave a given way en-masse then you have to assume somebody is making them).

In short, a police-free imagined world implies a more radically socially-different world than ours. However, a police-minimised world doesn’t IMHO.

The Debarkle Unified Theory of the Past 5+ Years

I wanted to step out of the narrative a moment and highlight, circle and underline a quote in a recent chapter because I’ve been a bit mean about Brad Torgersen being a bad writer and he actually said something useful once. Bad, wrong-headed, immoral but useful in some ways.

It was back in Chapter 35 but he’s said a few versions of the same thing:

“Right now, too many nominations are made purely because the author is (gay/transexual/female/non-white) or the main characters are (gay/transexual/female/non-white) and this allows the voting body to give itself warm fuzzies for being progressive/inclusive”

https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/announcing-sad-puppies-3/#comment-6584

One problem we have talking about politics in recent years is encapsulating the common ideological position between the reactionary groups. Yes, misogyny covers a lot of it but not all of it. Capitalism? Not really, Joe Biden and much of the Democratic Party are overtly pro-capitalism. White supremacy? Again, in a way but as a term it confuses people because somebody like Brad Torgersen really doesn’t look or sound like a “white supremacist” and would sincerely object to be called one — even if there’s an implication running through his rhetoric that he chooses not to think about. Fascism? I’ve used Umberto Eco’s ur-fascism definition to talk about the Puppies before and in her early essay on the Puppies, Elizabeth Sandifer made a cogent comparison between Puppy ideas and fascism…but it has a similar problem. It’s not how the Puppies thought of themselves and unless you take people along an argument, “fascism” can sound like hyperbole (it isn’t but…).

Brad’s statement above encapsulates a lot about a single common ideological thread that joins Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Gamergate, the manosphere, the alt-right, the neo-reactionaries, the “intellectual dark web”, the resurgent neo-nazi groups, the boogaloos, much of Qanon and the predominant orthodoxy of the Republican party, once generalised beyond the Hugo Awards:

Instead of nominations add make it more general and instead of SMOFs or CHORFs or Hugo literarti make it the people running the country (politicians, ceo etc). In other words generalise Brad’s quote and you get a summary of the common belief between the groups I listed above:

“Right now, too many positions of political power, influence and cultural significance are being given out to certain people by the most powerful people in the country, purely because the person is gay/transgender/female/non-white or because the person will actively support people who are gay/transgender/female/non-white.”

a toxic belief

Of course “too many” here is actually “not very many but more than it used to be” and the idea of it being a sinister elite plot is nonsense but I don’t need to explain that the belief is wrong both morally and factually.

The groups I listed above will attach different ideological explanations as to why they would agree with that statement and offer different tactics but they can each find common ground because of that shared idea.

A short Twitter diversion on Jordan Peterson

Jordan B Peterson’s time in the spotlight appears to have faded but he popped back into my awareness recently after Ta-Nehisi Coates introduced a new spin on Captain America’s arch-enemy, The Red Skull. Here’s The Mary Sue article:

And hey! Look, look! That’s my little Tweet in there! [scroll down the article, no scroll further, further…] Of course, I only get a popular tweet when I have a hyper-busy couple of days at work.

So that was fun. I did add a more serious explanation based on things I’ve been mulling over [see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/reading-peterson-12-the-end-of-peterson-the-last-lobster/ ].

I was asked on Twitter: “How does an ultra individualist like Jordan Peterson fit into the Red Skull?” I think this is an interesting question even if my initial tweet was flippant. For many people, it barely needs explaining how radical individualism ties in with both Nazi & fascist ideology. For others, it sounds paradoxical and I can see why.

People on the left who have been tracking the rise of the Alt-Right are already familiar with the libertarian-white nationalist pipeline. It’s a moot question whether the many people who once claimed to be libertarians who later asserted overt white nationalist beliefs were always closet white nationalists or who adapted their beliefs over time. I think it is a mix of both. Definitely, some 2010 era ‘libertarians’ were just Paleo-conservatives, adopting a trendier title (e.g. Vox Day). But we can’t see inside their heads, so what’s genuinely confused thinking and what was them intentionally hiding authoritarianism under a cloak of libertarianism, I don’t know.

However, I do know that what does not* go away is radical individualism! That stays, even as the faux-libertarian shifts to quasi-fascist!

