Friday, August 26, 2016

The Hugo awards and the decay of Western civilisation

The Hugos, for those unaware, are (speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy) SF awards voted on by people at Worldcon.  Along with the Nebulas, they have long been the premier awards in SF. A few years ago, some SF writers got together and decided to push back against [what they saw as] the drift of the awards from their original function--representing excellence in SF writing, editing, etc--to concerns with demographic inclusion (and ideological exclusion) as well as a drift to stories with more literary pretension but less genre content.

In other words, the replacement of questions of what (the best writing, etc) with questions of who (race, gender, sexuality, etc) while diluting the original SF focus. The drifting concern to questions of who claims to be about "inclusion" but, as is normal with modern progressivist identitarian politics, said inclusion was a basis for cognitive exclusion--excluding folk whose views were taken to be, by definition, against (the correct sort of) "inclusion". 

Thus, being a Mormon, libertarian-inclined, registered Republican who used to own a gun shop was being the wrong sort of who. Writer Sarah Hoyt has blogged about the feeling of vulnerability being of conservative or libertarian views generated for up-and-coming writers within the field. (At least, outside the specific sub-genre of military SF, which is rife with writers of such views.)

This drift towards concern with writer demography and away from genre content is classic trumping of function by Virtue. In particular, the ideology, partisan-affiliation and occupation of a writer has nothing to do with the original function of the Hugos. It can only matter if other criteria are used to trump said function.

A key element of morality is precisely that it trumps, that it claims an authority greater than alternative considerations. Such authority is inherently pervasive (it can apply to anything) and easily tied to status claims (supporting a trumping authority easily also proclaims a trumping moral status).

As we homo sapiens are moralising, status-conscious coalition builders, it is very easy for morality to generate in-groups and out-groups and to accentuate the divide between them. (As moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, morality both binds and blinds: a nice short discussion of which is here.) The classic Scott Alexander post (essay really) I can tolerate anything except the outgroup very much applies.

The original pushback against said demographic-concern-and-literary-elevation drift was the Sad Puppies, an attempt to widen the nomination process by suggesting to Worldcon voters writers and others felt to be more in keeping with notions of SF being very much a specific genre about stories and playing with ideas in general (rather than about who and which ideas).

There was also an issue of whether a particular publishing house (Tor books) had been gaming the system. (It has topped SF awards in general, though Gollancz has a higher author/nomination to award rate.) 

As an open reaction to a drift among publishing and organisation insiders, the Sad Puppies made explicitly contentious processes that had presented as apolitical and meritocratic. That immediately made the insurgents open to charges of "politicising" and "gaming" the system. Always useful rhetoric for status quo insiders against trouble-makers. Hence also claims that the Sad Puppies campaign was just about getting awards for oneself and one's friends. That Larry Corriera, the original Sad Puppy organiser, had recused himself from nomination was just ignored or scoffed at. 

The Virtue syllogism
But the Sad Puppy pushback also ran into the trumping nature of Virtue. A standard response to concerns with preserving function against claims of moral Virtue is to wield the following (invalid) syllogism
We are doing x because of Y.
You object to us doing x.
You are against Y.
In this case: 
We are attending to questions of who-category to make the Hugos more inclusive-by-demographic category as a matter of Social Justice.
You object to the changing the criteria for the Hugos in this way.
You are against inclusion and Social Justice.
It was thus "established", as is normal when the Virtue game gets going, that all and any objection to what the Virtuous were doing was, by definition, due to malefic motivations. There being no legitimate objection to Virtue, of course. Thus there is also no legitimate objection to having Virtue trump function.

In accordance with the status-drive (we're moral, they're evil/stupid/ignorant) which is so crucial to Virtue coalition-building, there was an associated Narrative, a story of Good people, who seek inclusiveness, and Bad people, who oppose it (and so, should, of course, be excluded). 

As supporters of the Sad Puppies constantly point out (e.g. Larry Correira here, Brad Torgersen here), people and facts that fail to confirm this Narrative, or actively undermine it, are just ignored.

As is normal when the Virtue game gets going, not only is function trumped, so are facts.

A striking feature of the Hugos controversy, is that outlets such as The Guardian, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Wired, Salon and Slate all covered it. And they all covered it in the same way: as the heroic supporters of inclusion and social justice being opposed by those against demographic diversity in SF (and social diversity more generally). There was, apparently, no legitimate concern about function, and any facts that suggested otherwise typically just never appeared in the Narrative. Which thus became a deeply dishonest Narrative. One that undermined the alleged function of mainstream media--to report the news of what happens, not Virtuous distortions of the same. (An example of covering the issue somewhat differently is provided by Real Clear Politics and, after some corrections, the UK Telegraph.)

Amusingly, Entertainment Weekly, after enthusiastically joining in the game, managed, in its correction, to allude to what was happening:
CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.
This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.
It does repeat the pattern of using Brad Torgersen as the go-to Sad Puppy to be quoted, since his terribly Teutonic name is just made to fit the Narrative. (His African-American wife, perhaps less so, but she can easily be ignored.)

