Ninja FUD in Arizona

Cast your mind back to the closing weeks of 2020 and in the US the right was all aflutter about electoral fraud i.e. not at all coping with losing. I’ve covered the extent to which US elections are impacted by fraud before and the answer is lots-and-lots-and-none-at-all. The lots are overt and technically legal and come in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It’s fraud because it is a systematic effort to distort the results of elections so that people who do not have the support of most eligible voters win elections. All election systems have flaws but if you put your effort into making those flaws worse for your own advantage then I have no issue calling that fraudulent, at least morally if not legally.

Putting that aside, the issue of in-person voter fraud and similar shenanigans is rare in the US, largely focused on local elections and (usually) has little impact. Past coverage of the issue prior to 2020 can be read here:

Of course, November 2020 brought fresh claims of voter fraud when Donald Trump was beaten by Joe Biden in the Presidential election. Those claims got quite wild, with all sorts of nonsense from misapplication of Benford’s Law to absurd claims about voting machines, a supposed military “raid” in Germany (wholly made up it seems) and at least one Kraken. What was missing at that point was ninjas.

Amid these attempts to deny reality, those states that swung the electoral college numbers in Biden’s favour received the most attention. Arizona was one of those states, and within Arizona, the populous Maricopa County was of particular interest because it sits electorally and demographically as a place shifting from Republican to Democratic,_Arizona

As a consequence of the desire to change reality, Arizona Senate Republicans hired private contractors to conduct an audit of Maricopa County and things only got stranger from there. The company, calling itself “CyberNinjas” at least added a cyberpunk theme to the process but aside from that, approached the process in a manner that generously could be called “sloppy”

The audit itself was a bit of a circus but apparently, it was sufficient to convince Donald Trump that it would lead to him being re-instated as US President by August 2021 (Observant readers will have noticed that Donald Trump was not re-instated as US President last month)

Fast forward to this week. The CyberNinjas report was leaked ahead of its public reveal and surprise, surprise Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Maricopa County…which, of course, we all already knew. In fact, in the CyberNinja’s recount Biden had more votes but…let’s face it that’s likely an error on their part in some way. This was not a group that inspired confidence.

Of course, the point of the audit was not intended to come up if with a different value than the previous recounts but to either find a ‘smoking gun’ of electoral shenanigans and failing that just generally cast doubt on the results. That Biden won (again) carries some amusement value but the substantial effort by the GOP was to use the audit report to claim that the results were in some vague way not wholly legitimate. Which, is what they were doing beforehand anyway but now they have spent a lot of money and can do it again.

The GOP spin on the report is a claim that 40 thousand votes, far more than Biden’s margin in the county, are somehow dubious. Interestingly, the CyberNinja’s report is more equivocal. They do list a whole pile of things but looking at the points in detail reveal a whole pile of vague hand waving. You can read the report here (and archive version here)

So what’s this 40K+ that the right is touting? The report breaks down 22 issues and the number of ballots impacted by those issues. The issues are presented with titles and a rating from “Critical” to “Low”. The emphasis from the right is on the names of the issues rather than a. the actual numbers and b. what those numbers actually indicate or c. whether those numbers are in any way correct and d. whether they changed the result. The idea is really just to get a figure big enough that Biden’s margin in this one county can be called doubtful in some sense, which helps fuel further voter suppression policies.

The single biggest issue highlighted by the report is the ominous-sounding “5.3.1 Mail-in ballots voted from prior address” which is the only issue rated as “Critical” in the report. According to the CyberNinjas, this numbers 23,344 ballots i.e. about half of the supposed 40K. Digging into the details, the issue is primarily people who moved house WITHIN Maricopa County between receiving a mail-in ballot and posting it. Hmmm. OK, sure, not even remotely something indicating mass electoral fraud but possibly in breach of the actual rules…except…it isn’t really 23,344 ballots WERE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, it’s just 23,344 were maybe that’s what happened.

“Mail-in ballots were cast under voter registration IDs for people that may not have received their ballots by mail because they had moved, and no one with the same last name remained at the address. Through extensive data analysis we have discovered approximately 23,344 votes that may have met this condition.”

The ‘extensive data analysis was a comparison with a third-party address validation tool of the kind used by companies to validate their direct marketing tools etc. So some proportion of those would be false positives in terms of an actual change of address, even more, would be false positives of a change of address within the window where it would have been a problem. The ‘audit’ did not actually confirm a single one of these ballots as actually being a problem. Nor did the report in any way connect this issue with any indication of systematic fraud, indeed taking the claim at face value it was eligible voters voting but with not wholly up-to-date details.

