A recurring theme when looking at the media-right (and so much of the modern right is about its interaction or control of entertainment and news media) is the layers of grift, scams, self-promotion and get-rich-quick schemes.
The money fueling the right has long derived from rich donors such as the Koch brothers and the Mercer family. Added to this have been relatively wealthy children who fuel their media careers off inherited wealth — both models depend on the deep income inequalities in modern Western society and the concentration of wealth.
The third element is the attempt to pull in money from more distributed sources. YouTube advertising revenues are an obvious source but I’d add book sales and more general website advertising as well. What is not clear is how much the alt-right is fueled from above and how much from below.
With the specific focus on science-fiction media, the question has been the extent to which an outfit like Castalia House is a hobby funded out of Vox Day’s pocket versus it being a going concern pulling in cash from Vox Day’s followers. Clearly there are elements of both but at the end of the day, does one source exceed another?
I doubt we’ll know the answer to such questions anytime soon but here’s an interesting data point. Milo Yiannopolous has suffered multiple setbacks of late:
- He was ostracised by conservatives because of his stated views on under-age sex
- His book was cancelled by a major publisher (Simon & Schuster) and he had to self-publish it
- Robert Mercer family stopped funding him
- His own attempt at a Milo-branded media website flopped
- He attempted to sue Simon & Schuster because of the book cancellation and then had to drop the lawsuit
- His speaking tour of Australia got cancelled due to lack of interest leading to further legal woes
- He was banned from PayPal after using the service to send anti-semitic content to a Jewish journalist
In relation to that Australian tour, a series of Tweets appeared today purporting to have court documents about Milo’s finances. Now, the authenticity of these documents haven’t been verified but they appear to be genuine.
The ‘running debt’ spreadsheet has some familiar names on it:
The debts all appear to be money owed from columns on Milo’s “Dangerous.com” website (e.g. John senior wrote about four columns and Jon junior wrote some columns and some news articles) It’s small sums of money that most of these names are owed but collectively it looks like Milo has lots of debts and very little income.
Although this sheds some light on the inner finances of one “alt-lite” media figure, the core questions remain. What has hit Milo hardest? The loss of patronage from the Mercers or the loss of the more distributed income due to PayPal closing access?
For the time being, we can all appreciate that somebody who set out to ruin many people’s lives is having a hard time paying their bills.
When P.Z. Myers is cited positively and unironically by Vox Day, you know there’s something amiss with the universe. There’s heresy in the air and right-on-right attacks going down.
On the one hand, we have Jordan Peterson: transphobic right-wing purveyor of semi-coherent self-help books for people frightened by women going to university. On the other hand, we have Vox Day: a man who regards the terrorist child-murder Anders Brevik as a hero and who pushes a violent nationalism based on pseudo-scientific race theories. While we could see Peterson as at least being more moderate than Day, we can’t ignore that Peterson is a kind of gateway drug into the morass of confused thinking based on male resentment at a changing society. What Vox has in toxicity, Peterson has twice as much in reach.
Who is the more appalling of the two? Perhaps we need another candidate…
[more appalling people after the fold]
I know many regular readers of this blog will not be sad to learn that Jon Del Arroz has deleted his Twitter account. I shan’t rehash Jon’s various actions over the past few years but these links are relevant:
The latest twist in the Ballad of Del Arroz is comicsgategatecomicsgate related. According to JDA himself, Ethan Van Sciver (arguably driving force behind the online harassment campaign known as ‘comicsgate’) had told him to go away:
“Ethan finally came out and said he didn’t like me over the weekend, told me to “go away”, as if I didn’t have any part of this movement before he even showed up. The hubris in that statement and resentment shows that he blames me for his crumbling empire, even though I have little to do with him (I’ve not been around his youtube crew at all for 2 months now!). Last night, he escalated attacks by coming after someone for following me on Twitter, accusing him of being a “Jon del Arroz acolyte” and promptly blocking him.” http://delarroz.com/2018/11/13/two-face-finally-came-for-me/
JDA himself has been variously harassed and counter harassed since the conflict between Vox Day and EVS over the ‘comicsgate’ label erupted in September. Surprisingly, when a movement based on trolling, name calling and harassments falls out with itself the result is not an amicable break-up and everybody agreeing to let bygones be bygones.
