Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Saddest of Puppies

What Happened

What happened was this:
  1. There is a prestigious annual award given for science fiction and fantasy called The Hugos.
  2. A group of people with a couple of leaders on what might be described as the right-wing end of the political spectrum felt that too many progressive voices (women authors, stories with less literary merit but about progressive / social justice ideas, and so on) were getting elevated for political reasons--and formed a backlash. These people were called the Sad Puppies (or, for a different group, the Rabid Puppies).
  3. They managed to get authors they favored (some of whom were horrified to be included in the social-justice-war) onto the ballots, ensuring that in a five-category field like Best Short Story, one of their authors would win (as all five of their authors were the picks).
  4. The Hugo Awards came out and they refused to issue some awards in areas where the puppies had been successful. 
  5. All of this, from all sides, has made a lot of people very angry--and many of the individual decisions here have been widely regarded as bad ideas.

How Did This Happen, Exactly?

Here's what's interesting about this whole thing: the Internet Organization factor. The battle lines are the same ones we've seen in #GamerGate (although the puppies do pre-date them by some months) and in the general election (Trump?). It's a backlash against political correctness and progressivism on one side (the puppies) against a less organized--but still prevalent--front of groups seeking more inclusiveness of traditionally marginalized deomographics as an emergent priority.

If that sounds like evil vs. good, consider that if one elevates inclusiveness above quality (or above any other qualities)--which is what the puppies allege--then, in fact, you would be degrading the quality of the award, games, journalism, the election, whatever.

Inclusiveness as a top-priority is not necessarily an unalloyed good.

That said, the black-lash contains some pretty damn toxic people. Here you can cruise author 'Vox Day' to get a taste of the drivers in play.

No--the drivers aren't new--or all that interesting--but what they are is persistent. We'll keep seeing this again and again as the culture war grinds on. What's interesting is how a minority of culture-warriors (the puppies) used the Internet to take over the Hugos.

This probably isn't shocking--but it should be of interest to anyone with an interest in "Democracy." 

The net effect is that in a Democracy, the most-organized / most-motivated force wins. It appears that the key element of organization is the Internet (and it isn't going away). The most-potent motivating force is . . . anger.

The Angry Puppies

One thing that you should get right away when looking at any of the material from the Puppies: Their emotion wasn't sadness--it was anger. Anger--in an electoral process--tracks to engagement. From The University of Virginia's Center for Politics:
What makes partisan anger especially significant is that it is greatest among the most politically engaged and active members of the electorate. An analysis of the 2012 ANES data shows that there was a very strong relationship between political involvement and anger. Using the number of reported campaign activities — voting, canvassing for a candidate, trying to influence someone’s vote choice, donating to a campaign, etc. — as our measure of political involvement, we found that most active partisans were the angriest at the other party’s presidential candidate. Figure 1 displays this relationship.
If one were to engage in conspiracy theory, one might think this was being harnessed intentionally.

It should be noted that electoral politics aren't the only place where rage-based behavior plays out. An analysis of consumer call-center behavior by party affiliation found the following:
  1. Democrats swear more on call center calls--but Republicans yell/raised their voices more.
  2. Republicans sought revenge against companies they felt had crossed them three times as often as Democrats.
  3. Republicans felt that time spent complaining was worthwhile 73% of the time compared to Democrats 56%.
These differences aren't insignificant--the investment of time being seen as "worthwhile" and taking additional steps to 'seek revenge' is the sort of thing that equates to mobilizing behavior in any domain.

In other words: if you have angry people gaming the system you're going to be very, very effective.

Anger At SJWs

In the case of the Hugo awards, the anger was channeled against 'Social Justice Warriors.' This is an amorphous category of people whose crime is generally scolding someone else on the Internet. Of course there are cases where people have been fired from their jobs for saying improper things--and stirring up a social-justice mob--but statistically speaking, this is extremely rare and limited.

Simply put, most people have not ever been harmed by even extreme social justice advocates and, in the cases where someone has had their feelings hurt, it's generally in either specific communities or on, like, Tumblr.

The Omnivore thinks that there is a general--if mild--erosion of white-male-dominance going on in society. We see this in media with a great deal more inclusion of people of color, women, other minority groups. We see nods to non-mainstream genders on Facebook.

We see sexual harassment laws and other anti-discrimination acts being passed. People who are transgender may soon serve in the military. Gay marriage is legal.

Women are playing, making, and reviewing video games in greater numbers.

Church attendance is down--especially among the young.

All of this--and the force--the intentional force--behind some of it--is, in fact, an encroachment on what were, previously, white-male dominated domains. This, at least in some cases, generates anger--and that anger is susceptible to being harnessed by anyone who can bear a standard that aims to "stand up the bullies."

A massive part of Donald Trump's appeal is that he says things people--especially public people and politicians--and particularly conservative politicians--get sanctioned for and he doesn't back down. 

In the case of any gamable voting system, the use of Internet organization and the capability to draw from a lot of people who feel generally angry--even without a particular dog in the fight (The Omnivore suspects that many, many of the Hugo Sad Puppies voters had little particular interest in the works they voted for--how could they? It was a bloc-vote) is going to be a highly effective force.


The Omnivore thinks we're going to see the Sad-Puppies/#GamerGate dynamic play out over and over for the next decade. The rallying cry to organize against perceived threats will be potent--and if a community doesn't have checks and balances (the Hugos had the capability to issue 'No Award' for some categories and used it) then they will be vulnerable to being gamed. 

While this might lead to less general-voter participation, The Omnivore suspects that it will, instead, lead to more robust interaction systems being developed. Anger is a constant--but as we see with, for example, the Democrat's "Super Delegate" system, there are ways of mitigating its impact. As society shifts, we may need to enhance those immune systems.

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