The Utah-based Life, The Universe & Everything (LTUE) is an annual quasi-academic conference on science-fiction writing. It’s not explicitly a pro-Sad Puppies conference but the Utah location and the connections between the original SPs and the Utah writing scene means there has been a lot of overlap over the years. In 2020 Mary Robinette Kowal (a regular guest) turned down a Guest of Honour invitation from LTUE to encourage them to invite a black woman as GoH, instead, they went with Brad Torgersen as a replacement. [https://twitter.com/maryrobinette/status/1216790389073567751 ]
Despite the current Omicron wave [sorry – that sounds like yet another new genre], LTUE is going ahead in February as an in-person conference. They have announced a set of rules for attendees though.
“- We will require proof of vaccination OR a negative Covid test within the last 72 hours at check-in for all participants and panelists.https://www.facebook.com/LTUESymposium/posts/3106388302967718
– Mask-wearing will be strictly enforced, fully covering nose and mouth at all times (with brief exceptions for eating or drinking, but not in programming rooms). Panelists will remove masks for speaking, as per accessibility best practices.
– We will create more space between seats. In most instances this will not be the ideal 6 feet, but we will do our best to create as many options for spreading out as possible while accommodating as many people as we can in the programming rooms.”
Note that this isn’t a mandatory vaccination requirement as they will accept a negative covid test as an alternative. Even so, their measures are receiving some pushback, including from their former Guest of Honour, Brad R. Torgersen. It is worth stressing that Torgersen has not indulged in the same level of covid-crankery and disinformation as his former allies and certainly nothing at the level of Sarah Hoyt or Vox Day. He’s vaccinated and doesn’t oppose mask-wearing as such. I’ll let him explain himself:
“I was slated for several panels, but won’t be attending now. Not because I doubt vaccines (I got Pfizer jabs) and not because I am anti-mask (I do think people who want to wear masks should absolutely be able to wear masks if they believe it’s in their best interest, or the best interest of others) but because I believe our events are being held hostage by people who are achieving all the wrong results for the right reasons. Ergo, safety.Well, you cannot make life safe enough for some folks, and you literally *can* be “too safe” if it means sacrificing liberties and freedoms on the altar of precaution. America should not desire to be a “Show me your papers!” place. That’s not who we are, or at least it’s not who we should want to be.I’ve promoted LTUE for many years. I was the 2019 literary Guest of Honor. I am very, very proud of that.But I am going to decline participation in 2022.I suspect there will be some who cheer this. Perhaps, even, this is their desired result? But that’s a hunch on my part.”https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/7571490146210486
In the comments, to Brad’s post, it is suggested that the move is “political” and Brad is asked whether this move is “revenge” for him being a GoH previously. Brad answers:
“It could be, or at least I suspect several people were in part motivated to ensure the “wrong people” drop out of LTUE. And they don’t even have to be open about their disdain and displeasure, as always, they can achieve their ill ends by putting a patina of “safety” on it.”Brad Torgersen, Facebook comment
If you haven’t met this almost circular idea yet, it is a common one among the right. It’s not a conspiracy theory as such because there is an empirical truth here. Many on the right are protesting, boycotting or just avoiding, venues, workplaces or institutions because of public health measures. Not everybody who hates wearing masks is on the right nor is every anti-vaxxer on the right but these have become important group markers for much of the right in the US (and other countries). Consequently, requiring masks (or other measures) at an event genuinely does work as a kind of filter that reduces the chance of somebody on the right attending.
So the net effect is Brad isn’t going to go to LTUE because he sees this as a political measure and the political aspect of it is that these measures are the kind of things that mean he won’t go. Public health measures have taken on this extra semiotic layer connected with group identity, ideology and culture wars.
As we’ve discussed a lot over the past 200+ years since the pandemic started, that extra layer adds an extra-stifling of public debate on covid strategy. I’ve been quite open about my preference for strong pre-emptive measures in the face of a pandemic but there are genuine civil liberty questions around that (in particular the role of the police in enforcing such measures and the inequity of how enforcement has been directed at poorer communities). The additional co-option of the culture-wars into covid has added a whole other layer of problems to the pandemic — especially given right-wing culture-warriors long-standing use of social media disinformation as an organising tactic — that badly undermines public debate on a huge issue.
Anyway, public health measures do help exclude people with radical right-wing culture war views from real-life spaces — but mainly because people with radical right-wing culture war views think public health measures are there to exclude them. Surgical masks may or may not protect you from covid but apparently, they have some prophylactic use against wing-nuttery.