JDA also has a more recent blogpost on why comicsgate failed: http://delarroz.com/2018/11/16/a-failed-movement-in-three-acts/
It’s worth a read because it provides some insights into how a participant in one of these campaigns percieves the arc it follows. Jon identifies three phases to comicsgate:
- Identify The Problem and Raise Awareness
- Alt-Hero ushers in a revolution of crowdfunds
- A movement falls to contraction and fighting
It is phase one that Jon identifies as the ‘fun’ part. Of course, that was the part where the comicsgaters were primarily harassing actual writers and artists. The ‘unity’ was unity in spreading hatred and inciting harassment. The second phase was when people tried to make money out of the
suckers, um ‘activists’. The third phase was when the infighting started for multiple reasons but JDA ignores the most obvious one: campaigns like comicsgate reward obnoxious behaviour and hence any internal dispute is likely to escalate.
And Jon almost, almost, almost gets it:
“The whole premise was based on outrage, not actual products, and so these guys have to perpetually stoke outrage…”
Yes, yes we know. That’s what people were pointing out from wayyyy before ‘comicsgate’ started. That’s why we’ve been using the term ‘outrage marketing’
I’ve semi-seriously discussed quasi–pseudo-academic debate of monopuppyist versus duopuppyists i.e. was science fictions attempted right-wing coup in 2015 one movement (with internal differences) or two movements (with some shared features). One reason I keep looking at those events (and those distinctions) is the way they were a microcosm of broader ideological movements among the right.
Taking stock of those broader movements, similar issues arise. How are things different and how are things the same? There is scope for error in lumping diverse beliefs together and in becoming too focused on points of difference to see the commonalities. I spend a lot of time reading rightwing websites and comment sections (not just former Sad Puppy related ones) and two things stand out as commonalities:
- Unmoored anti-leftism. ‘Unmoored’ because while the anti-leftism is common the rationalisations offered are not. For example, left opposition to the Bush Jr. Iraq war remains a sore point for many on the right (who ignore Democrat support for the war) but is ignored by the section of the right who also opposed the war (who don’t ignore Democrat support for the war but do ignore left opposition to it).
- Common mythology. By this, I mean a set of beliefs about the world that are quasi-factual in nature.
The common mythology is a social glue and also a medium of cultural exchange. These are beliefs about how the world is that are:
- Very specific, i.e. more specific than economic or social models that may be more ideological in nature.
- By their nature beliefs that can be examined critically against facts but…
- …which are either NOT examined critically against facts or more often run counter to established facts.
That such mythological-like beliefs exist among the right isn’t a new observation. However, many which we might associate with the right lack this common currency aspect. For example, many people in this broader right I’m discussing are not creationists (although most creationists are of the right), likewise Holocaust denial is still regarded as objectionable by many on the right. Anti-vaxxer beliefs are drifting more rightwards but still cross ideological boundaries. However, a broad habit of believing things that just aren’t so has become entrenched on the right.
I’d like to suggest the following as a core-common shared set of mythologies that act as a means of group identity. These ideas are shared uncritically in diverse parts of the US/Anglosphere right and questioning them too much leads to social ostracisation.
- Global warming data and theories have been corrupted by politically active scientists. Note this isn’t quite the same as denial of global warming but obviously works very closely with it. The belief that temperature records and other aspects of global warming have been meddled with allows discussion of the reality of global warming to be avoided.
- Universities and colleges routinely indoctrinate students with Marxist social theories. This belief over-extrapolates the existence of actual courses (perhaps a course somewhere on queer theory) and asserts that this is the norm for all students. The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college or exposed to things like evolution but in the form, I am describing is more general and less tied to religion.
- The Democratic Party routinely engages in mass voter fraud at a highly organised level. The belief is very pertinent today given the headlines but the work on this idea is constant and on-going. US conservatives are primed to believe this idea against any facts to the contrary.
- Mass illegal immigration is an intentional policy of leftists and foreign governments. This deeply disturbing myth and surrounding rhetoric about ‘invasion’ is widely believed and extends beyond the alt-right & more overtly ideologically racist parts of the right.
- Europe is on the verge of (or already is) being controlled by or dominated by Islam. There’s a vagueness here as to what the actual proposition is. Partly this is due to the age of the claims. 10 years ago, claims about an imminent Islamic take over of Europe were very common on the right and 10 years later the claims are similar. In the face of ridicule of some claims (e.g. ‘no-go’ zones in places that aren’t ‘no go’ zones), the broader beliefs have become vaguer and less open to immediate refutation.
