Did fandom cause the collapse of civilisation or vice versa? Let’s Assume Neither :)

It’s been a long time since I linked to a post by the improbable 2016 Campbell Award Finalist and Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel That Was Actually A Space Opera, Brian Niemeier but a posy at his blog caught my eye [direct link, archive link].

Brian’s politics mixes standard alt-right nationalism and misogyny with a particularly reactionary form of Catholicism. People may recall Brian’s concern that literal demons are controlling the left (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/demons-and-witches-and-the-left/ ), so not exactly a Pope Francis or Vatican II fan.

Anyway, Brian has a hypothesis about religion and fandom:

“Kicking Christianity out of public life didn’t usher in a bright, sexy chrome utopia. Instead of directing their pious energies into scientific pursuits, America did what everyone does absent Christianity: They turned pagan.”

‘X-thing is a religion’ is a bit of a cliche but I don’t think that analysis is wholly wrong. Rather, I don’t think religion is really a single social phenomenon at all but a whole bunch of things — which is why cultures don’t follow one of Christianity/Islam/Judaism have quite different boundaries as to what is and isn’t religious and how religion plays a role in wider society*. So, sure, I can believe there’s some commonality between fandoms and religion.

Indeed, I’d go further and say that I think how we engage with fiction and products of the imagination has a close connection with spirituality and how religion has become a part of human culture. Brian is making a different argument though:

“Human beings are wired for worship. If social pressure discourages worshiping God, those with less fortitude will worship trees, rocks, or even plastic figurines.


Religious identity was the engine that built the West, and it’s still a major motivating force elsewhere in the world. What has happened in the American Empire is that Christian identity has shattered, and the pieces have been scattered throughout various hobbies.


Which was precisely what the main players in the Enlightenment wanted–to reduce religion to a hobby indulged in the home with no effect on public life.”

Fandom therefore being the eventual warped expression of people’s instinct towards religion suppressed by the machinations of Enlightenment philosophers. I think we can safely assume that this is not the case. However, the next paragraph is what really caught my eye:

“To see how people’s identities have gotten mixed up in their hobbies, take a quick glance at the ‘gate controversies popping up among various fandoms on a more or less daily basis. #GamerGate was the big one, but it failed due to infiltration by controlled opposition and exploitation by online grifters. It’s telling that every subsequent fandom revolt has enjoyed a brief honeymoon period before skipping straight to the “milked by grifters” stage. “If a man loses faith in God, he doesn’t believe nothing, he’ll believe anything,” is illustrative here.”

It can be hard to tell with the alt-right what is a bad-faith nonsense and what is sincere nonsense. Occasional you get paragraphs like this that are so lacking in self-awareness that they can only be a sincere expression of some very confused beliefs.

As a reminder: Brian was not a major figure in the high points of the Sad Puppy campaigns (a relevant example of one of the right wing uprisings in fandom) but leveraged those campaigns to get his books promoted by the Rabid Puppy slates into a Campbell nomination and a Dragon Award. Brian was also the charmer who tried to stir up a second Dragon Award nomination into another culture war battlefront in a bid to get more votes for his book. (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ) There may be better example of the ‘milked by grifters’ stage of the Sad Puppy Campaigns but only because it was never not a grift but Brian is a good example of late stage band wagon jumping.

“Few now can imagine–by design–a time when popular culture wasn’t partitioned into myriad fractured fandoms. Sure, people had different tastes, but there were cultural touchstones everybody shared, and more of them. Everybody tuned in to The Shadow. Everybody read Edgar Rice Burroughs. Everybody saw Gone with the Wind. But a people with a shared culture and a strong identity is hard to conquer, so universal popular culture had to go. Fandom was the murder weapon used to kill Western culture.”

Again a reminder: Brian writes anime-inspired right wing science fiction about people fighting in space-robot suits. He’s not exactly aiming for the mainstream. It’s that lack of awareness of his own micro-niche writing that makes me think he genuinely believes that’s what happened — that rather than technology and population growth making it economically easier for people to find stories that appealed to more finely delineated niches, that this was an actual plot to divide society.