Having designated Virtue systematically trump function and facts is not a good long-term look for any society or civilisation. But the Virtue game has become very socially pervasive.

Hence the importance of not allowing any successful push-backs. Hence the mainstream media (1) paying attention to the Hugo fuss and (2) pushing the Virtuous Narrative so relentlessly. Thereby, of course, demonstrating just how pervasive Virtuous trumping of facts and function has become.

The identity dynamic
The Sad Puppies rapidly became not the only insurgent players. The Virtuous drift was a manifestation of the identitarian progressivism that has replaced the modernist Left: the politics of who replacing the politics of what

Fundamental to identitarian progressivism is not merely the pushing of positive Identities but also negative ones. A story of good Who's who are oppressed by bad Who's. Those bad Who's being, of course, Bad White People, unrepentant possessors of White Privilege. (Who are very, very distinct from Good White People--those being the folk who spend so much time explaining how oppressed Good Who's are by Bad White People.) 

Bad White People thereby become the default social scapegoats. Thomas Sowell's nomination for the stupidest idea in politics:
the assumption that people would be evenly or randomly distributed in incomes, institutions, occupations or awards, in the absence of somebody doing somebody wrong.
is a very useful idea for identitarian progressivism and its Virtue game. [Including for the bureaucratised versions thereof.]

There is no good form of identity politics. But there is an inevitable dynamic to identity politics: an identity under continuing attack will begin to organise in sheer self-defence (or, at least be susceptible to political entrepreneurs who claim to speak for them). For, if being queer, coloured, female, etc are good identities, then it follows that being a heterosexual white male is a bad (i.e. morally stained aka "privileged") identity.

One can escape from said moral stain by proclaiming very loudly how committed to Virtue (aka Social Justice) one is, thereby establishing oneself as a Good White. In the case of the Hugos, writers such as George R R Martin (e.g. here and here) and John Scalzi have perfected this. In Scalzi's case, he is particularly keen on pushing that there is no legitimate complaint about or against Virtue (e.g. here).

Given that pushing morally-positive identities must involve creating morally-negative identities (which is why there is no good form of identity politics), the rise of progressivist identitarian politics and its constructs of bad/stained identities has, inevitably, seen the rise of antagonistic identitarian politics (aka the Alt-right).  

This is very convenient to progressivist identitarian politics, because the Alt-right give
someone for the Good Whites to point to and say See! See! Bad Whites! (John Scalzi plays this game here.)

The notion that only "good people" will play identity politics was always deeply stupid. But it is a convenient stupidity for the Good White game. Particularly as it is simplicity itself to push the See, Bad Whites! narrative--just completely ignore any role for progressivist identitarian politics in creating this, completely predictable, reaction.

... in wider society
As an aside, movement conservatism in the US has a decades-long history of purging right-identitarians--nicely documented in an excellent work of history and analysis, Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism by political scientist George Hawley: useful reviews of the book by the excluded are here, here and here

The rise of progressivist identitarian politics has, however, destabilised movement conservatism's suppression of identitarian politics on the right as the Alt-right's fundamental claim (the interests, culture, standing, prospects and interests of white people are under attack) is now true for non-progressivist white folk, particularly the white working class, given their role as default social scapegoats. (Hence the success of The Donald.) 

The US is now facing the natural dynamic of identity politics--the rise of awful candidates who folk feel compelled to vote for due to tribal self-defence. Given that Hillary is the doyen of progressivist identity politics, and the Greens' Jill Stein is a case of the same game even more so, the only US Presidential candidate which represents any revolt against the toxic dynamics of identity politics is the Libertarian, Gary Johnson: the only candidate for (in the nice phrasing of Frederik deBoer and others) the politics of what rather than the politics of who.

Going Rabid
In the case of the Hugos, the anti-progressive identitarians are the Rabid Puppies, pushed by prominent Alt-right blogger, SF writer and publisher, Vox Day. (His politics are really not mine, but his SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police is a necessary read to understand the methodological dynamics of Virtue coalition politics in the wider culture.)

Vox Day's clash with Sad Puppy supporter Sarah Hoyt provides an excellent example of how dishonest the Virtuous Narrative about the Sad Puppies is. Sarah Hoyt--woman, Portuguese immigrant--is a poster child for how objecting to changing the function of the Hugos is not about opposing diversity. Hence the mainstream media journalists "reporting" (actually selling Narrative fiction as news) have comprehensively ignored her.

Sarah Hoyt manifests the US as open society and sees herself as doing so. To the Alt-right, this is the fiction of the US as propositional nation. But the Rabid Puppy surge also shows how hard it is for non-identitarian politics to maintain itself once the identitarian dynamics of tribalism and counter-tribalism gets going.