Individualists and those libertarians who haven’t drifted into the Al-Right say that CANNOT be! Its a contradiction! Nazis are all about order & conformity & discipline & obeying orders & uniforms! How is that individualism! Well…it isn’t but it is a false promise offered by Nazi-like figures – join & you get to do what you want but only if you are the top-dog.

If you are somehow manly enough then you can do whatever you like and get away with it. That’s not Peterson’s ideology but it is why the alt-right loved Trump. Peterson does do promote the idea of intrinsic social hierarchies as right & good and that the hierarchy of assertive individuals is Peterson’s way of getting ORDER from CHAOS (it’s central to it). It’s not Nazism but it is a common principle. And it is rooted in the self-help ideology that is common to Peterson & Ayn Rand and somebody else as well.

Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘Power of Positive Thinking‘ runs through post WW2 US politics. 10 Rules for Life rehashes elements of it dressed up with Jung and Nietzche. It is also an influence on, guess who? Donald T Trump.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/donald-trump-2016-norman-vincent-peale-213220/

https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2020/10/8/21506597/norman-vincent-peale-donald-trump-covid-glenn-beck-positive-thinking-stephen-covey-mary-trump

The idea that if you just WILL something enough you will get it is so toxic because when it fails it breeds conspiratorial thinking & a desire to attach yourself to people who appear to have proved the idea correct: people who just appear to get what they want by demanding it.

So in 2015, we see ex-libertarians embracing the corrupt authoritarian & unprincipled fraudster Trump as if he was Ayn Rand’s John Galt, simply because Trump kept getting away with shit. That was the ideal. Trump’s surprising victory was like a kind of empirical confirmation of Trump’s capacity to get what he wants through the act of wanting it.

Peterson doesn’t believe in a magical version of this but he does claim a sort of quasi-materialist version, as I’ve quoted before:

“What if it was the case that the world revealed whatever goodness it contains in precise proportion to your desire for the best? What if the more your conception of the best has been elevated, expanded and rendered sophisticated the more possibility and benefit you could perceive? This doesn’t mean that you can have what you want merely by wishing it, or that everything is interpretation, or that there is no reality. The world is still there, with its structures and limits. As you move along with it, it cooperates or objects. But you can dance with it, if your aim is to dance— and maybe you can even lead, if you have enough skill and enough grace. This is not theology. It’s not mysticism. It’s empirical knowledge.”

Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 100-101). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Jordan B Peterson isn’t a supervillain but absolutely a charismatic quasi-fascist leader will exploit these kinds of ideas (along with other ideas, including leftist-style ones).


The original tweets are here https://twitter.com/CamestrosF/status/1379357342467117057 and here https://twitter.com/CamestrosF/status/1379512040818044929

*in the original tweet I left out the ‘not’

Debarkle Chapter 3: Part 1 Overview 1880-2010

Epic sagas need a summary of the pre-saga history. This one is a bit too long for the opening crawl text of Star Wars, so if it gets too dry, imagine it is being read by Cate Blanchett in the style of the first Lord of the Rings film.

Part 1 of our Debarkle saga is eleven stories about the past. Most of them take place this century but some of the precursors to the events in our saga take place in the Twentieth Century. I can’t hope to do justice to the full breadth of science fiction’s history but I will be looking at selected events from that history that have repercussions to later events. What follows in this chapter is a whistle-stop tour over many decades up to the early 1990s to just briefly touch on some elements of the past that will re-appear later. We’ll touch briefly on the roots of early fandom but mainly highlight some parts of US history that will be important later.

There is no fixed start to the history of science fiction. There is no point at which people haven’t invented fantastical stories. In English literature, we can point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or before that Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World but other candidates for the ‘first’ exist. So why pick 1880 as a starting point? This is a political story as well as a story about a fannish kerfuffle. In particular, while the Puppy Kerfuffle had a significant international dimension, it was an event that revolved around American politics.

By 1880 the Reconstruction era in the post-Civil War South was over. It was a decade in which the USA managed to have five different Presidents but also began the process of electrification and stepped further down the road of eventually becoming a global superpower. It was also a time in which advances in steam-powered sea travel were leading to even greater immigration to the USA, particularly from southern and eastern Europe.

For our story, 1884 marks the birth of one of the more idiosyncratic candidates for the founder of science fiction: Hugo Gernsback. Born in Luxembourg, Gernsback emigrated to America in 1904 to pursue a career as an inventor in the field of electronics and radio devices. That career would lead him into publishing as well as writing fiction. It was his role as editor of Amazing Stories that would lead him to be regarded as a seminal figure in shaping American science fiction and also American science fiction fandom.