Does he really think he would be happier if the only books or films available where the most mainstream ones? Also, if he believed that then shouldn’t he be doing his utmost to just consume the most modally consumed media? But it is like the person who wants religion to be mandatory who doesn’t get that it wouldn’t necessarily be their religion that would be enforced

He finishes his essay thus:

“Fortunately, there are creators laboring to forge new culture in the tradition of our ancestors. For a refreshing take on the mecha genre that clears away all the stale cliche cobwebs, check out my new martial thriller Combat Frame XSeed.”

Irony is dead, a knock-off Kindle Unlimited far right combat mecha killed it.

*[Not that Christianity, Islam or Judaism follow the same template either, but the similarities are what tend to shape what Western culture regards as the things a religion has: a god, a priest, a temple, a holy book, quasi-laws, exclusivity]

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FEED MY EGO!

I’m sorry to post a link to the Federalist of all things and to an article by Timothy’s erstwhile client and infamous litigant Jon Del Arroz but this is just way to funny not have here: http://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

“The establishment became angry. Several of the elite commentator class posted blogs, such as one by Hugo Award-nominated Camestros Felapton—a left wing troll known for antagonizing right-wing authors—who criticized 20Books for alleged rigging of the awards. His evidence was a post by one of the members in the Facebook group listing dozens of works by the group that were eligible for the current year. He calls it a “slate”—a term the establishment used to rile up their ranks against the Sad Puppies with the Hugo Awards controversy, where right-leaning authors tried to break the lockstep nominations of extreme political works.

The Sad Puppies produced slates of recommended nominations to make it more likely for readers to coalesce around certain books, which would then have better odds of succeeding. Martelle takes exception to the claim applying here, however, saying, “There was no slate or violation of the rules.”

The targeted blogs and social media posts are a coordinated effort by traditional publishing’s elites to diminish 20BooksTo50K’s credibility among establishment publishing and brand them as a political organization to fight. In 2019, being apolitical has become akin to declaring your politics to the extreme left. Much of the left has taken an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude to try to harm people who don’t want to take sides in the culture war. It’s a dangerous view to take, as writers have been blacklisted and banned, and now even worse.”

Archived version https://web.archive.org/web/20190304152905/http://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

As you can imagine, this is causing some tension in the house as Timothy has always wanted a column in the Federalist and now I’m there before him.

Captain Marvel versus the Trolls

Multiple news sources are covering that the new (and as yet unseen) Captain Marvel movie is being review-bombed by right wing trolls. The amount of coverage of this has itself increased just in the past few hours but this link seems to be one of the first articles on it: https://comicbook.com/marvel/2019/02/19/captain-marvel-rotten-tomatoes-fake-reviews-sabotage/

I’d actually thought about writing about how the alt-right campaign against the film had started to warm up the other day after seeing our old-pal Vox Day jump on the bandwagon (archive link)…but didn’t because I’m lazy and/or got distracted. What I can offer instead of an amazingly insightful prediction that obnoxious misogynists are about to be misogynistic obnoxiously is some graphs!

I grabbed the review data from Rotten Tomatoes so that I can show graphically the influx of reviews. Unfortunately, I would have liked to show another film for comparison but it’s hard to get a like for like. The nearest equivalent with a similar release date and no pre-screening reviews yet is Disney’s live action version of Dumbo. That has only one page of user reviews/comments so far, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s six pages but I don’t think it is a like-for-like in terms of organic interest.

Here’s the first graph for Captain Marvel. It’s a running total of comments over time. It’s a longgggg time axis because the first comment is from 2015! Rotten Tomatoes (and similar sites) create entries for movies that have been announced even before production begins.

Interest (mainly positive but some negative) starts picking up from last July and subsequent trailers lead to more comments (again some positive and some negative). Some of the coverage of this troll attack is focused on the absurdity of people rating films that haven’t been seen yet but at this point, it is technically Rotten Tomatoes allowing people to say whether they are “Not interested” or “Want to see it”. Some of the comments are literally spam and some of the earlier comments are anti-Disney etc.