Virtue trumping fact and function. The toxic dynamics of identity politics. The Hugos are a much bigger story than they appear because they are a revealing microcosm of destructive processes in our civilisation.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Defending openness with cognitive closure

The Economist recently had a piece claiming that the left-right divide had been overtaken by the open-closed divide. It had this to say on the Brexit vote: 
So far, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has been the anti-globalists’ biggest prize: the vote in June to abandon the world’s most successful free-trade club was won by cynically pandering to voters’ insular instincts, splitting mainstream parties down the middle.
Really? There were no legitimate concerns behind the Brexit vote?

Two-thirds of British voters voted for the EEC (i.e. the European Communities aka Common Market) in 1975, yet a 52-48% majority voted against the EU in 2016. Had British voters suddenly become more stupid or gullible in the intervening 41 years? Or had circumstances changed? Had what they were being sold changed?

No, yes and yes.

A different Europe
Immigration has accelerated, and its implications have changed. The approved model has gone from assimilation (newcomers adapt to residents) to multiculturalism (residents adapt to newcomers) along with a Muslim religious revival which accentuates visible differences in clothing (pdf) and associates it with violence. (An immigration policy which kills citizens is a problematic immigration policy: particularly when it does so into the second generation.)

The provincial working class lost political defenders as the modernist left became postmodern progressivism. Importing new voters reduces the provincial working class's political significance further while increasing pressure on government services and redistributing the benefits of economic growth away from the indigenous working class.

The Economist tells us that Brexit was a vote against:
the world’s most successful free-trade club ...
The EEC was the most successful free trade area, the EU is very much not--not a successful free trade area (thanks to the Euro, economic growth has flatlined in much of the EU) as well as not just a free trade area but something which aspires to far more. Over 40 years of experience had greatly reduced voter support for the EU-that-is compared to the EEC-that-was.

Nor did it help that the UK did not join the Euro. First, the Euro is a huge statement of future intent. Secondly, it was a dramatic demonstration of EU failure, of how not joining in the Ever Greater Union roller-coaster could be a very good idea. Just as it did not help that the UK had not opted to join the Schengen agreement, for essentially the same reasons.

Treating opposition to the actually-existing-EU as simply malefic opposition to "openness" is being remarkably obtuse. One does not defend an open society with such cognitive closure.

There is evidence that the EU continues to (on balance) increase economic freedom. Faced, however, with a choice between increased accountability and increased economic freedom, I will pick increased accountability every time: it is so much the better long term bet. Indeed, it precisely the way that EU processes profoundly muddied who was responsible for what which helps explain the popular antipathy.

Undermining social bargaining
The Economist cites the EU as an example of international integration. In a phrase, institutionalised globalisation.

Economist Kevin O'Rourke (whose work with Jeffrey Williamson is necessary reading to understand the nature of globalisation) has pointed out that globalisation produces losers, that the Brexit backlash "has been a long time coming". His immediate conclusion is that the solution to more immigration is more government services, citing economist Dani Rodrik's claim that markets and states are complements.

This is to misread the evidence he is citing about European states in the C19th and early C20th. Yes, more highly taxed states were more open, but this was more consequence than cause. They were able to sustain the (relatively) high tax/high openness balance by having inclusive and effective social bargaining. Which is precisely what the pomo progressivist embrace of language taboos, the rhetoric of denunciation (racist! sexist! xenophobic! etc), identity politics, judicial activism (specifically, social change by judicial decision) and internationalisation all seriously undermine.

In particular, much of the function of contemporary immigrant politics [about immigration] is precisely to strip status and positive attention from the resident (white) working class, which leads to precisely the politics of neglect O'Rourke is complaining about. 

Why on earth would one think that, given the dynamics of contemporary politics, expanded government action would be to the benefit of the backlash voters? Ask the residents of Rotherham how much the Progressivist Ascendancy state is not on their side. 

The historical cases that O'Rourke is citing were also not immigrant states; if anything, they were emigrant states. His suggestion that supporters of openness, in effect, tell citizens that they should pay higher taxes (either now, or in the future through greater public debt) to expand services to incorporate extra migrants just pushes the political scarcity problems to the next level.

Moreover, the more diverse the incoming migrants, the more difficult inclusive social bargaining becomes, due to increased diversity in preferences and expectations and increased difficulties in information flows. Conversely, mass emigration tends to select for more social conformity among the remaining population, as those who differ are more likely emigrate, thereby making inclusive social bargaining easier among the citizens who stay.

It is so much easier to have a high services/high openness social bargaining in overwhelmingly monocultural societies (Scandinavia) or explicitly specific-pillar societies (Netherlands) or in highly decentralised ones (Switzerland). There is a reason why the much more diverse Anglo societies tended to have lower levels of tax/openness trade-offs and why the (over-centralised) United Kingdom had and has perennial Celtic fringe problems. 

It is all very well to talk of the "open v closed" divide, but not if one is going to treat concerns about openness as stupid/malefic and integration projects as simply good things. Seriously damaged processes of social bargaining are the issue to zero in on, not alleged voter stupidity or malice, nor treating increased government services as any sort of likely panacea.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]