Just as science fiction has no unique starting point, neither does fandom. For example, in 1891 The Royal Albert Hall in London held a “Vril-ya Bazaar”[1] for devotees of the popular-at-the-time book by Edward Bulwer-Lytton entitled The Coming Race — a fantastical tale about a subterranean civilisation of telepaths. However, for our narrative, the relevant iteration of the development of an organised science fiction fandom in the United States, Gernsback’s Science Fiction League is an important pre-World War II example that spawned off-shoots in the UK and Australia. We will return to this history of organised fandom in the next Debarkle chapter.

In world politics, the first half of the twentieth century saw the decline of the powerful Empires of the nineteenth century accelerated by World War I, economic depression and the rise of nationalism. The Russian revolutions saw the rise of the first Communist nation and conceptual shift in world politics to ideological conflicts. In Western Europe political groups combining nationalism and militarism co-opted the mass-movement politics of socialist parties as counter-movements. While in Japan, a similar extreme nationalist ideology fuelled territorial expansion and new imperialism.

In the US, the 1920s saw a resurgence of white supremacist movements, including a new version of the infamous Ku Klux Klan. Policies promoting systemic and overt racism against Black Americans led to further disenfranchisement[2], particularly (but not exclusively) in the former Confederate states. The Democratic Party in the “Solid South”[3] exploited these policies to maintain political power. This was part of a long pattern of political racism which had included violence to undermine democracy. In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, Southern Democrats used mob violence to overthrow the town government[4]. The ‘Red Summer’ of 1919[5] was followed in 1921 by the Tulsa Race Massacre[6] led to massive destruction and “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” [7]

Immigration policy in the US also attempted to enshrine a specific view of race for the country. The National Origins Formula used quotas as a means to limit immigration from southern and eastern Europe[8]. Using the census of 1910 as a baseline, the quota mandated that immigration from a given country could be no greater than 3% of the population of that background currently in the USA. As a large number of Americans were of Protestant Northern European descent, the numbers of people allowed to immigrate from Northern Europe were much higher. Immigration from many Asian countries had already by restricted by earlier laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act[9].

More positively, the 1920s also saw the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which established the rights of women to vote[10].

World War II marks a political and cultural boundary between the two (unequal) halves of the Twentieth Century. For our narrative, it was a defining period for many of the influential science fiction writers. The war was framed as an existential struggle against the unambiguous evil of the Nazi regime and also led to technological innovations in computing and nuclear weapons. The mass murder of civilians as an overt ideological policy was not an innovation by the Nazis but the horrific extent and systematic nature of the Holocaust re-shaped post-war attitudes on racism and eugenics.

In the aftermath of World War II, America emerged economically and culturally dominant but in a nuclear rivalry with the Soviet Union. The 1950s saw not only the anti-communist Red Scare aimed at rooting out communist sympathisers within politically or culturally powerful positions but also the less famous but more damaging (in terms of the number of people impacted) Lavender Scare targetting homosexuality[11].

Post World War II also saw a decades-long fight for civil rights by Black Americans. Protests against school segregation led to multiple legal rulings and counter-protests by white supremacists to maintain segregated education. In 1957 President Eisenhower deployed federal troops to ensure that nine Black children could attend their school in Little Rock Arkansas[12] despite sustained attempts to stop them by protestors and the state government. The Montgomery Bus Boycott[13] and other forms of direct action against segregated business were met with a counter-reaction that was often violent. The murder of 14 year old Emmet Till received national attention, as did the subsequent acquittal of his two murderers[14].

In US party politics the post-war period led to a long period of ideological re-adjustments. Both the Republican and Democratic parties had their own progressive and conservative wings. Positions on the role of government, social-welfare, military spending, and civil-rights did not split simply along party lines in the 1950s. The massive cultural change and trauma (Cuban Crisis, the JFK assassination, the MLK assassination, the Vietnam War, the peace movement…) didn’t change that over night. The civil rights movement and subsequent legislation in 1964 and 1968 were passed by bi-partisan votes when consider by political party. However, Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ would mark a shift in the political balance within both parties.

The 1960s also saw a marked shift in immigration policy to the USA with the abolition of the racist National Origins Formula[15]. While this was a substantial reform, the new laws also prohibited gay people from emigrating to the USA.

