Today’s right wing author meltdown…

Michael Z Williamson is very upset that Wikipedia is discussing deleting his page:http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/index.php?itemid=502 .

I’ve some sympathy, mainly because I often write about obscure right wing authors and being able to point to a Wikipedia page is handy. However, the Articles for Deletion page [wiki, archive] makes some strong arguments: specifically the article doesn’t establish his notability with third party sources.

Rather than address those issues, the deletion argument is getting swamped by really bad arguments, presumably from Williamson fans egged on by Williamson via his multiple Facebook accounts. A moments thought would have indicated that trying to brigade Wikipedia into keeping an article by throwing the standard paranoid line of ‘politics, bias!’ would be counterproductive. There are few people sensibly trying to offer suggestions of sources for notability who are getting swamped by really poor arguments by obvious partisans.

Meanwhile, Jon Del Arroz has waded in with his usual journalistic standards:

“Now, years later, big tech is taking its revenge on Michael as they’ve deleted his wikipedia page. The excuse is his relation to “sad puppies” — which goes back to a group that was trying to bring the Hugo Awards back to sanity several years ago.”

http://delarroz.com/2019/07/22/bestselling-author-michael-z-williamson-erased-from-history-over-politics/#comments

At this point his page hasn’t been deleted [it was briefly and restored] and ‘Sad Puppies’ hasn’t been offered as an excuse (it has been mentioned as a place his entry could be redirected to).

‘But wait!’ I hear myself say rhetorically ‘Don’t all the right read Voxopedia these days instead?’ Apparently not.

SF Authors and Violence Against Nazis

Assorted ex-Puppies and Scrappy Doos remain in a self-sustaining tizz about anybody hinting at violence towards the far-right. Here’s our old chum Chris Chupik at Mad Genius Club:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/07/06/constant-scrutiny/#comment-130126

And in a more rambling and confused melange of semi-untruths, Jon Del Arroz has a piece here [archive link].

I have to concede that science fiction/fantasy authors proposing extreme violence towards Nazis is not uncommon. Indeed, Del Arroz and Chupik are considering only a relatively minor example. It’s my duty to point them towards even more extreme examples of this trend. Consider this statement where a SFF author reveals that they considered literally cutting a section of skin off a Nazi sympathisers face:

“I’m all about shooting Nazis in the face. I had an incident earlier this year where I had to physically leave a place because there was a guy there with a swastika tattooed on his face and it was taking too much of my self-control not to draw my Benchmade and cut it off. ”

Gosh! I guess they’ll have to add that author to their list of “evil” people. Who was it again? Some guy called “Larry Correia” [archive link]

Also, I think my internet service has had an update or maybe its a new browser extension or something because I seem to be able to actually smell hypocrisy across the internet now.

Just a little bit of Puppy history

Well this looks like a well deserved announcement:

“Tom Doherty Associates is pleased to announce (and, you know, Tor.com is not unbiased here!) that effective immediately, Irene Gallo is promoted to Vice President, Publisher of Tor.com! In this newly created role, Irene will be fully dedicated to the Tor.com website and imprint.”

https://www.tor.com/2019/06/20/irene-gallo-promoted-to-vice-president-publisher-of-tor-com/

Good for her and well deserved given the range and quality of Tor.com output over the past few years.

Of course, the announcement can’t help but echo here because of one of the uglier parts of the 2015 Sad Puppy campaign which included an attempt by several people connected with that campaign to attack Irene Gallo by launching a boycott of Tor books. (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/what-about-that-tor-boycott-thing/ and more recently https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/back-to-the-revised-history-of-a-debarkle/)

As I said more than once, the whole thing had a dramatic entrance but lacked any kind of distinct end. I guess Puppy-related people still aren’t buying Tor books and I guess nobody cares. Here’s a graph from Google Trends that shows the rapid rise and fall in interest in the topic:

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2014-01-01%202019-06-21&q=%22Tor%20boycott%22

On the Right & Civilisations

This is a rewrite of a Tweet thread that started here:

However, Tweets aren’t a great medium for the point I was trying to make, so I’m making it more essay-like here.