In short, it is largely smoke but this one issue bulks up the numbers.

The next highest issue is “5.4.1 More Ballots Returned By Voter Than Received” with 9,041 ballots ‘impacted’. Again, the title doesn’t describe the actual thing found but the potential inference that could be made from the discrepancy. The idea being with these titles, that either intentional or through sloppy reporting the whole “maybe” aspect of the report gets skipped over.

The actual substance of the figure is where there are discrepancies between the number of ballots sent to a person and the number returned e.g. somebody was sent one mail-in ballot but two were received. Note also “received” not “counted” and the report assumes only one ballot was counted. In addition, the report isn’t entirely sure what the figures they have actually indicate, noting:

“NOTE: We’ve been informed shortly before the release of this report that some of the discrepancies outlined could be due to the protected voter list. This has not been able to be validated at this time, but we thought it was important to disclose this information for accuracy.”

But…OK, follow the chains of maybes down the line and there’s at least a possibility of some fraction of that 9,041 being people who voted twice (although probably only counted once). Might that impact the results? The report provides a table that breaks down the nine thousand approximately by party registration.

  • Democrat [sic] Party 34.4%
  • Republican Party 30.4%
  • Prefer not to declare 30.1%
  • Independent 3.7%
  • Libertarian Party 1.3%

So we are well into fractions or fractions of maybes.

I won’t cover every point but the next highest was “5.4.2 VOTERS THAT POTENTIALLY VOTED IN MULTIPLE COUNTIES” with 5,295 votes and this is more of a classic. The CyberNinjas matched first, middle and last names AND year of birth across voter records to find duplicates. They found 10,342 votes out of 2,076,086 votes actually counted in the election.

“Comparing the Maricopa County VMSS Final Voted File to the equivalent files of the other fourteen Arizona counties resulted in 5,047 voters with the same first, middle, last name and birth year, representing 10,342 votes among all the counties. While it is possible for multiple individuals to share all these details, it is not common although the incidence
here (roughly one-third of one percent) may be the rate of commonalities in identifying information between legitimate, separate individual voters especially with common last names.”

Yes, it may well be the actual rate of commonalities and if I was paying for this report that ACTUAL rate (or a research-based estimate) is something I’d expect to see in that paragraph. It’s unlikely that two people would share all those identifying features in common but also the proportion they found was very small…which is what you would expect. This extensive data analysis discovered that a rare thing was rare.

These three issues by themselves (those rated “High” or “Critical”) account for 37,680 of the ballots that the propaganda spin is claiming are in some way evidence of fraud or potential fraud. The report itself makes more moderate claims about those figures and yet even those more moderate claims are poorly substantiated.

The issues with smaller figures have much the same issues. Name matching (e.g. of 282 possibly deceased people) that may or may not be accurate, a lack of clarity on what the figure might indicate and no obvious connection with any kind of systematic fraud.

Even taking the dubious report at face value, the broader narrative of some kind of extensive fraud by the Democratic Party (or the Deep State or satanic cultists or whoever is supposed to be conspiring today) is more disproven by the report than it is supported. A proportion of Arizona residents moving house with a plot to steal an election makes no sense but then none of the conspiratorial plots mooted in the wake of Trump’s defeat made any sense.

The details of the report won’t matter though. You’ll be getting sound bites of 40 thousand bad ballots in Arizona for literally years after this even though the actual report, dodgy as it is, doesn’t even support that figure.

Oh, and a little twist in the story. Do you remember Benford’s Law? Well if you check the leading digits of the figures in the CyberNinja report (page 5), the most common leading digit is 2 not 1. Of course, given the data there’s no reason why you should expect it to follow Benford’s law but for all those people who were claiming that any departure from the rule is sure evidence of fraud…well…OK those people don’t believe in logical consistency anyway so.

Larry C is stepping up the boogaloo rhetoric

Larry Correia isn’t famed for subtlety or nuance in his political analysis but unlike many in his wider circle, he has usually side-stepped some of the more extreme violent rhetoric of the overly-armed right. Things are getting a little too much for him now though and the kind of Civil-War-2 style rhetoric that has been bubbling away on the right (and in his comment section) for years has become a lot more overt.

Now note, as per his former Sad Puppy ally Sarah Hoyt, these kinds of comments are framed not in terms that his followers or the broader American right SHOULD take to arms because they can’t cope with a Democrat in office, but rather that the current administration is in some way so provocative that it is driving them over some sort of mental edge that makes violence inevitable. Somehow the free-will rugged individualists have a sudden and dangerous loss of agency in the presence of things like public-health measures.