Ronald Reagan’s 1976 challenge to President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination for president marked a major attempt by the conservative wing of the Republican Party to gain control. Unsuccessful in that election, Reagan would go on to win the nomination in 1980 and then win the presidency twice, marking a high point electorally for overt modern conservatism. Although beset by a series of political scandals (in particular Iran-Contra which somehow managed to touch on nearly every aspect of Reagan’s approach to foreign policy)[16], Reagan proved to be electorally popular and after two terms was succeeded by his Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Bush Senior became president at a remarkable point in the twentieth century — a century which had not been lacking in remarkable points. Post-war US foreign and military policy had been defined by the Cold War but with the reform and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the status quo changed utterly. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war led to the Gulf War, the first major post-Cold War military conflict by the US[17]. Bush followed policies aimed at America and American business being the dominant force in the post-Soviet world. Bush also enacted bi-partisan liberalisation of immigration laws with the Immigration Act of 1990[18], and also signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990[19].

Bush Senior’s tenure proved to be unpopular with the right of his party and his candidacy in 1992 was challenged by Pat Buchanan in the primaries[20]. The electoral landscape was further complicated by the independent candidacy of the eclectic populist Ross Perot. Perot’s 1992 campaign was a mix of economic nationalism and novel ideas (such as electronic ‘direct democracy’) but in terms of overall votes, it did surprisingly well for a third party with 18% overall but with higher concentrations in Maine and in Utah. However, Perot’s votes were too widely distributed to win even a single vote in the USA’s Electoral College system.

At age 18, with his first science-fiction writing credit for an ongoing radio drama, Brad R Torgersen casts his vote in 1992 for Ross Perot.[21]

Next Time: yet another potted history as we run rapidly through the history and past conflicts of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards.


Footnotes

Debarkle: Draft outline

Coming this month (and probably for most of the year) is “Debarkle”, a history of the Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015, the events that preceded it, the political context and how it presaged events in US politics that followed it.

What follows is the draft section and chapter order. Naturally, what will actually happen is something different from this but this is the outline I’m working to.

Roughly it is in chronological order but with various chapters flashing forward or flashing backwards to keep themes together. External politics events are also a key part of this story, some of which will get their own chapters but in other cases they will be referenced in more fannish chapters to give context and establish time periods. Sadly, a lot of those external political events are violent ones but they are ones relevant to the times and also the discussions and the political atmosphere.

There are some special recurring chapters:

  • Dramatis Personae: these chapters look at backstories to some recurring names or groups in the story. I’ve tried to keep these to a minimum but if I find that I’m writing longer paragraphs about the background to given person, I may split that off into an extra one of these. Generally, they’ll cover the ‘story so far’ up to that point. So, John Scalzi and Vox Day (and maybe the Nielsen Hayden’s) get early chapters before the opening act of this http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/archives/006122.html. So these chapters don’t all end up in section 1, many people will appear in the main narrative before they get one of these chapters but with a briefer introduction.
  • Meanwhile: these chapters cover things away from the main Puppy story but which, again, would otherwise become long intruding paragraphs of context. An obvious example is RaceFail 2009, which involved no puppies but did involve notable people in fandom. Likewise, a discussion of the 2015 Hugo awards can’t avoid discussion of RequiresHate and the Mixon report. You can skip these if you want to stick to the main plot. Part 6, covering 2020, is all Meanwhile.
  • Some book reviews: With the Hugosauriad I was pleased with how the two chapters looking at If You Were a Dinosaur My Love and the right-wing reaction to it worked out. The Debarkle is about many things but one of those things is stories. Currently these reviews will include Monster Hunter International, Redshirts, Ancillary Justice and the Broken Earth Trilogy, as well as some selected shorter fiction.

Speaking of the Hugosauriad, because that project contains chapters on Rachel Swirsky’s story and on Chuck Tingle, neither will get their own chapter in Debarkle. Obviously, both will get discussed but the longer coverage is in the Hugosauriad.

Currently, the plan is 6 sections.