“Western Civilisation” or “Judeo-Christian civilisation” are almost content-free markers in right wing discourse these days. In both cases, there is a fundamental incoherence that arises from deep problems with how people like Shapiro think about the world.

‘Civilisation’ implies an ongoing exchange of ideas between people. A civilisation will manifest in many ways (politics, architecture, art) but the idea that these multifold things all connect together comes from people swapping ideas and concepts. However, the right wing rhetorical use of the term ‘civilisation’ implies the opposite: that somehow ideas cannot cross between ‘civilisations’ even though the very examples they use of the wonders of Western Civilisation are prime examples of a very fluid exchange of ideas way beyond the boundaries of the West.

Shapiro concedes grudgingly some maths from India, while ignoring the influence of that same maths in other parts of Asia, or its transmission to the west. There’s no sensible way of considering the cultural and philosophical history of Europe without considering its connection to the Middle East, central Asia and the Indian sub-continent, through migration, trade, war and general proximity. Shapiro cites Aristotle (who was neither Christian nor Jewish) and simultaneously ignores the role of Islamic Aristotelian scholarship on European thought in the middle-ages.

Obviously, the term “Western Civilisation” isn’t wholly meaningless as an idea in general but the alt-right uses it in a way that is little more than a marker for their racism. “Judeo-Christian” is used by sections of the right in a similar way to mask their hatred of Islam. It’s even more absurd as a term, generally only applied to Western European ideas (and often specifically Anglophone ones) while ignoring other cultures with a Christian background (partly out of habit of seeing Eastern Europe as a non-Christian ‘other’) and at the same time partly-ignoring non-Christian influences on European culture (pre-Christian Northern Europe, classical Greece and Rome) while co-opting those classic parts that have been Christianised (see Aristotle above). The “Judeo” part is strictly tokenistic: Maimondes is as likely to be ignored as Averroes.

That Western European thought was influenced by multiple cultures both as an internal dynamic (the many cultures within Europe) or an external dynamic (the many cultures Europe has interacted with by trade, war, invasion, migration, exploration, colonisation etc) is not something that can be admitted to because then any endorsement of the wonders of “Western Civilisation” would by implication be seen an endorsement of multi-culturalism.

Both terms as used by the right are bad history and in Shapiro’s example a bad understanding of how science developed. He actively obscures why Issac Newton did his work where and when he does, turning him into just some sort of brief expression of a kind of miasma of “Judeo-Christian” civilisation. The path that leads to the particular sweet spot that Shapiro seems to be pointing towards, where abstract philosophy meets empirical practicality isn’t something that just pops up if you believe in god in just the right way. If it where then we’d have far more Issac Newtons in Christian and Jewish history. Consequently Shapiro’s analysis (if that’s not too generous a term for it) makes it both harder to understand what was going on in 17th century England and also undermines what actually WAS special about it AND also undermines how Newton’s insights connect with his religious beliefs.

The halting steps towards the modern sense of scientific thinking, in which broad abstract principles are examined with an eye towards experimentation and empirical testing, was a long road full of missteps. It is one in which Aristotle’s work (as he keeps coming up) was both an aid and a hindrance and where contact (both good and bad) with other cultures and beliefs was vital. Religion is not irrelevant here and had positive and negative influences just as a figure like Aristotle had positive and negative influences.

Shapiro needs to set up the relationship as purely one way: that specific religious beliefs begat science because he also needs to hide the opposite effect: that religious beliefs changed because of scientific & philosophical ideas (as well as economy & politics & exploration & colonialism & empire etc) And also, that Islam, Judaism and Christianity kept changing each other over time and still do so. This is hard to accept if your view of religion is one where they are repositories of universal truths (or lies) rather than human attempts to grapple with those truths and as subject to human foibles and historical forces as any other human endeavour.

Instead Shapiro imagines religion as a kind of operating system for civilisation-machines rather than as ongoing dialogues people have with each other. Hence him tying himself up in knots in a manner that leaves him in a position where he cannot defend his analysis from the alt-right. His intellectual incoherence on this topic has multiple roots but one in particular is revealed in this particular topic of “civilisations”.

