Puppy’s Progress

The Puppies keep describing the enemy they imagine they’re fighting in Orwellian terms. Well, if you want to see an example of groupthink setting out to punish badthink in action, head on over to Vox Day’s blog. Actually, that statement could probably stand on its own at any random instance in time, but I’m thinking in particular of this post, where Day wants to contrast three reviews he says are by “Social Justice Warriors” with one that isn’t: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2015/05/smells-like-success.html

He starts the post by saying that the first review “precisely underlines the central point made by the Sad Puppies campaign and single-handedly serves to justify it”.

Now, I’m not sure which central point it so perfectly illustrates, as the central point of the Sad Puppies changes from day to day. Is it supposed to prove that there’s a clique that judges books by demography rather than merit?  Is that which central point Day is saying it supports? If so, I’d like to know how, as the critique is specific and refers to the text and not the author. Is it supposed to be a counterpoint to Brad Torgersen’s famous lament that he can no longer judge a book by its cover? If so, I would think the third review would serve better, as it points out that the ending of the story is explicitly spoiled by the title, Turncoat.

No, taking the three “SJW” reviews in total, I believe the specific one of the Sad Puppies’ nebulous and ever-shifting “points” which Day believes is being proven is just the general idea that some people who are reviewing books (and nominating them for awards and such) are choosing to lie about what’s good and bad on the basis of how they feel about the author or other externalities.

This is not actually something that I’ve seen articulated by any central personality of Sad Puppies, but by those lurking in the comments and on Twitter. It’s more Gamergate thinking than Sad Puppy thinking, at least in its explicit form.

The shortest review and Day’s response to it really hammer it home.

The review reads:

“I hated Turncoat – compared to how Iain Banks, Neal Asher, Peter Hamilton write sentient battleships and describe space warfare it was unbearable, then there were lines like ‘the men who…’ versus ‘the people who’ really jarred against me – it felt like a story written about AIs written by somebody who has ignored any progress in fiction, computing and so forth in 20 years. The opening battle scene at the start of The Reality Dysfunction is better than Turncoat in every way, and that was written in 1996.”

And Day’s response reads:

“I found that to be rather amusing, considering how spectacularly boring Iain Banks’s space battles are. But considering that Daveon hates Sad Puppies and hates Rabid Puppies, how surprising is it that he – mirabile dictu – just happens to hate ‘Turncoat’ as well?”

The first line is great: “I found it amusing that you profess to like A Thing, when I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that A Thing is unlikeable!” Yes, Day has caught another lying liar in another filthy lie! SJWs are so dedicated to the cause they will lie and say that boring things are interesting!

Or, y’know, different people find different things interesting.

See, the actual central point of the Sad Puppies that Day proves with these four reviews—all of which seem perfectly fair to me, as they all are rooted in the specifics of the text and all seem to honestly reflect how the reviewer received it—is the new central point that Brad Torgersen pivoted to last week when he said there’s no such thing as an objective standard and that the Sad Puppies are about packing the Hugos with people whose tastes reflect his own.

Because that’s what these reviews demonstrate: differing tastes. And given that there are three of them where the story is not to the reviewer’s taste and one where it isn’t, maybe Day is right and this does prove the need for a Sad Puppies campaign, from the point of view of the Puppies.

I know that’s not what Day means, of course. His own commentary on the post reflects his inability to grasp the concept of differing tastes, differing yet honest opinions. Understanding those things would require Day to possess some shred of empathy or a working theory of mind, neither of which he shows any evidence of. I suspect that like many people who rely on being able to brag about what society has told them is an objective measurement of their superior mental ability, Day has never bothered much with actual mental development. Why not? The test says he’s already at the top. There’s nowhere to go except for down.

This puts me in mind of a blog post by Christian blogger slacktivist, which started off as part of a scene-by-scene sporking of the first Left Behind movie and digressed into a meditation on Kirk Cameron’s progress as an actor, contrasting Cameron as an actor who believed that he was at the top of his form as a child on a sitcom and had no more room for improvement with fellow sitcom actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who has never stopped trying to improve himself.

And this brings me to one of the more curious things found at Day’s post, in the comments. One of the reviewers is quoted as saying that Turncoat reads like it was written by an AI that ignored the past decades’ worth of progress in writing. One of the commenters responds to this in part with, “Progress in fiction, HA!” He would like us to read a book published 24 years ago and concerned only with the shape of plots, which he considers to be not just the last word but the only word in what makes writing good.

Progress? Ha! This is what the Puppies represent: people who believe there can be no advancement in the state of the art of storytelling, because to them there is neither state nor art. No room for improvement, and nothing to be improved.

I know Vox Day has something of a fanboy’s interest in the history of Rome. If he ever gets past the “playing with tin soldiers” phase of things and looks into it a little more deeply, he might notice that there was a trend during the late decline of the empire of poets and authors who trafficked in little more than polite and politic rearrangements of what had come before. No new ideas, no new forms, no new shapes. Aldous Huxley might have been thinking of a grammaticus of this age when he had a teacher in Brave New World ask pupils if they thought they knew better than the World Consensus Textbook: “Do you think you know better than Virgil? Do you think you can do better than Catullus?”

Despite Torgersen’s latter-day admission that it’s actually a matter of taste, this state of art in decline is broadly what the Puppies (and their incestuously close ideological cousins the Gators) are fighting for: stability to the point of stagnation, based around a global consensus of what a story is allowed to be.

Oh, sure, the zealous believers in free speech found in both camps will wring their hands and say, “No, no, no! We want people to be able to both make and enjoy whatever art they want! It’s just the dishonesty of it all that we’re fighting against!”

But when you define “dishonesty” as anyone who evinces an opinion that deviates from the accepted consensus… well… you wind up with things like this, where three reviews that independently arrive at similar conclusions, each making explicit reference to the text, are used as evidence that the reviewers are lying, which is used to justify a “revolutionary” campaign to root out such liars.

As I said, this is the triumph of “groupthink” over “badthink”.

Well, “triumph” might be too strong a word. It remains to be seen if the group is big enough to actually enforce and maintain their consensus reality, outside the carefully insulated protective aegis of their own spaces. Day likes to boast about his millions of monthly page views, yet when he was handing out numbered badges to his “minions” he ran out of takers in the low three hundreds. I suspect he has yet to learn the difference between browsing at someone and browsing with them. I’m also suddenly curious how many hits the Time Cube guy was getting at the height of its notoriety.

Oh, brave new world that has such people in it!

Progress? Ha!