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More thoughts on awards, and community

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I’ve been following the conversation at Black Gate, about the proposal for “The Awards to be Named Later” I’ve also been following it at File 770. I’ve also seen things said about parts of it on twitter.  I’ve been following with a mix of hope and despair.  This is, I think, a serious attempt to propose, a sort of modus vivendi, between part (what one would like to think is the larger slice) of the Puppy camp, and wider fandom. That’s a ground for hope. A mindset of perpetual war isn’t good for any of us.

The despair comes from seeing those same comments.  There is a lack of self-awareness to the position the puppies have put themselves into.  Even if we assume (arguendo) that Fandom (with a Capital F) hates them (which I don’t), the means by which they attempted to deal with that hate weren’t going to smooth the waters anywhere.  Hell, if we assume Fandom hated them, then what they did was tailor made to entrench it.

I don’t think Fandom hates them. I think Fandom is upset with them.  Setting aside the first year, which wasn’t more than moderately offensive (based on I don’t know what, some basic cluelessness about what the Hugos are, and how they work is my best guess), the second and third iterations were about as tailor made as one can imagine to mobilise a strong, and angry, pushback.  Attempts were made to subvert the process, in the interest of hijacking the awards.  The rhetoric was heated, but the Puppies was apocalyptic.  Nothing less than the future of SF Fandom was at stake.

The mythology of the Puppies doesn’t help.  If there is a super-seekrit cabal of SJWs skewing the awards for purely political purposes… well there isn’t.  The simple mechanics of the awards are such that too many people have to be involved.  Year in, year out, the Cabal has to have enough votes to edge out the rest of the field.  Each year, they have to include just a few more of those secret voters.  But they can’t put in to many, or they would show.  And each year’s worldcon has a new committee administering the Hugos. So it’s a fresh chance each year to make a mistake that outs the conspiracy.

So I’ll argue it’s not possible.

Which is, IMO, a large part of why fandom got so upset.  The Puppies were trying to gaslight every fan who took part in the Hugos of the past 15-20 years.  Telling them they were, if not deluded, then completely duped.  That’s never going to go over well. Hell, it doesn’t go over well when 1: it’s true, and 2: can be proven.  When it’s amorphous, contrary to reason, and at odds with experience…. people are going to develop strong feelings.  Strong feelings which aren’t going to fade in a month.

One of the things Maynard is unhappy about is the accusation that he is saying people who aren’t “the right sort” aren’t fans.  I feel for him.  I take him at his word he doesn’t think that.  But the Puppies made it pretty plain that, as a group, they do.  The entire rhetorical device of “wrongfans” and “wrongfun”, married to the idea of a vast wellspring of silent fans who were rising up to take their legitimate seats at the table; after years of active exclusion… that’s a narrative which says the Fans who have been reading things, nominating things, and voting for the Hugos, aren’t doing it legitimately.

That’s gonna get pushback.

I understand that the pushback stings.  But (and this is one of those points where we do have a fundamental disagreement), the Puppies have to accept the people who are unhappy with them have a legitimate grievance. I don’t think they need to ask forgiveness, but (in the face of a legitimate grievance) saying,

I fear the Hugos have already been permanently destroyed for this purpose, between the hated Vox Day and the No Puppy slate voting and raucous cheering and Vonnegut Memorial Asterisks. They cannot be salvaged without the kind of overture the anti-Puppies seem to be incapable of making.

Is not going to be taken in a neutral way, even by people who aren’t against the idea of people getting to together to praise those things they like.

Presenting the award as 1: a way to fix a different award, and 2: because the people doing that award are “doing it wrong” is also not going to go over well.  Yes, I am making an argument about tone.  I am saying that if Maynard wanted to get enthusiastic encouragement, support, and aid, which comments like this one seem to imply,

As I’ve said before, I appreciate that the folks here have, for the most part, been quite reasonable and courteous and non-inflammatory. Compare with the folks over at File 770 (to mention one site where I’ve read the comments).

But just as I thought we were moving toward a proposal that we could all agree on – which is still my fondest hope – it blows up in my face. All because I pointed out it could be something everyone could agree on and still remain true to what they believe. What I got back was “Oh, Puppies like it? Go away, this is for adults.”

I’ve dealt with Internet hate before, and this proposal has gotten a lot of it. What’s disheartening is that it’s arisen in a context where I’m trying hard to bring people together. I’ve already said that this proposal was just that, a proposal open for discussion. I’ve said more than once that my views are changing about parts of it. I haven’t put up a rewrite because I’m not sure that posting a new version in the comments here is all that good an idea.

Then not antagonising those whom you wish to take part is important, esp. if the group you want to have help you, “doesn’t think the Hugos are broken”,* matters.  I also don’t think the comments, on the whole, elseweb are “inflammatory”, per se. Are they upset?  Yes. They’ve been having something they love attacked for a couple of years; with at least one more year of attacks promised. The Puppies don’t see it that way.  That’s irrelevant.  Fandom, as whole, does.  Telling them they are “doing it wrong”, that they don’t appreciate story; that they praised things for other than the story, and then admitting one has never read the stories being decried… not going to win people over to your side.