The wider discourse in the right for decades now has been one that can be characterised as scepticism about the existence of, or influences of SOCIETY. Exemplified most starkly by Margaret Thatcher but present across the board. Now, fair enough, sociology is not the most robust of disciplines but imagine trying to discuss sociological events, dynamics etc while being hostile to the very concept of society. It would be like trying to do macroeconomics while actively avoiding the concept of “an economy”

Racists are mainly racists for petty & cynical reasons but in addition, a discourse about sociological phenomenon without a concept of society is one in which racism or some other partisan essentialism is inevitable. Why are their broad, epiphenomenal effects in a collection of atomic individuals? How do such things exist if you can’t think in terms of “society”? The alternatives are conspiracies, religious allegiance, race or supernatural intervention & right wing discourse is full of all four.

Without a concept of society, it is inevitable that shifts in taste or widespread behaviour become blamed on conspiracies or hidden intentional forces. That and racism will only get you so far though. Any attempt to present a historical account of the world that at least has a patina of intellectual respectability is to find a proxy for society that can fill the conceptual gap. “Civilisation” is another way for right wing pseudo-intellectuals to try to talk about society & culture without conceding that either are powerful factors in our lives. Of course a concept of civilisation without sociological ideas is a vacuum.

You Haven’t Written About Sad Puppies For A Long Time

True, true. So a summary of various goings on or not going on as the case may be.

Mad Genius covered a few cause célèbres a few days ago including the fuss around Amélie Wen Zhao’s book Blood Heir, and the Mystery Writers of America pulling an award for Linda Fairstein because of her involvement in the prosecution of the Central Park Five. Amid this there was a section on the Nebula Award fuss around 20booksto50K’s reading list:

If you aren’t up-to-date on what this refers to, a so-called slate was put together by a member of a FB group of indie and small press authors. It was, in fact, meant to be a reading list, not a slate for voting. The person responsible has since apologized. But, oh no, the “damage” had been done and it was done by those evil Indies. How dare they try to manipulate the Nebs?
Sound familiar? Remind you of some of the arguments against the SPs?
Note also, how there is no condemnation for the person or persons who took information from a private social media group and made it public. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean folks aren’t out to get you.

https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/04/30/tuesday-morning-roundup/

It’s the standard and factually incorrect “trad v indie” version of events that ignores that the nominees included people with both trad and indie publications, some of whom were very much SFWA ‘insiders’ and that they were nominated in categories against other works that were independently published or that the most vehement criticism came from indie published authors.

Meanwhile at Mad Genius Club, Dave Freer is taking a break from his regular posts: https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/05/06/a-leave-of-absence/

Speaking of Dave Freer, Louis Antonelli has started his own short fiction magazine. Currently it is a generic Blogger page but from small things big things can grow: https://siriussciencefiction.blogspot.com/ I’d say ‘good luck’ to it and leave it at that but it comes with this rant which includes some weird personal attacks http://louantonelli.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-death-of-live-and-let-live.html The greatest ire from the Sad Puppies has always been towards people who attempted to bridge divides.

“The Soviet Union subverted and infiltrated college campuses during the Vietnam War era in an attempt to topple the U.S. without a fight. It didn’t work, but it did result in the unusual societal outcome that the most spoiled and privileged segments of society are also the most leftist. Today’s liberal leaders combine the snobbery of the Met Club with the ideology of the Khmer Rouge.”

Okedokee. Couldn’t get any more paranoidly conspiratorial than that? Why yes! Yes, it can!

“Once the sci-fi establishment stuffed the ballot box by buying thousands of WorldCon memberships to euthanize the Sad Puppies in the 2015 Hugo vote, it assured the irrelevance of the award. The old institutions remain, but they are like dusty trophies on the mantle of a cob-webbed private club. New ones are rising up because that 98 percent of sci fi authors need some place to call home. The Dragon Awards have already clobbered both the Hugos and Nebulas in both quality and prestige.”

Glad to see Lou is sticking to his usual journalistic standards of evidence based claims.