  1. Beginnings 1880 to 2010. All the background and setting the scene.
  2. 2011 to 2014. This covers the SFWA conflicts and the first two Sad Puppy campaigns but also looks at Gamergate.
  3. 2015. This section is the most chronological and most chapters cover events in a given month up to the smoky skies of Sasquan. “Phew!” we all say in August, “Looks like we defeated fascism for good this time!” and Donald Trump enters stage right.
  4. 2016-2017. Two parallel stories – the political story with the alt-right and Donald Trump and also the story of how the Puppy campaigns fizzled out. SP4, the non-event of SP5, the Dragon Awards and how Larry finally gets his participation prize.
  5. 2018-2019. Follows the political story with some delves back into fandom. Specifically this is the politics of Sad and Rabid versions of the right in the age of Trump. The crappiest gate aka ‘Comicsgate’ will get a look in, as will the 2019 Nebulas, as ‘compare and contrast’ with the Puppy campaigns.
  6. Meanwhile 2020: Aside from an initial dive into the RWA’s meltdown, this section looks at the hell year in terms of the perspectives of the Puppy Protagonists. Dominating it are three major elements of the year, Qanon (particularly with Vox Day), Covid (Sarah Hoyt) and ‘Stop the Steal’ (Larry Correia but also Day and Hoyt).

Section 3 (i.e. the actual plot) is likely to blow-out. Three sections of aftermath may look like a lot but as the main thesis of the project is that the themes and cognitive style of the “crazy” behaviour of the US right in 2020 were already overt and apparent in 2015, just at a different scale and context. Note, the thesis isn’t that the Puppies caused later events (they are all minor bit players in bigger story, if that) but rather that the same underlying cultures and attitudes on the right that erupted as the Puppies in fandom, later erupted at a bigger scale (and at greater human cost) in US politics. Sections won’t be of equal length.

As always, suggestions, comments etc are welcome but it will also end up being whatever gets written at the time!

  • Intro: Jan 6 2021
  • Part 1: Beginnings 1880 to 2010
    A short history of the Hugo Awards 1953 to 2000
    Dramatis Personae 1: John Scalzi
    Dramatis Personae 2: Theodore Beale
    Tor, Baen and Amazon 1990 -2011
    Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America 1965 to 2010
    March 1, 2005: Electrolyte
    Dramatis Personae 3: Larry Correia
    2007: Monster Hunter International
    Meanwhile: Barack Obama
    Meanwhile: Racefail 2009
    2010 Hugos and the SFWA
  • Part 2: 2011 to 2014
    2011: Larry Goes to Worldcon
    2012-13: The Day-Scalzi Feud
    Meanwhile: Mitt Romney
    2013 “How to get Correia nominated for a Hugo”
    2013: Redshirts
    Dramatis Personae 4: N.K.Jemisin
    2013: Trouble at the SFWA
    Dramatis Personae 5: Sarah Hoyt and the Mad Geniuses
    Opera Vita Aeterna
    2014: Sad Puppies 2
    2014: Ancillary Justice
    2014: Vox Gets the Boot
    Dramatis Personae 6: John C wright and the Evil League of Evil
    Dramatis Personae 7: George R R Martin
    2014: The Hugos go to London
    Meanwhile: Requires Hate
    Meanwhile: GamerGate
    Dramatis Personae 8: Brad Torgersen
  • Part 3: 2015
    January: Announcing SAD PUPPIES 3!
    February: Rabid Puppies 2015
    March: Warnings
    April Part 1: TSHTF
    April Part 2: Hugos Hit the News
    Dramatis Personae 9: Mike Glyer and File 770
    May: Planning Ahead
    E Pluribus Hugo
    June Part 1: The Tor Boycott
    Totaled
    June Part 2: The Human Toll
    July: Crescendo
    August: Sasquan
    September-December: Taking Stock
    Meanwhile: Donald Trump
  • Part 4: Fall of the Puppies 2016-2017
    The Broken Earth Trilogy
    Quarter 1 2016 Part 1: Sad Puppies 4
    Quarter 1 2016 Part 2: Rabid Puppies
    Meanwhile: The Rise of the Alt Right
    Dramatis Personae 10: Jon Del Arroz
    Enter the Dragon
    Quarter 2: Reactions
    Meanwhile: GOP goes Trump
    August: Midamericon
    September: Dragon Awards 2016
    Meanwhile: Me Too
    Meanwhile: President Donald Trump
    The Sad Demise of SP5
    Rabid Puppies 2017
    Worldcon 75 – Finland
  • Part 5: The Trump Years 2018-2019
    Overview
    Comicsgate
    Meanwhile: Qanon
    Changing fortunes at the Dragon Awards
    Meanwhile: Black Lives Matter
    Gender at the Hugo Awards
    Meanwhile: 20booksto50 and the Nebulas
    Dramatis Personae: Mixed Fortunes
    The Hugos and the Campbell Legacy
  • Part 6: Meanwhile 2020
    Trouble in Romance
    Covid 19
    Black Lives Matter
    US Presidential Election
    “Stop the Steal”
  • Conclusion: Reality and the Imagination

Bonus! Here is a Rabid version of the cover art.