That tone deafness has been at the heart of this thing.  It’s hard to believe the Puppies are people of good will; honest actors, when they misrepresent their position.  It’s hard to say, “Storytelling isn’t what this book was praised for” when one hasn’t read the story.  It’s rude to tell people they are wrong about the reasons they state they liked something.  It’s foolish to do that when one hasn’t actually read the material.

It’s ridiculous to be upset they aren’t greeting such things with open arms and paeans of praise. To accuse those who misunderstood one’s intent, when the ideas are unclear, and one admits they were unclear, in an environment where some of the people taking umbrage have been vilified, attacked, threatened; in some cases for years, is to lack empathy.

The “web of trust”, is ill-thought out.  It’s incredibly dependent on start conditions; esp. as it has two tiers of power: one of the rank and file; who can only vouch for 3-10 people, and one for the inner circle, who have unlimited vouching powers (and one presumes the same unlimited power to downgrade someone).  Given the way the leadership of the Puppy factions has talked about the non-puppies I can’t fault those who think this is a con-job, a way to make a pretense of inclusion while being certain the “SJWs” are kept from taking part.

I’m with Scalzi on this.  I’m a fan because I say I’m a fan.  If all that’s meant with “the Web of Trust” is to verify I’m a real person, not a persona created to game the system, then any known person should be able to vouch for me.  No one should be able to “unvouch” me.  There is no reason for that, save to pursue an ideological purity.  The purity in question seems to be “likes message fiction”  But, as the comments make clear, there are no objective criteria for message fiction.  “If the “message doesn’t get in the way of the story”, it’s ok,”  but the lines on where that happens are… past the point of unclear, rising to the level of shibboleth.

As long at the trust/distrust metric is in the proposal, it’s doomed.  Because all it will take is a small number of people who have a strong agenda to get access to the no-limits on trust/distrust to completely unbalance the pool.  If I read the rules correctly, it would only take 10 to conduct a wholesale purge. That’s a recipe for feuds. Those are just problems with the ways voters are en/disenfranchised.  It doesn’t address the problems of the adminstrators being the arbiters of what counts as “all about story”.  Fans are passionate.  Fans are fond of hair-splitting differences.  Fans are going to contest the administrators.  I can see administrators who have unlimited power to reduce “trust” doing it if their judgement is questioned.  The very nature of the word “trust” in the process makes it more easily justified.

Fixing that will be work (that, or it will break the system completely).  WSFS has a means to do this.  In part because the purpose of WSFS isn’t to hand out the Hugos, but to host a party for fans. The business meetings are a direct outgrowth of that.  Every SF club/organisation to which I’ve belonged/attended the business meetings of, has had a lore of arcane practice to deal with the cultural love of minutiae, trivia, disputation, and so keep an even keel.  It often makes Young Turks cranky [I know, I was once a Young Turk] and can stifle change. There are times the resistance to rapid change is detrimental.  On balance (as I’ve become an older turk), I am more content with that.

Can The Awards to be Named Later be made to work?  Yes.  Do I think the present schema is functional?  No. There is a lot of paperwork to be done.  There is a greater need for money than Maynard seems to realise.

But the greatest hurdle is trust.  If (and it’s big if) this award is to have any traction in Greater Fandom, the Fans have to trust that all is aboveboard, and open, and not just someone trying to stick their thumb in our eye. I either need to be convinced the Hugos are broken (they are not yet, and I don’t think they will be: in response to need the change is as sudden as we can make it), or that this award is complementary.† Right now I don’t see that this is the case. The mechanisms are open to abuse, the criteria seem to be colored by the wider culture war, and the arguement for them (that the Hugos don’t represent “good story telling” doesn’t feel affirmative; but reactionary.

I don’t know that those things can be fixed, because I don’t think the Hugos are broken.  Do I think a conversation about what good storytelling is should be had?  Yeah.  I’m all for it. Do I think talking about what the messages in various works is is relevant?  Yeah.  Do I think Maynard (and the Puppiesº) should participate?  Hell yeah. What makes me a fan is I like SF, and I take part in the community. If they like SF, and want to participate, then I’m all for it. The more the merrier.  Will it be acrimonious?  Yeah, some of it will be.

Acrimony between fans isn’t new.  Beale’s hatred of Scalzi (and Scalzi’s active, caustic, disdain in return) isn’t the first long-running fan-feud.  Won’t be the last. But if the Puppies want to take part in Fandom, they have to take part in Fandom, not demand that Fandom take part in Puppydom.

*I, for one, don’t think the Hugos are broken.  I don’t even think the process is broken.  I think there is a small group who wishes to break them.  As a problem it requires a very different solution.

†If it’s not complementary, in some way, then I don’t need to be involved.  I also am not likely to pay much attention. I find most “Libertarian” fic to be preachy, expository and driven by message, so I don’t follow the awards.  I’m not against reading “libertarian” books, but winning a Prometheus doesn’t imply to me that I will like it.

ºTo which group Maynard does not belong.  He disavows membership, and I take him at his word.

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One thought on “More thoughts on awards, and community

  1. Hi, Terry – I’m one of Those Annoying Libertarians, and yeah, I’ve pretty much ignored the Prometheus Awards for the same reason you have. There are some good works they’ve awarded things to, and their scope has been pretty broad some years, but still…

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