Speaking of grandiose plans to create alternative venues free from SJW influence, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild remains unchanged from February 2018 https://sffcguild.com/blog/

And speaking of the SFFC Guild, Richard Paolinelli and Declan Finn have fallen out with Jon Del Arroz. Timothy’s erstwhile client posted an unfunny meme about the Twin Towers and Infinity War (a skyline pic of the towers sort of evaporating Thanos-snap style, with George W Bush’s face superimposed poorly onto Thanos’s head). Insensitive and offensive? Certainly. The most offensive thing JDA has ever posted? Hardly. Even so, this was a line crossed for some. JDA characterises it thusly:

“On the personal front, I’ve been under heavy attack from — not the left — but centrist right wing authors over the last week. They’ve pushed hard against me, both in public and in private. I’ve shared some of the ridiculous things said about me.”

http://delarroz.com/2019/05/03/theres-a-war-on-for-your-mind-fighting-the-real-battles/

The list of people Jon has now permanently alienated in the course of his short career grows ever longer.

Speaking of meme sharing harassers, I hadn’t visited Vox Day’s site for a long time but these days his main concern is Royal Babies. Apparently (according to Vox) Prince Harry and Meghan Markle haven’t really had a baby, which is his follow up conspiracy theory to Meghan Markle not really being pregnant. http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/05/fake-baby-finally-arrives.html Now, sure, I get that racism is a powerful drug that sends its victims into a world of self-parody but didn’t Vox at least once try to project a veneer of being a serious commentator on world affairs?

It’s cosmological arguments all the way down

For those keeping score not only has Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel Not to Feature an Actual Horror Novel, Brian Niemeier got a new post about the existence of god up (https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/a-proof-for-god.html ) but in a outbreak of morphic resonance John C Wright has a post up about the cosmological argument as well (http://www.scifiwright.com/2019/04/an-uncaused-first-cause/ ). There’s an excellent take down of the Wright post in the comments that’s well worth a read.

I’ll stick to Brian’s post:

“What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.”

OK but does he transcend time? Does he transcend mathematics? Does he transcend logic? Earlier Brian dismissed discussion about a god “making boulders he cannot lift” but there’s a reason why such cliched argument keep cropping up. What the heck does “all powerful” mean and what are the limitations to that. “No limitations” is fine and a god that can (but chooses not to) do paradoxical things is also fine but if we have a being that transcends logic then any argument about the necessary properties of that being is hogwash. On the other hand, if the being does not transcend logic then, sorry, you’ve still got to deal with tiresome questions about unliftable boulders and who shaves God’s beard if he doesn’t shave himself

“Anyone who says God’s existence can’t be proven is either ignorant or lying. The deception usually lies in moving the goalposts regarding what constitutes evidence. Materialists are fond of demanding physical proof of God while they themselves required no physical proof for materialism.

The claim that God’s existence can’t be proven contains another subtle a priori bias. It assumes that God exists in the same way that a hydrogen atom, a pencil, or an aardvark exists; that is, contingently within the order of creation. God does not have existence per se. It’s more accurate to say that God is Being. The Bible sees eye to eye with Aristotle here. “I Am that I Am.”

That last bit is the Popeye argument: I yam what I yam. It no more demonstrates god’s existence than it demonstrates Popeye’s.

The deception lies in moving the goalpost, says Brian, as he busily digs up the posts from one end of the field and moves them to the parking lot. ‘Exist’ normally means to exist physically but fair enough, there’s other kinds of ‘existing’. Popeye has tattoos (you can see them in the picture) so they ‘exist’ in a narrow sense but we all get that Popeye isn’t real and niether are his tattoos. Gods clearly can ‘exist’ in the sense that fictional beings exist. They exist in the sense that we can have discussions about them. Ficitional beings can have fictional truths about them: Popeye is a sailor and a man. How do I know? Because he is Popeye the Sailor Man!

But if I concede that ‘exist’ can mean something other than physically exist then maybe God exists in someway that is more real than fictional but a the same time not the same as physically existing? Sure! I really can’t prove that’s not the case and it’s not intrinsically irrational if that’s where your faith takes you. However, Brian wants to prove that God exists really real and that’s going to take more effort.