Gamestop etc and the Alt-Right

The term “Alt-Right” has gone out of fashion largely because there is increasingly little differentiation between the US right in general and the section that promotes extreme & far-fetched ideas via internet communities and social media. I still find it a handy term though, partly because for everybody else when we think of “conservative” we think “pro-business and pro-capitalism”. Whereas, the modern right’s relationship with those ideas are more akin to the stance of some right wing political movements in the first half of the twentieth century i.e. often critical of established interest while being overtly hostile to left-wing movements and reform of capitalism. The question as to why the modern right’s stance on capitalism resembles that of, say, 1930s fascist movements is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader*.

Meanwhile, people of all kinds of politics have been paying attention to the Reddit-led antics on the stockmarket, where a kind of internet-rebellion has done some severe damage to dodgy hedge funds. There are numerous explainers out there but will go with Cory Doctorow’s:

Although the morals and motivations of both parties may be complex, it really isn’t hard to pick sides here. People (rightly) are cheering on the Reddit-rebels and enjoying the misfortune of the hedge funds.

When the app that many of the people where using to trade the stock clamped down on the sale of Gamestop stock, there was a political pushback from both major political parties.

Ted Cruz in turn said he supported AOC’s tweet, which led to a different back-and-forth when she pointed out his complicity in the death threats against her.

More widely on the internet, the right wing voices I keep an eye on generally take the same position of cheering on the Reddit-led stock-trading rebels. This isn’t surprising because events share some (but not all) of the features of the kind of internet based actions that the alt-right have either fostered, attached themselves to or taken over in the past:

  • It features individual action coordinated within internet communities
  • It exploits vulnerabilities in existing systems that assume that individuals (rather than institutions) will only participate as discrete individuals (i.e. not act in a coordinated way for other motives)
  • It can be cast in terms of ordinary people versus shadowy elites
  • It doesn’t and cannot lead to any kind of positive systemic reform
  • It does not seek to aid or improve the lot of marginalised people

It is those latter points that prevent the conflict from being to inherently left-wing in a way that would lead right-wing voices to flip the other way and start denouncing the Redditors as terrorists or cultural Marxists etc. Similarly, the final dot-point is what distinguishes this from an ACTUAL right wing internet insurgency. While Gamergate and the Puppy campaigns share many of the points above, those campaigns actively sought to make the lives of marginalised people worse and were overtly anti-left in nature (although they attempted to portray themselves as having a more neutral agenda e.g. “ethics in journalism”.)

Put another way, the r/wallstreetbets actions are NOT “Gamergate but with stocks” but do share enough similarities that the Gamergate-right are not just supportive of it but positively excited about it and regard it as a thing which is “theirs”. Like watching a necker-cube, a small shift of perspective allows us to see the same events as something that people on the left can support. There’s not a paradox there nor is it a case of left and alt-right finding common ground or the beginning of a kind of red-brown alliance. Left and right are looking at different things here.

What’s the difference? For the left the premise that “Wall Street sucks” is not news. The stock market is just one of the more obvious ways in which we live in a system with entrenched power for the wealthy and laws that help support that. The means with how that has come about are known and people have been documenting them for a couple of hundred years at least. It is a systemic problem and hence the system needs either mild-reform (liberalism), substantial reform (social-democracy) or needs to be torn down and utterly replaced (revolutionary communism). It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not a surprise, and nor is it even the worst part of the current economic status-quo.

For the alt-right none of the above is viewed as correct. They see the initial events as capitalism working as it should and then the “elites” stepping in and rigging the game. The literal term “elites” has wide currency and is a free floating concept. For the more openly neo-Nazi groups they equate the term with Jewish people. For the overlapping Qanon cultists, it is the shadowy groups trafficking children and engaging in cannibalistic anti-ageing rituals. Across the board on the right, the “elites” are blamed for all social change that the right reacts against. So everything from science fiction books not having enough rockets on the cover, to Star Wars having to many women in it, to trans-rights, Black Lives Matter or fossil-fuel reduction targets. So, when the government takes action to stop the stock market tanking, then for the right that is the same “elites” (as in they think it is quite literally the same people) who are rolling out Covid vaccines or are using “they/them” pronouns on their Twitter profiles.