The next graph zooms in to the last few months:

There’s a spike of comments in February. Obviously some of that is an inevitable increase as the release date gets closer but the more overt hate comments really ramp up. The worst include comments about the lead actress (Brie Larson) being hit by a bus. The length of the comments also increase in the form of what are best called rants:

“Why Marvel decided to cast a very vocal racist and sexist aimed at white males, I’ll never know. If Robert Downey Jr. started saying that he didn’t care about the opinions of 40 year old white chicks and he doesn’t want to be interviewed by a white woman as its not inclusive enough, people would lose their minds. His career would be over, branded a racist and sexist, attacked in the media and his legacy tarnished. As a white male, I will not be supporting this or any other movie that stars Brie Larson. They say that Captain Marvel will be the new face of the MCU? As the villain because she certainly isn’t a her-o. “

How many is it though? Well, one comment anticipating somebody dying in a bus accident is one too many but for a sense of scale it’s about 14 comments over the past 10 days that are of the ‘arrghh SJWs! Feminazi!’ style crap. It’s not a huge number and the spike shown above is inflated by other people querying why there are so many anti comments for a film nobody has seen yet.

It’s a reasonable assumption that this is just the start though.

Gamergate is ever so concerned about internet mobs

I finally got around to reading Larry Correia’s take on the Amelia Zhao affair. For those not familiar with this kerfuffle, Zhao is an aspiring YA author whose debut fantasy book was due to be published in June (https://ameliezhao.com ). The book received a substantially less than warm welcome within YA-social media. The core of the criticism was from people who had read the book but the wider antagonism against the book was more secondhand. Feeling besieged by claims of racism within the work and debatable plagiarism (as I understand it more like cases of cliches or being very derivative), Zhao withdrew the book. [That’s my potted version, corrections welcome]

There’s an important issue here on legitimate criticism of creative work versus collective bullying or bad-faith verbal attacks on authors. It is more than possible for a given situation to include all three. Unintentional bullying tactics (eg the classic internet comment section dogpile) where any one individual is just expressing a reasonable opinion but which adds to what appears to be the infamous/nebulous internet “mob”. I don’t know what the solution is to these issues but “nobody can criticise authors or there works” isn’t it.

So I’m parking that question of practical ethics for the moment. I’ve got my own code around internet arguments (always be more civil and more charitable to the person you are arguing with than the person you are arguing with) but that doesn’t address questions of unintended collective bullying.

Anyway, quicker than you can say “SJW” in a sneering tone, our old pal Larry Correia waded in to castigate all and sundry: http://monsterhunternation.com/2019/01/31/to-the-book-community-go-fuck-yourself-an-anti-apology/#comment-93892 (link for reference – you can probably guess the tone and overall message).

Several points spring to mind:

  • If you are an aspiring writer and ever doubt your capacity to put word to page, don’t forget that Larry Correia is a very successful writer commercially and makes a good living from his books. He himself has pointed out that having an entertaining story to tell is more important that your wordsmithing capability. Tell a fun story and don’t worry whether you are actually brilliant at putting sentences together: Larry isn’t and it hasn’t held him back and seriously, good for him.
  • That first point might be inspiring but it contains the seeds of author obnoxiousness and self-entitlement that keeps cropping up. Sure the Sad Pups were a particular political example but it’s not confined to the right. One reaction to the self-doubt that plagues anybody in a creative industry is to adopt a toxic quasi will-to-power mentality that treats any and all criticism as an attack that needs to be met with greater force. Authors that think they have to adopt Sean Connery’s dictum from The Untouchables is the flip side of toxicity within book communities. It’s same seed of rejecting criticism that makes Scientology attractive to actors. Success in creative domains has a degree of unpredictability that enables superstition.
  • Larry was and remains a vocal supporter of Gamergate. So when he talks about horrific bullying by internet mobs he knows what he’s talking about. Sure, it’s from a point at the very depths of hypocrisy given he endorsed one of the worst cases of mass internet bullying and intimidation but we can rest assured that any ignorance demonstrated in his piece is wilful rather than accidental.

Put another way, in attempting to make discussion within a genre-community less toxic, safer and less inclined towards bullying (intended or unintended) the rants of Larry is not what is needed.