- Cities are places of rising violent crime. At some point, of course, this idea gets to be true. Crime stats go up and down but what is remembered is the ‘ups’ and what is ignored is the ‘downs’ as well as general trends. What marks this belief as mythology is that it remains unchanged over decades: violent crime is always rising but somehow the point where violent crime was low shifts around.
- Home invasions and violent attacks on middle-class suburbs or rural areas are common and imminent. These two form a pair and of course relate closely to gun ownership and NRA propaganda.
There are other beliefs that I could list but which I feel are more clearly ideological. For example beliefs around public healthcare relate to specific policy positions overtly advanced by conservatives for decades. Similarly, beliefs around affirmative action or even ‘PC culture’ have a closer connection with ideology. There is a common thread of seeking to avoid facts or to examine these ideas critically that gives them a similar quality of belief that would only be true in a parallel universe.
A relevant question is whether these beliefs are sincere. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte had a recent Twitter thread where she examined some of the anti-factual claims of the right and argues that they are insincere i.e. overtly lies:
Her argument is a strong one and there’s a longer analysis in this 2016 piece she wrote: https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/its-science-stupid-why-do-trump-supporters-believe-so-many-things-that-are-crazy-and-wrong/
Clearly, some of these viral claims are trolling. The argument that ‘birtherism’ was insincere holds water. However, I think the ones above are held with sincerity of a kind. There is a lot of advocation of beliefs that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny going on that CAN’T be primarily about trolling people on the left. I can be confident of that because these are often beliefs that people on the right do not wish to discuss with the left or raise with the left. To point out factual or logical errors in particular beliefs is seen as trolling BY the left rather than the left being trolled. Readers familiar with the Sad Puppy debarkle will have many ready examples to hand.
Marcotte also raises the group identity aspect as part of the issue i.e. that asserting false or dubious beliefs ties people together, as they act as a marker of loyalty. However, in addition, the soup of false beliefs fostered by creationism on one hand and corporate propaganda on issues such as pesticides, smoking, guns and global warming has entrenched confused thinking as a habit among the right. These poor cognitive habits encourage the ‘grift’ culture I’ve talked about before within the right, that often makes them prone to both perpetuate and be victims of scams and dubious money-making schemes. Marcotte points out Trumps willingness to say what he is thinking is often mistaken for honesty and forthrightness by his supporters. This kind of uncalculated, unhedged speech without weasel words can be refreshing in a world where many people try to avoid being caught in a literal lie. Meanwhile, the new acting Attorney General of the USA was himself part of a company that deliberately targetted military veterans in a scam https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/09/matthew-whitaker-acting-attorney-general-wpm-scam
What’s trolling, what’s an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of public misbelief, what’s a scam and what’s people being scammed and what is just the inevitable confused belief of poor thinking habits is hard to disentangle. What the shared mythology has in common is that I think these are largely internally believed and which act as defence mechanisms for other beliefs or expressions of fears. In particular fears about race and social change among conservatives who see themselves as ‘libertarian’ and ‘not-racist’ require hoop jumping rationalisations that they can express by changing classifications (racial fears changed to fears about violent people in cities or rule-breaking immigrants). The ‘scam’ part here is that more openly racist parts of the right (i.e. the parts that are more willing to own the label ‘racist’) can control those fears via propaganda.
Cast your minds back to May 11 2016. It was a kinder, more innocent time and not-so-crypto crypto-fascist website Vox Popoli invited people to “Meet Rod Walker” (archive link). Walker was, we were told, the “new new Heinlein” and like Heinlein would be writing some exciting “juvenile” targetted science fiction novels for Vox Day’s Castalia House.
“We are very excited about our new series of Rod Walker books, because they are exactly what we founded Castalia House to publish. They are pure Blue SF, and contain no foul language, no adult themes, no nihilism, and they are 100 percent social justice-free. Robert Heinlein revitalized science fiction with just 12 wonderful novels – 13, if one counts Starship Troopers which was originally supposed to be a Scribner novel, but was foolishly turned down – and we believe it is possible to do achieve similar effects by applying the same principles that made his early novels so successful.”
The supposed success of “Mutiny in Space” was much trumpeted by Vox Day and this first “juvenile” was followed by two more: “Alien Game” and “Young Man’s War”. All the books had somewhat clumsy 3D model art covers. This was all according to the plan Vox Day had laid out in August 2016: [Archive link]
“He is one of the most professional authors in the industry, delivering what must be some of the cleanest manuscripts delivered anywhere. He’s not only professional, he’s prolific, as we’ll be publishing two more of his novels before the end of the year, Alien Game, which is a second Heinlein-style SF juvenile, and an as-yet-untitled fantasy novel set in Minaria, the world of Divine Right.”
