There is a game children play—or more often, try to play at—when they are caught doing something they know they shouldn’t. It’s called “I WAS JUST”.
Running around the pool deck? “I WAS JUST walking quickly.” No rule against that, right? The sign says not to run, not to walk slowly.
Teasing the new kid? “I WAS JUST talking to them.” Geez, don’t you want them to feel welcome?
Those of us who have dealt with bullying or harassment know how pernicious the logic of the JUST can be. JUST talking, JUST joking, JUST being friendly, JUST happen to be going the same way…
And while I think most parents don’t fall for the amazingly elaborate web of lies where a child claims they were JUST checking on the cookies to make sure no one else was stealing them, teachers and other part-time responsibility figures don’t feel comfortable moving against the worst, most entitled and self-justified troublemakers without a clear-cut rule and a red-handed violation of it. Challenging the lie doesn’t seem worth the headache. So the kids who make life hell for others while sleeping the sleep of the JUST grow up with the understanding that this is a winning move.
This brings us up to the Sad Puppies campaign, a mean-spirited and divisive campaign whose founders and leaders have never been shy about what they are doing and why… until people start calling them on it, at which point they pretend that no one said anything about poking a stick in anyone’s eye, no one on their side accused anyone of nominating the wrong works for the wrong reasons, no one ever alleged a clique was controlling the Hugos, no, no, nothing like that!
Oh, no. If any of that happened, we are supposed to ignore it because from start to finish, the Sad Puppies campaign has JUST been about raising awareness about the Hugo nomination process, so people know they have the ability to nominate whatever work or writer they think has been overlooked.
And who could object to a campaign that is JUST doing that? That would be like opposing a group that is JUST standing up for ethics in video game journalism. It would be like blaming children for breaking an expensive vase playing football indoors when they were JUST trying to get more exercise like you always said they should. Sheesh, what do you have against kids getting exercise?
To be real for a moment: I can buy the idea that some of the people involved in the Puppy campaigns have bought into this line. I think that even a lot of the children who proclaim that they were JUST have convinced themselves of the truth of what they’re saying.
So if you are a Puppy reading this, here’s how you convince the rest of the world that you mean all those high-minded ideals more than the snipping and sniping:
Next year, try actually spreading awareness of the open nature of nominations. Don’t buy into the slate. Don’t take your recommendations and hand them off to someone who may ignore them while assembling a slate of their own picks. Instead do what countless other people have done for years: post your own recommendations directly, as recommendations.
Add an explanation that anyone who buys a supporting membership to Worldcon can nominate their own picks, and bam… you will have just raised awareness of the nomination process.
What does participating in a slate do that furthers that mission? What does making vague, unfounded accusations that past nominees/winners benefited from some shadowy affirmative action program do to advance the cause? What does all the noise and mess and deliberate provocation and stirring up controversy have to do with anything? What does it add?
If you really JUST want to make sure everyone knows how the nomination and voting process works so more people can get involved, great! Focus on doing that. Some people might grouse about the outcome, but nothing in this world pleases everyone.
But no matter who is pleased or displeased with the final ballot or the perceived demographics of Hugo voters after such an influx, at least you’d be able to enter your house justified instead of JUST-ified.