And Larry Correia keeps on lying

As pointed out in the last post, Larry Correia is once again telling big fibs to make himself look persecuted. Despite nobody being able to quote a supposed offending comment where somebody (again nobody knows who) said (gasp) that Larry was not a ‘real Gamer’, Larry is now saying:

“multiple fans still insist with 100% certainty that the comment did exist, and when they went back it had been disappeared.”

https://www.facebook.com/larry.correia/posts/2641913162486263

And also that “got 3 witnesses who still swear they saw it”. Quite why this comment was so offensive that he’s posted multiple posts about it with quite extreme invective in them and verbal attacks on other people (Cora Buhlert has been singled out in particular is not something he can explain.

Interestingly Larry made his comment on January 12. Meanwhile on January 9, somebody did make an archive version of the File 770 post that outraged Larry.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190109071550/http://file770.com/stackpole-resigns-from-gama-board/

The last comment was on January 8 and at the time the page was archived on January 9 there were no more comments. Notably NOBODY in the comments was discussing Larry Correia. So, who brought Larry into the conservation?

On January 10, a Sad Puppy supporter makes a new comment unconnected to the previous discussion: http://file770.com/stackpole-resigns-from-gama-board/#comment-940171 Prior to that, nobody was discussing Larry Correia.

Avery Abernethy’s comment sets off a new discussion, which can be followed continuously. There’s zero indication of any break in the conversation. Abernethy has also been commenting at Larry Correia’s own blog but at no point does he either confirm or deny the existence of this mysterious “not a real gamer” comment. Weird, given that Abernethy was actively commenting when this comment was supposed to have occurred that he hasn’t mentioned its existence.

I believe Avery Abernethy has commented here before. I’m curious as to what he has to say about this…

The Sad Puppies have totally moved on, completely, definitely, forgotten all about it, yes siree

Is it because it’s January? Is it because Hugo Nominations are open? For whatever reason a couple of outbreaks of emotive re-hashings of the past going on. First, at File770, an avowed Sad Puppy trying to revive John Scalzi bashing (apparently still sore from losing an argument in the comments to this post from 2007). Second, Larry Correia re-starts his game of claiming that people are being mean about and gets caught making stuff up. He’s since gone off on a further spittle-flecked rant about the fact that he got caught lying about stuff (not linking to it, it has zero content and is just very nasty invective).

Making stuff up to show how mean people are to him is not a new genre for Larry. A passing mention in a Guardian story about gender in science fiction. This was an accurate description of Larry’s stated position:

‘For writers and fans like Larry Correia, whose virulent attack on MacFarlane was excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal lie! But Correia boils it down to a much simpler argument. However accurate a queer future might be, SF authors must continue to pander to the bigotry of conservative readers if they want to be “commercial”.’

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/11/science-fiction-needs-to-reflect-queer-fluid-gender-identity

This brief mention has since been spun out by Larry into a claim that he was slandered and that it was also part of a conspiracy by The Guardian and writer and unknown Worldcon admins to make him look bad because he’d been nominated for a Hugo.

Prior to that Larry had claimed that his previous nomination for a Campbell Award resulted in this:

‘A European snob reviewer actually wrote “If Larry Correia wins the Campbell, it will END WRITING FOREVER.” ‘

http://monsterhunternation.com/2013/01/08/how-to-get-correia-nominated-for-a-hugo/

‘Actually wrote’ as in ‘never wrote at all’. Larry changes the quote from time to time:

My favorite post however was from a British blogger who said that “if Larry Correia wins the Campbell it will end literature forever”.

https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/01/23/some-reactions-to-sad-puppies-2-rainbow-puppy-lighthouse-the-huggening/

The only source for either quote is…Larry Correia. In the past, I’ve speculated that it was a misremembering but the simplest explanation is that Larry makes stuff up and then claims that it is true. Specifically, he makes stuff up about what people he doesn’t like have said about him to cast himself as a victim of systematic persecution. It is a particularly odd habit as he’s not short of actual critics and people pointing out actual flaws in his behaviour and work.

It’s a weird tactic: avoiding criticism by heaping invective on yourself so that you can respond in kind.

