“Selective Outrage” – Jeb Kinnison
What I call “outrage porn” is stories designed to stoke outrage and make you feel passionately that your group (us) is righteous and some other group (them) are not just misguided or ignorant, but actively evil and out to get the Children of Light (us.) The “porn” in the phrase means something that irresistibly attracts you by appeal to your baser needs, but is ultimately bad for you and false.
I’ve been mostly a spectator to the storm of media and blog posts about Sad Puppies (abbreviated herein as “SP”) and the Hugos. Old-line insiders resent barbarian hordes seen as uncouth, and probably evil, who have attracted a large number of science fiction readers who never realized they could nominate and vote for the Hugos by buying non-attending memberships to the Worldcons. The media consult with the winners under the current in-group system, and not surprisingly most of them clutch their Hugos while seeing little that needs fixing in how they got them.
But what I’m going to highlight is the cherry-picking of extreme views and quotes used by each side to discredit the other. When you have tribes of highly-emotional partisans competing to support the side of Goodness, it should be no surprise that some of their words, taken out of context, can be used to discredit their fellows. The Insiders have their less-good eggs, and so do the Puppies; but *of course* these extremes do not fairly represent the views of either side. I’m not going to go over the controversy itself here, but point out one of the mechanisms that drives this kind of religious war online.
The Internet brings traffic to those who write something unusual and passionate that confirms the beliefs of (or frightens) the readers. Those passionate if less accurate writings are more noticed and more clicked on, and a whole raft of flash media have sprung up the feed the attention beast through “clickbaity” headlines hinting at threat or emotional payoff if the reader clicks through (and drops a few ad cents into the site’s coffers.) Underpaid young grads are employed to read the news (both real and faked) and generate parasitic stories with no original reporting effort which are designed to drive profitable traffic to the site.
Within that species of site you have even more specialized sites that cater to a single tribe, and offer up only stories that confirm the righteousness of that tribe and the evil of others. Partisans will subscribe to a selection of the sites that provide them with the most ego-satisfying stories that confirm their existing beliefs, and so see a world where most good news about people cooperating to do good things is blocked and the news about their enemies and activists is nearly all they see. Where once such sites filled a need to see news on topics not being covered at all in the mainstream, now they isolate and infuriate partisans, who are then easily manipulated by anger and a sense of grievance to give more power to the professional grievance mongers.
Once you recognize this syndrome, it is everywhere you look. Entrepreneurial activists like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson figured out how to fund their organizations through extortion, subtly picking corporate targets to demonize when they weren’t supportive, and ignoring those who were; eventually their faction edged into power and arranged for settlements in Justice Dept. suits against major lenders to include large grants to their affiliate organizations, which actively assist candidates of one party in elections. This is political corruption, and rarely even noticed by mainstream media.
But this is not a phenomenon limited to leftist activists. When Hillary Clinton blamed the “vast right-wing conspiracy” for the real and imagined slanders against the first Clinton administration, she was not entirely wrong. While her complaint had the flavor of a Scooby Doo villain’s speech (“We would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those kids and their dog!”), a new media complex was already mining their real scandals and imagined crimes for material to satisfy readers and listeners, with ever-more-extreme allegations being rewarded by True Believer traffic and dollars. Similarly, a complex of organizations dedicated to stoking anti-gay beliefs and stopping gay rights laws mined the ample material provided by gay organizations for the most outrageous and thoughtless material, suitable for ginning up passions in social conservatives and traditionalists, and the more extreme organizations simply made things up as necessary to demonize all gay people.
After many years of being subjected to this kind of abuse, some gay people were permanently polarized to see all religion and all traditional ways of living as their enemies. Specialized sites now feed their prejudices with every possible instance of unfair or ignorant abuse any gay person anywhere receives. So programmed, many gay people are both unforgiving and happy to assume any religious person is out to get them, and happy to see the newly-Progressive state crush grandmotherly florists and cake decorators to punish any trace of badthink.
If you want to see what this filtering does to a worldview (and don’t mind some NSFW and NSFSanity content) take a look at Joe My God and especially its commenters, where you’ll find the harshest partisans of gay rights (and gay revenge.) Also worth a glance are Gay Star News, Queerty, and The Gaily Grind. For the feminist-victim complex, there’s Jezebel, Feministe, Feministing… and much of the Huffington Post.
Here’s an example of the kind of unconscious prejudice this leads to, where a friend of mine cites a deadly brawl between a religious family and the police as evidence that all religion leads to evil and should be suppressed:
Clearly, these religious nuts don’t need any help showing the world exactly who they are and what they stand for. But, we should continue to share these and other stories widely, so we can keep the pressure on. More and more Americans are becoming aware of the hideous, unconscionable actions perpetuated in the name of religion. Sharing the actions of the evil-doers are the most powerful weapons we have against religion.