But before we go any further it’s worth pointing out an issue Brian has skipped over. Brian is dismissing God existing in a materialist physical sense. Brian also thinks *JESUS* existed in a physical sense. He’s half a step from demonstrating that Jesus was not God. There’s ways around that but I think most of them are heretical from a strict Catholic perspective. I digress.

“In truth, absolute, uncaused, necessary Being is self-explanatory. The physical universe is more in need of an explanation–both from its origins and at every moment–than the eternal, transcendent God.”

Brian is nodding back to the ontological argument: god is a necessary being and therefore exists because he necessarily exists because we said so. See Popeye above. However, today’s “proof” will be the cosmological argument instead:

“The most elegant and time-tested arguments for absolute Being are the cosmological arguments refined by St. Thomas Aquinas. Moderns and Postmoderns will glibly scoff that these arguments have long been discredited. But each attempt to refute the classical arguments from cosmology, such as David Hume’s, is revealed as a straw man under scrutiny.”

Yes, moderns, post-moderns et al will glibly scoff at the cosmological argument, also there was some scoffing at in the Middle Ages. The link is to a post by Edward Feser who I have discussed before and is a key source for a lot of this necromantic attempts to revive Thomas Aquinas. That link is worth following but it doesn’t adequately deal with the objection, it just points out that the objection has similar problems rather than making the problems go away.

Anyway the next step is the interesting one:

“Here’s a common cosmological argument. An apple ripens on a tree branch. That means the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness, and that potential was put into act. We can rightly ask where the impetus to actualize that potential came from. Apples aren’t self-sufficient. They need water, sunlight, and a host of other conditions to grow. You can try locating the source of the apple’s actualization in any or all of these contingencies, but that just kicks the can a little farther down the road since water, the sun, etc. all contain potentialities requiring external contingencies to actualize.”

You’ll note there’s another assumption of existence there: “the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness”. The assumption is that potentials are also things that exist in some sense or other. Brian then asks us to imagine what made all these dominoes of potentiality knock each other over.

“Positing that it’s contingent beings all the way down doesn’t do any good. That just gets you an infinite train of boxcars with no locomotive. Such a train would be incapable of motion. Similarly, an infinite chain of contingent causality could never move the apple from unripeness to ripeness.”

Except it doesn’t. The added hidden assumption here is that there can be no cases of something happening FOR NO REASON. “Reason” in the sense of things having a reason to happen is central to understanding how the term “cause” is used in these arguments. A bunch of random stuff just happening because of no reason at all is regarded as axiomatically not possible. Of course LOGICALLY we cannot assume that. It has not been established that everything happens for a reason and there’s good (ahem) reason to think the opposite. Sure, random effects at a quantum level MAY have hidden causes but there’s no logical reason to think they must. It’s an assumption, a reasonable and appealing and maybe even aesthetically nice assumption but not one that we can prove. If anything, it’s a habit of mind that we adopt because it is handy at the macro level and has a survival advantage when dealing with other human beings.

[Ed. Why not? Because there would be an infinite number of preceding steps that would have to be completed before the apple could ripen. But by definition, an infinite series of steps can never be completed.]”

Eeek. This is just an unforced error. I’d pick on it but Brian doesn’t need this point for his argument. Having said that over at John C Wright, he’s also trying to be moderate with his views on infinity:

“Infinite is a word that causes endless confusion. All it means is that there is no boundary, no stopping point, or, in this case, no starting point.
We call the number line infinite not because any real human being in real history ever counted all the numbers that exist and discovered that there were an infinite number of them: no, that is nonsense.
What we mean is that there is a rule of mathematics that says that for any given number, no matter how big, you can always add one and get a bigger number. There is no end point to the process of adding.”

Good grief, if I was going to start believing in a god it would be precisely so I wouldn’t need to be so mealy mouthed about actual infinities. Having said that, I think this is in line with Aristotle’s view on infinities, as in no limits to extension rather than there being an actual thing called infinity.