“KU is the real game-changer now, because the traditional publishers can’t play there. But we can, and last month, one of our better-selling books sold more via KU than through all the other means and editions combined. It doesn’t make sense for us to sell all our books that way, as we’ve experimented and some books do great while others don’t, but KU editions are now every bit as important in their own right as paperback, hardcover, or audiobook editions.”
In July 2018, Rod Walker’s “Young Man’s War” was on Vox Day’s nomination list for the Dragon Awards.
But what about that fantasy series that was mentioned? In February 2018, the Castalia House blog had a review of a Rod Walker fantasy book called “Master Rogue 1: Mage Tome” http://www.castaliahouse.com/quick-reviews-mage-tome-karma-upsilon-4-and-appalling-stories but aside from that “Rod Walker” had gone a bit quiet.
More recently a stray comment in a post that appeared both at Vox Day’s blog and Castalia House blog caught my eye:
“Castalia House is not doing YA right now,”
A quick trip to Rod Walker’s own blog led to this:
The Wayback machine had a version of his front page from August 2018 but at some point since the blog had been blanked. The archived version showed a fantasy trilogy of novellas called “Master Rogue” . A simple google search for “Master Rogue: Mage Tome” gives a link to an Amazon page but that link leads to:
Does Straw Puppy work for Amazon now? Did he always work for Amazon? No, that’s a side issue. Off to Voxopedia. There “Rod Walker (science fiction author)” is a red broken link:
Rod Walker’s last blog entry appears to have been in July 2018. After that point, the mysterious Mr Walker appears to have disappeared and at least some of his book scrubbed from Amazon. The trilogy of novellas appear on Goodreads but no links to the books themselves function. There are odd remnants of the fantasy books on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com.au/gp/aw/cr/B077SGPHK2/ref=mw_dp_cr ) which prove they existed but they’ve since gone.
The conclusion was obvious: Rod Walker has vanished as swiftly as he once appeared and with him a trio of fantasy novellas. The new new Heinlein simply…vanished…
The political extremities are always strange places to visit. The far-right of Catholicism (or perhaps better described as the Catholic part of the far-right) in particular has some strange features. Recruiting as it does from the same mélange of social panics and prejudices, the outcomes it preaches fall in the same spectrum as the rest of the far-right: anti-immigrant rhetoric, nationalism, rhetoric against transgender people, rhetoric against LGBTQI people in general and the same confused appeals for free speech for those who wish to restrict free speech.
On top of that toxic soup is a layer of Platonic philosophy: abstractions are things and are real things in a way that actual real things aren’t. Here’s Dragon ‘Award winning author and freelance editor’ Brian Niemeier on the nature of God:
“When Christians–and some theist philosophers like Aristotle–say God, we don’t mean an old man on a mountaintop composing a global naughty/nice list when he’s not conjuring boulders he can’t lift. Such a being would fall into the category of a creature, albeit a powerful creature, existing within the material, temporal order.
What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.” http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/08/finding-god.html
From there he segues into some classic arguments for the existence of god that follow the basic structure of abstract thing can be observed in reality, therefore, the abstract thing must exist as a thing in itself, therefore, some ultimate abstraction of the thing must be a god.
As regular readers will know, I think such arguments are flawed but it is worth acknowledging they are powerful arguments in their own way despite their head-scratching elements. What interests me most about them, is that by their nature they define and limit what kind of thing ‘god’ must be. In Brian Niemeier’s argument, his god is the essence of pure being – it is the thing that is what it is ultimately to ‘be’. Fair enough, imagine such a thing exists — I can take that as a credible belief. Where that becomes laughably absurd is when somebody asserts such a belief AND asserts that the core principle of being that transcends the universe spends its days worrying about whether people are wearing the wrong clothes, kissing the wrong people or not bing prayed at in Latin (obviously far-right Catholicism really needs mass to be said in Latin).
I’m stuck trying to imagine what is more rational. If a person has to believe their religion must validate their petty prejudices about other people would it not be more rational to believe in a petty & temperamental god. Apologies to any lingering Zeus worshipers but I can see how Zeus, as a character, might have strong opinions on such things. Niemeier notes that his god is not “composing a global naughty/nice list” but also believes that without a specific magic ritual, said in the right language, you can’t access the abstract principle of being qua being.