So Correia’s specific advice is more bunker-down than take-to-the-streets.

“And then some of you will ask, but Correia, what’s your solution? Lol. What solution? Shit’s probably going to get weirder. My solution? Buy ammo and food storage. Make friends with your neighbors and be useful to your community. Don’t live anywhere run by democrats.” and archive link

And later in the comments he clarifies that he is not advocating for a civil war…sort of:

“If you think I’m “advocating” for a civil war, you’re one dumb motherfucker. I’m warning morons like you what is inevitably coming if you don’t apply the brakes.
I don’t want a civil war. Sadly dumbfucks like you get a vote too.”

He’s not advocating for civil war but… Well, the guy is a writer I guess. The body of the post is more ranty and stream of consciousness than usual, mixing in a big list of grievances from the masks, vaccine mandates, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the January 6 insurrection and a truly wild idea that nobody faced any legal consequences from any of the violence in US cities surrounding Black Lives Matter protests.

“As our elected leaders continue to suck and fail, I expect to see a lot more civil disobedience happen. This isn’t a shocker. The left has already made it very clear that the rules don’t apply to them. The left burns, loots, murders, whatever. It all gets a pass. The right gets slightly uppity and it’s a world ending crisis that requires the full might of the federal government to come crashing down on their heads and 24/7 news coverage for months and special commissions and anybody who tangentially agrees with those uppity types needs to be driven from society for their extremist ways.”

Correia concludes his post with:

“And for the fools cheering this madness on, we have this system for a reason. We have laws for a reason. We create laws the way we do for a reason. The founding fathers weren’t stupid. They were smarter than you idiots. Quit trying to gut or destroy every protection they put in place. That shit is there to protect you. But these stupid motherfuckers are not going to quit pushing until a critical mass of Americans just says fuck it and go full on Rwandan machete party.”

The shift in government this year has heightened this kind of rhetoric on the right and obviously, we’ve seen the reversal of support for Trump saying he was ending US troop deployment in Afghanistan to Biden actually ending US troop deployment in Afghanistan. However, during the Trump years, this kind of sense of an encroaching tipping point/psychological-political crisis on the right only increased. Correia’s claim here that it is the left (as he sees it) being in government that is somehow pushing (right-wing) Americans into a blind range is undermined by the fact that the intensity of these kinds of comments increased on the right during the Trump years. It would coalesce on different topics obviously, for example here’s the relatively mild-mannered Brad Torgersen in 2019 after the death of Jeffery Epstein:

“When the dam bursts, I expect lampposts to be decorated from one end of America to the other. Money can’t protect you when the proles no longer fear jail, nor the cops, nor repercussions. When all there is, is rage at the latest, greatest double-standard and abuse of power.”

One of the dangers of focusing on the kookiest aspects of phenomena like Qanon among these communities is missing how the framing and themes seep into the wider discourse. Neither, Larry C. nor Brad T. ever directly fell down either the Qanon or Pizzagate rabbit holes but through the Trump years, the idea that a nebulous Democratic Party/leftwing/big tech “establishment” was really in power and Trump was struggling against them, was an unspoken premise. For example, above Correia refers to the violence in American cities during 2020 as “The left burns, loots, murders, whatever. It all gets a pass.” Gets a pass from whom? And how? There’s not an answer there because if he were to try to unpack the idea then he would either find he was wrong or he would need to construct an elaborate conspiracy theory (or adopt an existing one).

The Qanon-lite framing bubbles up elsewhere in Correia’s rant as well:

“Best case scenario is the opposition party finds its spine and actually fights for something. That might stall the doomsday clock a bit. Realistically? They’ll screw it up. Or win (depending on how “fortified” the mid-term election is) and squander it as usual. Note however, I’m not saying the two parties are morally equivalent. That’s for cowards. Republicans suck, but the DNC as currently constituted is pure Satanic evil incarnate.”

That’s hyperbole but it’s a specific choice of words also.

I don’t think Larry Correia is going to take to the barricades any time soon but he will continue to push this idea that political violence against the Democratic party or against the left is something that they have brought upon themselves. The dangers of such rhetoric are obvious.

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.

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 ( ) 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 ) 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.”

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.””

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.”

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 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: and here:

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 (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.

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.”

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.

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”

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 ].

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.

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 and here

*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.


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 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
    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
    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.