Except…well you can see the problem. Infinities don’t ‘exist’ in the materialist sense of exist as far as we can tell. We don’t find them in nature and either at the very big or the very small. Everywhere we have looked we find very big finitudes or tiny granularities. But we’ve admonished to take off our materialist spectacles and consider existence from the perspective of things with NECESSARY properties. Well in that sense of ‘exist’, the mathematical sense, we have not just infinity but infinities — an infinite number of infinities.

Circling back to both Wright and Niemeier, they want their version of god to exist in the mathematical sense of existing (which may not be existing at all) and also be a thinking person even though the are no examples of thing that only exists in the mathematical sense being a thinking person and all examples of thinking people exist materially.

Triangles are the new front in the culture war and are possibly being controlled by demons

Imagine, if you will, a triangle. I’ll make it a very specific one. It has a base of 18 centimetres and a perpendicular height of 9 centimetres. It even has a specific orientation with its base horizontal on a grid. Here it is (or at least a version of it)

Am I being wholly honest? The actual picture I’m showing you is a .png file and you are viewing it on a computer screen. The image is made of tiny squares (visible with a magnifying glass) and the file itself, the more abstract description of the image, is a .png i.e. in principle a set of coordinates of colour information for a grid of data. Does that matter? The answer is “It depends”.

Here’s the image again and superimposed a set of largeish squares. They are there to represent a low-resolution version of the pixelated triangle.

Make the squares a bit smaller and our shpae made from squares begins to look a lot more akin to a triangle:

You get the picture. Smaller and smaller squares make for a smoother image. The first set of stacked squares really doesn’t look much like a triangle but with smaller and more squares the image gets more and more like a triangle. How small do the squares have to be for it to be REALLY a triangle? Trick question.

Here’s a different way of looking at it. As I make the squares smaller the area of the stacked squares gets closer and closer to the are of the triangle we would find from the classic half-the-base-times-the-perpendicular-height formula. Our stacked squares shape literally gets more triangular as far as area goes as we improve the resolution.

But what about the perimeter? Well that’s a mess. It’s not even clear whether perimeter is meaningful. We could define it taking into encounter the edges of the nominal squares. If we do that then (I think, correct me if I’m wrong) the perimeter would tend towards the perimeter of a 9 by 18 rectangle. Ooops. My pixelated triangle is getting more rectangular. However, if I treat the perimeter as meaning “number of pixels on the outside of the shape” then I get a different limit.

Yeah but make them small enough and it is basically a triangle right? Sure, unless you really care about counting pixels, in which case not so much. Every real, physical manifestation of a geometric entity is a messy, not entirely correct compromise. Doing actual useful maths with real things requires understanding the extent to which a thing is and isn’t the “pure” mathematical entity it resembles.

This is a basic fact about the universe. It’s true whether you take a strong Platonic realist view of mathematical entities (i.e. they really are really real, maybe even more real than other things) or not (i.e. they are essentially fictional abstractions that are useful but less real than physical stuff that you can bump your head on).

Too cut a long story slightly shorter I sort of maybe tried to engage our old pal and the inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Story That Is Actually A Space Opera Brian Niemeier about this. My excuse is that he said that “necessary being is what theologians mean by God.” and logically necessary things are to me like a flame is to a moth. Brian’s going to be doing the ontological argument for the existence of god and by golly if there’s one think I have opinions on it’s that. Then he used the necessary properties of a triangle as an example…

Anyway, the guy thinks I’m a demon anyway, so if he does the equivalent of drawing a summoning circle for me, I really have no choice but to manifest in a puff of sulphur. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about.html

The discussion ended with this:

“You have two choices.
1) Confess that Jesus is the Christ, and God has raised Him from the dead. I shall forgive your violation of my hospitality, and you may continue commenting here.
2) You decline to make this just and logically irrefutable profession, and you cease commenting here. Persist in commenting without meeting my terms, and you get spammed.”

Point 1 apparently is how he expels demonically controlled beings from his blog. Which worked because I then vanished back to my demonic lair without even once twisting my head around 360 degrees. Brian then followed it up with an additional rant about the left being controlled by demons, in particular Doris: https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/im-not-saying-its-demons.html

Anyway, how was your day?