The simple fact is that Larry Correia hates Mike Glyer and File 770 because the site presented accurate and truthful coverage of Sad Puppies. Mike gave Larry the kind of coverage that Larry thought he wanted because he expected everybody to be awed by his awesomeness. When they weren’t and his campaign spiraled into awfulness instead, he blamed the messenger. Don’t believe me that File770 gave the Larry the coverage he wanted? Let’s ask Larry:

‘On this note, I’d like to extend an olive branch to Mike Glyer at File 770. We’ve gone around a few times, but I’ve got to hand it to him. Recently he’s been fully quoting my side and letting our arguments stand without interpretation. Well done, sir.

https://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/06/a-letter-to-the-smofs-moderates-and-fence-sitters-from-the-author-who-started-sad-puppies/

More on Population denial

Caught in the trash filter was a reply from our long lost pal Phantom about Sarah Hoyt’s weird wold-population figure denial. It was better than normal and raises some weak but interesting points. With very little to go on for what the arguments for World Population Denial might be, I’ll need to go with Phantom’s weaker position.

“Communist and other corrupt regimes continuously lie about everything, floppy. Whatever direction their monetary interest is, that is where their lies will point. We know this is true because the lies change as circumstances change.”

The lies that are told change as circumstances change which is what makes it very difficult to lie consistently about population figures. The 2015 lie has to work with the 2014 lie and the 2016 lie and any lies about economic output or levels of unemployment etc etc. That doesn’t mean every lie or distortion can be identified but it does put strong limits of the scale of any deception.

In addition, for Hoyt’s claims to be true and the world population be substantially less than 7 billion, multiple governments would have needed to lie in the same direction in a way consistent with all their other lies for decades and gone undetected despite multiple different kinds of agencies and demographers looking at them.

Uncertainty is not the same as knowing nothing. Any vaguely numerate person should be able to understand that estimates of a figure has an error range. The uncertainties you are pointing at help circumscribe that error range and it simply isn’t big enough for 7 billion to be substantially wrong without a huge systemic error on the magnitude of at least half a billion people. Show me an error of that magnitude with some better evidence than an anecdote and I’ll give the claim that its less than 7 billion more credence.

“I note that you have entirely ignored the influence of international aid on population figures. If East Bongoliastan can get another couple of million bucks from the UN by inflating their population numbers, and the UN -wants- them to inflate those numbers, then I do not find it unreasonable to suspect they are inflated.”

I didn’t rely on UN figures, I also used US figures which aren’t exactly the same but also point at 7 billion. So let’s check US foriegn aid. Is it based on population size?

On Wikipedia is a table that shows the top 25 recipients of US foreign aid. Here are the top 5:

County$US Millions
Afghanistan4533.51
Israel2961.04
Egypt1566.24
Jordan1211.83
West Bank/Gaza1007.73

Oh my gosh! Looks like foreign aid has got very, very little to do with population size. Your theory is based on a very faulty assumption that aid is doled out on a per-capita basis. Some aspects of aid may relate to particular sizes of groups (e.g. people in a refugee camp) but that’s different from census data — heck a lot of aid is for displaced people who don’t get captured in census data well (because the host country doesn’t count them as living there and the country they fled from prefers to claim they are a tiny number) and actually tend to be UNDERcounted in national population figures.

Does that mean nobody ever, ever lies for the purpose to inflate aid? No, but the assumption that lying about a national population size will get you more aid is nonsense. It is also another area where a cynical or pathologically lying government has contradictory pressures. You as dictator of Phantomland would need to exaggerate the number of people living in extreme poverty or the number of people without fresh water or without adequate medical care to get more aid — simply exaggerating the national population won’t get you anything. Yet that means basically exaggerating the number of people your government isn’t looking after properly. In reality, if you as a dictator are going to lie to get aid then you aren’t going to do it with census figures but with lies about infrastructure projects or lies about how your opponents are all communists funded by Iran.

Anyway, for kicks, I decided to find general data on aid totals which I got from here: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-foreign-aid-in-the-world.html and then plotted that against UN population figures from Wikipedia.

