Brad Torgersen’s Central Fallacy

[ Read this in Dutch ]

Brad Torgerson, ringleader of Sad Puppies 3, wrote this marvellously insightful and extremely well-written piece on tribalism versus racism. He outlines at length, and with many convincing examples, the ways in which human nature’s built-in urge to form tribes is at the root of much of what is considered racism, sexism, and many other isms.

He makes a convincing case that what’s seen as racism, sexism etc. is often of much narrower focus, and should more accuratly be called tribism: not necessarily about the other’s race or gender per se, but about race and gender as observable clues the other’s membership of a tribe perceived as different, and therefore by default hostile to one’s own; unwelcome.

He concludes—and  I find it all but impossible to find fault with his argument—that in a polyglot society (or field of arts), the ultimate question is whether or not you (and your tribe) can make room in your hearts and minds for the people from the other tribes; that people of any tribe need to be more “awake” to their own tribal instincts and prejudices. Can we have an Amen to that?

Then, halfway through the piece, he slides into one of the biggest and most popular fallacies in the field of reasoning: he tries to use his erudite views on tribalism to explain and underpin his Sad Puppies campaign, on which said views, of course, have no bearing whatsoever.

I’m sure that the tribal view of social psychology is valid, and applies to WorldCon, Torgersen’s experiences with WorldCon, and the horrible experiences Larry Correia describes he went through.*

But a reasonable, well-reasoned, balanced, and sensible view on one issue does not automatically argue in support of an unethical, hostile, and counterproductive action, just because they happen to touch on the same domain of social psychology.**

Torgersen claims as one of his justifications for Sad Puppies that WorldCon is not inclusive. But if WorldCon and Fandom form a tribe in the sense of Torgersen’s piece, then it is, by its very rules, a tribe perfectly open to every single fan (or interested non-fan) willing to shell out forty bucks. Only those unwilling or unable to pay their Supporting Membership fee are excluded from the Hugo vote.*** That makes it more open, inclusive, welcoming than most every other tribe I’m aware of.****

The Sad Puppies also argue that on one hand, the Hugos are marketed as the most important, most respected award in speculative fiction, while in reality, the Hugos are awarded by the small clique of Fandom, defined as everyone involved in, attending, or supporting WorldCon. Torgerson presents this juxtaposition as if it’s a contradiction; Correia fulminates about it.

But of course, those two facts co-exist peacefully, and in fact re-affirm each other. The Hugos have proven themselves to be one of the highest honors in speculative fiction, through decades of awarding high-quality speculative works, many of which have become classics. The Hugos are awarded by everyone who feels strongly enough about them to bother buying the right to vote. No one is excluded from the vote; in fact, the way the system is set up, no one can be excluded.*****

The Hugos are awarded to the most worthy work of speculative fiction, by the subset of people who care enough about the Hugos to bother pointing out what, to them, is the most worthy work. Anyone who feels excluded from this process, has only his own ignorance or inaction to blame. If the past decades have seen Hugos awarded to works too liberal for the Puppies’ tastes, that just means that those works were the taste of the majority of fans interested enough in the Hugos to bother voting. The flaw in the system is that it can be gamed*****, but not that it’s cliquish, except to the clique of all speculative fiction fans with $40 to spare.

Which means that the Puppies’ tremendous disappointment with the last few rounds of Hugo winners does not indicate a flaw in the system, but rather that their tastes have, over the years, shrunk to become a quaint minority.******

And like I said, Torgersen’s excellent text on tribalism has no bearing whatsoever on either issue, neither on the supposed lack of inclusiveness, nor on the imagined contradiction between Hugo status and Hugo ownership.

Finally, the Puppies’ own vehemently repeated argument about fighting for inclusiveness in the Hugo’s is undermined in the most glaring manner by their method. I admire and applaud their effort towards, and succes in, making more fans aware of the Hugo voting system, the possibility of a Supporting Membership, and the right of every single speculative fiction fan to vote for the Hugos for a mere $40. But then encouraging those same fans to slate-vote for a tiny subset of available works is way beyond calling the kettle black: it’s putting a bomb under every single valid, sensible, and worthwhile argument they’ve made for their action, lighting the fuse, and sitting back to watch the fireworks.*******

That’s not arguing for, or fighting for, inclusiveness, not taking the Hugos to the broader fandom; that’s throwing a tantrum and wrecking the toys you can’t play with.


*  Though I must second Mr. Martin in questioning the statistical significance of those experiences, and in casting doubt upon the generalization Correia feels justified to make about WorldCon and Fandom based on those experiences.

** That debating ploy, which is used with infuriating frequency in public discourse, is like arguing knowledgeably, reasonably, and sensibly, about the wisdom of sticking to the speed limit, and using that argument in support of dropping a ton of bricks on Highway 101.

*** As a true European leftie, let me state unambiguously that I believe the $40 fee to be way too high.

**** In fact, it strikes me as deliciously ironic that self-declared right-winger Torgersen bemoans the cliquish nature of an organization that opens its doors for everyone with dollars to spend. Shouldn’t the lefties take that position instead?

***** As the Puppies have made abundantly clear.

****** If indeed a change in the type of awarded works, as the Puppies claim, has in fact occurred; Mr. Martin argues convincingly that this is rather a skewed perception on the Puppies’ part.

******* Of course, what Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies did is even more absurdly contradictory, given that his own publishing house and his star writer John C. Wright feature extremely prominently.