For an example, here is Brian “Dragon Award Winner” Niemeier:

“Taken together, those breadcrumbs form a trail leading to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The GameStop squeeze threatens big donors and the Treasury Secretary, so Biden Intervened.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2021/01/biden-intervened.html

(Also, note the grift element at the end!)

Again, note – yes, the Biden administration almost certainly is intervening or is going to intervene but again, the core reason being that the stockmarket is systemically bad. A government can’t not intervene because wobbling the table can’t be allowed when the whole economy depends on a very expensive house of cards. The Trump administration would have intervened as well — the difference is that the alt-right would have characterised that as the “swamp” or the “deep state” acting against Trump’s wishes. The characters would have shifted but the narrative would have been the same.

The right-hand side of politics can’t adopt the answer of “systemic inequalities lead to dysfunctional societies” and hence when things aren’t working out the answer becomes “evil people are making the good system work badly”. They take as axiomatic that there must be hierarchy with better people at the top who are rightly rich and powerful, so when facts show the people at the top are just flawed people muddling through and acting in petty or short-sighted ways, they conclude that their must be a conspiracy. For a given individual, the “conspiracy” may not start as an anti-Semitic one but they trend that way. In short Nazis will be looking to exploit these events to recruit.

“Hey”, I hear you say, “You haven’t mentioned Vox Day yet.” Good point. He’s obviously saying much of what I summarised above i.e. a right-wing extremist trying to put a Gamergate spin on it. However, for readers who have been trying to follow the confusing Patreon litigation, he has also been pointing to the Robinhood app’s arbitration clause. The “swamp a company with arbitration claims” tactic is another aspect that is something that has been used for progressive causes but which is also being adopted as a right wing tactic. The lawyer involed in the Patreon case (Marc Randazza see this earlier post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/meanwhile-in-law-virulent-nationalism/ ) is promoting the idea:

Note that losing these kinds of mass actions is not necessarily a failure for the wider objective of the right. As was seen with Gamergate, some people get dragged into the initial enthusiasm and then drop out when everything fizzles out. For others, losing helps feed the radicalism. It’s the same coping mechanism we all watched with the recent election. A person takes in all the propaganda of inevitable victory to the point that they are absolutely certain of the outcome. The outcome then doesn’t happen. Response? Somebody must have cheated! Reality intruding into the confabulated ideas leads to some people holding onto those ideas more strongly. This is particularly true when those ideas already contain a narrative of shadowy nefarious people working against the individual personally.

TL:DR The Gamestop story is not “Gamergate but with stocks” but the far right will attempt to exploit it to recruit and radicalise.


*Hint: it’s because they are just an updated version of those same movements.

Australia’s Honours System Remains Very Broken

Another year and January 26 ticks over again. Australia’s very flawed national holiday continues to be a source of division and disunity. Among the manifold aspects of this is the announcement of various honours.

Last year, the secretive process led to the far-right ‘men’s rights activist’ Bettina Arndt being honoured. The previous year in the Queen’s Birthday honours there was the inclusion of Professor Adrian Cheok, a candidate for a far-right political party and sex-robot advocate. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/01/27/australian-honours-system-is-very-broken/

This year the award for right-wing extremism is going to former tennis player Margaret Court who is due to receive Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC). Ostensibly the award is for her previous tennis career but she had already been honoured in 2007 for this with an Officer of the Order of Australia, as well as receiving an MBE in 1967. Instead, Court’s status in recent years has been due to her multitude of attacks on LGBTQI people in her role as a Pentecostal minister.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-22/daniel-andrews-opposes-margaret-court-australia-day-honour/13081540

https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-i-handed-back-my-order-of-australia-and-why-margaret-court-should-be-stripped-of-hers-20210124-p56wgd.html

The pattern is clear: the Australian honours system is being exploited on an annual basis to promote far right extremism. The peak of Court’s tennis career was in the early 1960s, for which she has received multiple honours, her profile recently has been specifically for campaigning against marriage equality and for campaigning against the civil rights of LGBTQI+ people.