Look, honestly thinking that the amount of aid a country gets should have SOME connection with how many people live there is a reasonable and humane assumption about how the world should work. It isn’t remotely true though. Now I grant that the graph is somewhat distorted by India being in the data set but even with India removed, the connection just isn’t there.

I could keep slicing the data down until we got some group of nations where maybe population size made an observable difference but by that point, the bias (if it existed) wouldn’t be enough to have any serious impact on the 7 billion figure. Heck, if the top FIVE recipients of international aid actually had zero people living in each of them, the world population would STILL be greater than 7 billion!

“I mean, look at the US ground-station data for temperature. We know that’s been inflated for sure. Why else are there so many official NOAA thermometers in the middle of asphalt parking lots? Hundreds of them. Whole websites are dedicated to documenting it.”

And as you’ve read here before, you never rely on one data set. Don’t believe the ground station data? Then compare it with the satellite data. Don’t believe the UN data? Then compare it with the US data. The fallacy you are illustrating in both cases is one often used in FUD style arguments.

The fallacy of FUD: If there is some degree of doubt or uncertainty around a figure then we know nothing at all about the figure. (To be applied selectively to figures we don’t like.

It’s nonsense because no real world figure is ever measured to perfect accuracy or is immune to some degree of human error or foolproof to somebody lying about it. The reason we don’t all collapse into a fetal position of doubt is that we know that error has limits.

For example, we’ve never met, you certainly don’t trust me but if I say I’m 5 foot 9 inches tall (I’m not*) then it is still absurd to say that you have zero idea about how tall I am. You know I’m not 15 foot tall or 1 foot tall. You know it is reasonable (i.e. you are unlikely to be wrong) to assume I’m within a few inches of 5 foot 9 inches.

“So my point on Sarah’s post was that I do not know what the true population of China or India is, much less Venezuela, Cuba, Congo, North Korea or even South Africa. And neither do you. You’re saying we’re all crazy to question the UN numbers because it suits your rhetorical purpose, not because you have any evidence to support those numbers.”

The ‘true’ population? Sure! Likewise I don’t know my own true mass – it’s constantly changing by small amounts due to eating and pooing and sweating and breathing as meat robots do. I don’t know my ‘true’ height either as that literally fluctuates and my tape measure isn’t perfect. Your observation isn’t saying anything useful at all. The question is not can we know a true figure but how ACCURATE our ESTIMATES of the true figure is for all of these things.

Honestly, I’d have thought that was just common sense and while I could admire the bravery of a radical scepticism that says that the only true knowledge is perfect knowledge and hence we know nothing, I know for a fact that isn’t a position either you or Hoyt hold. Heck, you’ll believe all sorts of stuff based on limited information or even no information or worse yet when the information says the exact opposite.

For example, let’s take this specific claim from Sarah Hoyt in the original piece:

“Not to mention that it’s just a coincidence, I’m sure, that countries that are net recipients of international aid PER CAPITA have the highest population growth. I’m sure.”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2018/12/10/bad-bad-futures-which-didnt-happen/

Countries that are net recipients of international aid per capita versus population growth? OK, that’s something we can graph using the data sources I’ve already listed. “Growth” here is per cent change from 2016 to 2017.

I’m just a not sufficiently humble blogger but I’m not seeing much support for Hoyt’s claim there. I guess she means in a broad brush strokes sense in so far as wealthy European nations have low population growth and are net providers of aid and developing nations often (but far from always) often have high population growth and tend to be net receivers of aid. However, the data shows that aid isn’t driving population estimates among the major net receivers of aid.

“If a person lies about all kinds of things all the time, it does not mean that for sure they are lying -this- time. But it does mean one would be imprudent to assume they are not.”

Let’s generalise. If a person is verifiably wrong about all kinds of things much of the time, it does not mean that for SURE they are wrong -this- time but it does mean one would be imprudent to assume they are not. Heck, we can just go and check! Oh surprise, surprise! They were wrong, again…

*(Obviously Camestros Felapton is an abstract cognitive meme-complex to which spatial dimensions don’t apply. The meat robot is bigger than 6 foot and shorter than 2 metres.)