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Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy

Really. You can’t. Lord knows, we tried. But Dash just keeps trying to pee on the furniture, and if we hadn’t discovered Pants for Dogs, the ottoman (at very least) would now be a total loss.

So I have to grin a rather sour grin to see people suggesting that the way to defeat the Sad Puppies and others like them (which are coming, trust me!) is to shame authors who were chosen to be on their slates, and keep shaming them until they withdraw their nominations. Several authors did in fact refuse the Hugo Awards nominations that they received back on April 5. Larry Correia refused his because he was the originator of the Sad Puppies idea, and felt that benefitting from it was unseemly. That’s legit, and he gets big points for doing the right thing. Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet withdrew because they didn’t want to be at the center of the ruckus, especially one with political overtones. Bellet said it very well:

I find my story, and by extension myself, stuck in a game of political dodgeball, where I’m both a conscripted player and also a ball.

I can sympathize here. I wouldn’t want to be the ball, either, and we have to respect their decisions. Trouble is, you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. My suggestion would have been to ride it out. Nobody has blamed the authors who were on the slate (yet) and anyone who would is a moron. (Alas, the world suffers no shortage of morons. We’ll have to remain on guard.)

The more important reason for authors not to withdraw is that withdrawing gives the anti-puppies (APs) this peculiar notion that they can use social pressure (shaming) to get authors to do things their way, up to and including refusing a major honor in the field. Note very well: I am not suggesting that either Kloos or Bellet withdrew because of social pressure. I take their explanations at face value. What I’m suggesting is that a certain nontrivial number of APs may assume it, and may further assume that social pressure is a tactic that can win, going forward. I’m already hearing that the 2015 Hugos need to be “asterisked;” that is, marked as disreputable, dishonest, and something that no upright fan or author will have anything to do with. The message is pretty clear: Any Puppy nominee who keeps their place on the ballot is to be shamed and shunned.

Now we can get down to business. The first of my two points today is this: Shaming is bullying. Shaming is about fear. Shaming is thug tactics. I’ll tell you what I hear when I hear people talking about shaming authors: “Nice little career you’re starting up here. Shame if anything happened to it.” Or, another interpretation that’s pretty much the same thing: “Stay on the ballot, and you’ll never work in this town again.”

In other words, we’re supposed to use mafia persuasion to get authors to refuse nominations that just might have been influenced by slatemakers like the Sad Puppies. (What if the works are just really good?) That’s bad enough. However, if you think about it a little more, you come to my second point for today’s entry: Shaming only works on people who value the esteem of the shamer.

That’s how shame works: You know that certain people are going to be displeased with you if you do something, so you don’t do it. You don’t do it because you like / respect / want to retain the goodwill of those certain people. The problem is this: The shamers will thus force only their own people–the people who agree with them and want to be liked by them–off the ballot. The people who then move up to take the vacated slots are more likely to be sympathetic to the Puppies.

Is that what you want? Really?

There’s this peculiar notion among some people that shame is the ultimate weapon, one that works every time, on everybody. My research suggests that it works best on heavily networked depressive teenagers, which would be all of us, right? Heh. So let’s try a thought experiment: Shame Vox Day off of…anything. (Divide by zero much?) Try shaming any of the Puppy sympathizers off the ballet. I’m sure I’d hear the laughter halfway up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. See what I mean?

There may be a way to “save” the Hugos from the depredations of the Sad Puppies. I think we first we need to agree on what those depredations actually are, and no such agreement currently exists. But whether such a fix exists or not, shaming authors is not only thug-like and unethical, it comes around like a boomerang and rips you a new one by driving your own people (the only ones who might conceivably be shame-able) off the ballot.

I honestly don’t think the Sad Puppies are any kind of problem for the Hugo Awards, Worldcon, or most ordinary fans. The whole business cooks down to this: A group who broke no rules made fandom’s Insider Alpha clique lose face in a very big way. Everything in the Sad Puppies dustup follows from that.

The Puppies are unshameable. Get over the butthurt, or bad things will happen, things that have nothing to do with shame, but everything to do with money, demographics, and the shape of SFF going forward. Give me a week or so (it’s nuts here) and I’ll tell you a little more about that.


  1. TRX says:

    This year, the Hugos.

    Next year, the Hugos and… it won’t be just the Hugos, or even just SF.

    MOAR popcorn!

  2. BalBurgh says:

    Shaming is actually a very effective means of social control that does not, in fact, involve aggression. It is aggression (defined as the proactive use of or initiation of force against person or property) that is never legitimate. (See the “Non-Aggression Principle” or NAP.)

    Shaming is an entirely voluntary and non-aggressive action. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be a drag and a half in certain circumstances. As you point out, it works if you care about the opinions of the people doing the shaming, and is meaningless otherwise. One “may” incentivize changes in behavior while the other may reinforce the existing behavior–or have no effect at all.

  3. Uhhhhh…no. Shaming is aggressive as hell, and has driven some individuals to suicide. Nor is aggression limited to force. Verbal attacks certainly count as aggression, whether they’re in-person or online.

    The worst thing about shaming in this case is that it targets one group (here, authors) in order to punish someone else entirely. The APs are trying to punish the SPs. Cheating authors out of recognition they might well have earned to get back at the SPs, well, that’s thuggishness.

  4. Carbonel says:

    The ironic thing is that one of the Hugo nominees in the related works category is an expose of how thoroughly evil and invasive a fandom shaming campaign can be even though (especially though?) it involved All The Right People.

    It’s almost impossible to parody at times (though Heaven knows, I’m giving it a shot)

  5. TRX says:

    > shaming

    Nowadays that’s called “abuse.”

  6. Jack Smith says:

    Conquest’s second law:

    Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.

  7. […] “Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy” – May 22 […]

  8. TRX says:

    > Conquest

    3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

    I think he nailed it, at least for the subset of companies that I’ve worked for.

    “Our annual report shows profits are down, so we’re reducing our operational overhead by laying off our sales staff and dumping inventory so we don’t have anything to ship anyway.”

  9. Tuomas Vainio says:

    *Thumb up.*

  10. huh? You think there is an Insider Alpha clique? Do
    you agree with the SP/RP groups that this
    IA clique controls the Hugos? How, exactly, do they do that and what’s your evidence for their existence?

    I think your thought about shaming being bullying
    is interesting but I’m not sure I agree.

    Bullying is always about someone who is insecure
    in their own status, using some kind of social
    power to try to gain status by lowering the
    status of the person they bully (and presumably
    simultaneously raising the bully’s status).

    I agree that some bullying is done by shaming, but
    not all shaking is bullying. What the two
    (Shaming and bullying) have in common
    is the notion of social control, but I disagree
    with your overinclusive statement that “[All] Shaming
    is bullying” according to my definitions given above.

    1. Craig N says:

      I had assumed that the recent Hugos (since I started paying attention again in 2012) were the result of (con-going) fandom’s shared culture shifting in a particular direction, toward works with specific qualities that I don’t like. I didn’t think there was a conspiracy or even a group sufficiently coherent to be described as a clique.

      The reactions to Sad Puppies, however — last year as well as this year — require me to update my beliefs. The anti-Puppies side is reacting exactly like a clique that assumed they controlled the Hugos and are appalled that this year they don’t.

      Also, Dave Freer points out that Patrick Nielsen-Hayden had strong enough expectations for what the Best Novel nominees would be that he assumed that SP/RP slates had been successful when only two of the five were from his expected list.

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