The Cottonwood, Arizona police department released a video that appears to show an officer shooting a man. Police say a chaotic brawl broke out between police and members of the [Christian] Gaver family that soon turned deadly..
This assertion of guilt-by-tribal-association is invisible to a partisan. One technique to get them to see the fallacy is to replace the religion with Islam, currently protected from the harsh judgement of Progressives by its status as the religion of “victims of Western imperialism.” If the group fighting with the police had been Muslim-affiliated, you can be quite sure that no progressive would think to tar all Muslims as sharing in the blame for the crimes.
For a second example from yesterday, I’ll turn back to Sad Puppies and the Establishment reaction to their success. Author Jack Dann, who by all accounts is a decent, right-thinking fellow in Australia, picked up and promoted a post citing selected quotes from your typical testosterone-laden exchange as representative of all Sad Puppies:
I’ve been told, repeatedly by one pleasant person, and by a few others, that Brad Torgersen, and the Pups are not horrible people, and that they can be worked with and that really they want a good outcome, and I try to see that, and then they show me otherwise. Here are a few quotes from the Pups over on Brad’s blog that I glanced at this evening.
- If you think for one nano-second that we won’t burn this mother fucker to the ground and roast marshmellows over the corpses…. you’re dead wrong… And if you think we give a tanker’s damn about your appeal for civility…. you’re also dead wrong.
- Hell… We may nuke the Nebulas too… just because.
- We will burn it to the ground, plow the ground, and salt it. You fuckwads don’t understand war. We do.
- in my opinion, Theresa Hayden’s parents were both: a.) circus people; and b.) first cousins.
- Try to come up with something better, turdnugget.
- I really don’t care about the Hugos, qua Hugos, to any measurable degree. I don’t care if I ever get one and I don’t really care if anyone else ever gets one, either. Rather, I care about the war in which they are just another front.
- Scuttle back underneath the kitchen sink, and rejoin the rest of your chitinous cohorts.
- The endgame, besides using your guts to grease our tanks,
- Heeerrrrreee pussypussypussypussypussy.
- Vox isn’t a side show, he’s just the warm up act.
And then the following, made by a lead Pup, in response to a person, who without profanity or insult, disagreed. The comments were made while the Pup was claiming to be tracking down the home of the person who disagreed:
- Hey, anyone know who that pussy is in real life?
- You’re a pussy, boy. You don’t even have the guts to be an asshole
- Pussy, you’re not worth a discussion. You’re a cockroach. Roaches are only to be stepped on.
- Or you can come here, to Blacksburg, Virginia. Why, I’ll even loan you a decent gun. Pussy.
- I’ll keep you posted on my progress in identifying you, pussy.
- I cna [sic] only agree that you’re a pussy. A coward. A liar. A piece of crawling shit.
So, that’s the people we are dealing with. Key group members, chatting along with Brad. I like the trying to find someone’s home and the gun threat. It just really dots the i nicely.
I read the entire exchange, and in context this schoolyard callout effort was a little over-the-top, but in response to challenge and evasions by a trolling poster. As I said in the beginning of this piece, both “sides” have their outrageous affiliates — Requires Hate and K. Tempest Bradford (with her “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year” piece, for example, ruling out Neil Gaiman as too white-cis-male to expand her mind.) On the Puppies side, anti-Puppies cite Vox Day as representative (he’s not), and John C. Wright, who’s made a number of statements that I personally would object to, as a homophobic and racist devil (which I’m pretty sure he’s not.) None of us are responsible for every single bad thing some other person in a coalition says or does, and when you observe selective examples used to discredit others and make a comfortable establishment happy that they are deserving of their high position in a stagnant hierarchy under threat, you should immediately find a more thoughtful and independent source to help form your own opinion. Sites that highlight the worst of people you already disdain only feed anger and self-righteousness, which is the enemy of understanding and empathy. When you actively select the items that outrage you and pass them on, you are only increasing the width of the gulf between the tribes.
Hatred and prejudice harm real people, but the harm echoes on through the generations as the original victims teach and promote an us-vs-them worldview that harms everyone. The people who are less wrong learn to understand where the hateful emotions come from, and start to cut off the sources of funds and fury that feed the continuing conflicts. Understanding the backgrounds of the partisans and arguing toward acceptance of others’ right to be wrong is the beginning of reconciliation and cooperation. I think we can get most reasonable people to agree that an award that supposedly recognizes the best SFF should be more broadly representative of the readers, including the vast majority who can’t take time out from busy lives or afford to go to conventions. Having a tiny in-group select award winners from their friends and people they know leaves out most of the writers, and almost all of the readers.
Jeb Kinnison writes on attachment issues at his blog JebKinnison.com, and about science fiction and his Substrate Wars series at SubstrateWars.com. He asks (tongue-in-cheekily) that you consider his latest novel Nemo’s World for nomination in 2015’s Hugo competition.