I have a terrible confession to make.
When the original Sad Puppies kicked off, I wasn’t too concerned.
I wasn’t concerned because, frankly, I had lost interest in the Hugo Awards long ago. The early winners were often great books, but after 2001 the only winner that – I felt – actually deserved it’s award was Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. A Hugo no longer indicated good science-fiction or fantasy to me. My favourite authors were rarely nominated for the award, let alone victors.
What changed my mind, I think, was the response of the Puppy-Kickers to the Sad Puppies.
There is a bit of me that likes to consider itself a gentleman. Not in the sense of having aristocratic blood – perish the thought; my origins are distinctly middle-class – but in the sense of playing the game fairly. One does not win a game of chess by smashing the board; one does not win a debate by knocking out the other debater and holding the judges at gunpoint until they agree to vote according to my wishes. There is a difference between ‘I disagree with you’ and ‘you are the enemy who must be crushed and broken.’
I see that there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to debate. Discussing matters openly may make some people uncomfortable, but it brings issues into the light that have to be considered. One should always allow one’s opponent room to retreat, room to admit he was wrong without (metaphorically) kicking him while he’s down. A person who disagrees with me does not have to be treated as the enemy. He may have a different viewpoint, he may be reasoning from incorrect data (or I may be reasoning from incorrect data myself), he may merely be playing devil’s advocate … it does not make him the enemy.
Illegitimate forms of debate, on the other hand, are nasty. Personal attacks; accusing your opponent of being racist/sexist/etc. Mocking the messenger, mocking his sources, mocking him; linking his name with evil people. (“You’re a vegetarian. So was Adolf Hitler. Ergo, you are the same as Hitler!!!!”) Misrepresenting his words, taking them out of context or flat-out lying about them. Appealing to authority; begging the moderators (or whatever) to silence dissent on spurious grounds. And so on, and so on; anything but addressing the issue in question.
Such people may be trolls or they may genuinely believe that their opponent is truly evil, but it doesn’t matter. I have nothing but contempt for those who use such attacks and for those who enable them.
The Puppy-Kickers indulged in such attacks repeatedly. Suggesting, for example, that a white man married to a black woman, with a mixed-race kid, is a racist is not only absurd, it’s the kind of behaviour that is utterly contemptible. (And, for obvious reasons, it’s not the sort of behaviour I want to encourage.) Branding Vox Day everything unpleasant under the sun, then threatening to smear everyone else unless they disowned him … those are tactics right out of the Soviet Union’s playbook. Calling the Sad Puppies ‘a bunch of white men’ when it wouldn’t take more than ten minutes to disprove the assertion …
… And, above all, complaining loudly about the Sad Puppies engaging in the same behaviour as themselves for years (and only doing a better job of it.)
Like I said, such attacks are contemptible. And they moved me from not really caring – most writers would prefer to sell a thousand books without an award than ten books with an award – to genuinely hoping that the Sad Puppies proved their point.
This is not the only contemptible issue that has popped up over the last year.
One goes to university/college to learn, to expand one’s mind … what is the point of demanding ‘safe spaces?’ Apparently, academic freedom – the freedom to enquire – is not as important as shielding particularly dunderheaded students from opinions that (horror of horrors) disagree with theirs. Now, if someone is idiotic enough to want to be treated as a child, that’s their problem. I am a firm believer that consenting adults can do whatever they like – in private. But I can never respect someone who goes to college and demands a ‘safe space,’ or whines about ‘micro-aggressions,’ or tries to get someone expelled or fired for expressing a dissident opinion. It’s contemptible.
Hilary Clinton – a front-runner in the latest presidential election – breaks the rules in a staggering fashion (after making sure that a number of peons were punished for far lesser breaches) and yet somehow manages to carry on. The mere fact that Hilary established an insecure server to store classified documents is a criminal offence in its own right. There is a very good chance – perhaps an utter certainty – that that server was leaking American secrets to Russia, China and every other country that dislikes the United States. And yet she’s still in the race for the White House!
And so on. I could give a dozen examples of particularly contemptible behaviour over the last year without breaking a sweat.
Contempt is a dangerous emotion. I may dislike someone, I may outright hate someone, without holding them in contempt. But when I feel contempt, I tune that person out completely. I refuse to believe that they have anything worthwhile to say. Their opinions simply do not matter because I have reached a point where I believe their opinions are useless, silly or dangerous. What is the point of listening to someone who uses tactics I deem illegitimate?
And that can be a dangerous attitude.
If someone tells me something I know to be a lie and expects me to swallow it uncritically, instead of debating the point, I will hold that person in contempt. If that person, instead of accepting my right to disagree, tries to silence me, I will hold that person in contempt. And if that person, instead of trying to convince me he’s right, attacks my reputation by spreading lies and suchlike, I will hold that person in contempt. I will not, I cannot, accept that someone has the right to dictate what I think, or say, or do, on a personal level.
Right now, I think there is a growing majority of people who have just had enough of contemptible social movements, everything from ‘political correctness’ to ‘social justice warriors.’ Those people are simply tuning out the nonsense, bitterly resenting having to pay attention to absurdities and having to watch what they say, for fear that someone – somewhere – will be offended. Very few people genuinely believe that being a victim is a badge of honour. Nor do they believe that one should ‘respect’ the ‘unrespectable’.
Call me a cynic if you like, but the sheer level of bitterly-repressed contempt is likely to do a great deal of damage, when it finally bursts free. But really, that’s what you get when you try to keep people from speaking their minds.