Think about it this way. The abstract number 7 has as much claim to existence transcending mere physical existences as “being” or any other abstraction — perhaps more so as there is the practical and powerful discipline of arithmetic that deals with things like 7 whose conclusions have real world implications. If you wish to take the Platonic* stance on the existence of 7 then I can’t regard your position as irrational. However, if you tell me that the number 7 has strong views on immigration policy** or that you can’t really relate to the number 7 unless you do arithmetic in Sanskrit then I think I’m entitled to look at your beliefs somewhat askance.
‘But that’s just an argument from incredulity’ well, yes it is an appeal to how absurd the idea is but to put it in more concrete terms, if a thing is the pure abstraction of X then its only quality can be X or qualities of which X is a member. Imagine the quality of ‘colour’ as a thing in itself (if that was possible) and call that X. In such a case X can’t be red and it can’t be blue, by being abstraction of colour it can’t be a particular colour. Going closer to the point, consider the abstraction of ‘opinion’. The abstraction of opinion cannot be a particular opinion as it is, by definition, the abstraction of the common qualities held by all opinions.
The above is not an argument for the non-existence of god, its not even an argument against the existence of an ultimately transcendent god (although I don’t believe in either). What it is that you can rationally have some ultimate transcendent principle of principles in a Platonic hierarchy or you can have a god that thinks about things and cares about what is going on but those two things can’t be the same without promoting absurdities.
*[Platonic here refereing to ‘Platonism’ in the mathematical philosophy sense that is derived from Plato but which doesn’t neccesarily reflect what Plato said.]
**[Although if 7 did have strong views on immigration policy then I’m sure they would be very compassionate and progressive views]
I will concede a massive bias in favour of the work of Noelle Stevenson, artist and writer and genius behind one of my all time favourite webcomics Nimona, as well as the quirky Lumberjanes. So I’ve been anticipating the project she has been working on: a Netflix re-boot of 1980’s cartoon She-Ra Princess of Power.
For those who may have forgotten, She-Ra was the girl-version of the oddly sanctimonious He-Man & The Master of the Universe. Like He-Man, it wasn’t great but wasn’t entirely terrible either by the admittedly weak standards of 1980s kid’s cartoons but like any children’s media it carries with it nostalgia and affection as an idea in the hearts of many who grew up with it.
Now, the series doesn’t start until November, so I don’t know if it will be good, bad or mediocre but I do know that what will decide that will be the quality of the story telling and based on Stevenson’s track record I’m definitely going to check it out.
Now something else I’m pretty confident of based on track records: the assorted rabid puppies and scrappy-doos of rightwing science fiction have never shown much interest in, affection for or nostalgia for the original She-Ra cartoon. It is also safe to assume that regardless of the art style, that barring a more risqué anime re-boot of She-Ra, they wouldn’t be tuning in regardless of the character design.
However, orders must have come on down the line from somewhere (Moscow? Skeletor?) and with the kind of unanimity that only aggressively authoritarian individualists can muster, howls (barks?) of protest about She-Ra’s new look have emanated from the usual quarters.
The gist of the argument is, in essence, that She-Ra does not have big enough boobs but it is dressed up in quite odd rhetoric about the world being robbed of beauty because She-Ra looks a bit boyish.
Here is our old pal Brian Niemeier posting a very confused rant about the whole thing: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/07/the-sjw-turkey-shoot.html
There’s a lot there about Netflix’s precarious business model which he then muddles in with stuff about SJWs. Now note HE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE the original She-Ra (for reasons so obvious that they can be summed up by the pronoun in the character’s name).
On Twitter, former Gamergater and Castilian House blogger Jasyn Jones aka “Daddy Warpig” also had a good old rant about She-Ra because…well again, he pretty much ALWAYS has a rant about female characters in current mainstream media unless they are anime characters. It’s so inevitable that only the immediate rationale changes, suffice to say a genre media property with a female lead will have a “grassroots” campaign from the same tiny cadre of extremists regardless. If the character design had been more stereotypically feminine then Brian and Jasyn would be using that to claim she couldn’t lift a sword or some other nonsense.
Why then even mention their nonsense? Mainly for example number a thousand and something, that despite their protestations to the contrary, they only care about how media conforms with their factional ideology and have zero interest in what story it tells. Yes, yes, I know you all knew that all ready BUT this way I also have a pretext to point out that there’s a Noelle Stevenson led cartoon coming to Netflix in November and it looks really great! 🙂