by Doctor Science
Last week, before I went on my road trip, the ongoing Hugo Awards wank led to the single most surreal conversation of my internet career -- which goes back to about 1990, years before the World Wide Web even existed, so that's a *lot* of surreality.
The setting: An Account of Juliette Wade's Withdrawal from Sad Puppies 3, at File770.
Background: Juliette Wade's story "Mind Locker" was on the Sad Puppies 3 slate when Brad Torgersen first announced it, but she quickly asked for her story to be removed, and it was. There've been all kinds of rumors about how she got on the slate and why she wanted off.
Summary: Wade recounted how she was asked to be on the slate and why she withdrew. Torgersen commented that she did so because she was afraid of SJWs, and explained that this was a widespread problem. Wade said he was putting words in her mouth, and never to do so again. She reiterated that she withdrew because she was angry with him. Torgersen said he was sad and hurt by her reaction. Even when asked repeatedly, neither Torgersen nor his supporters in the conversation ever acknowledged that he'd put words in Wade's mouth, much less apologized for it.
The surreality was seeing Torgersen re-write someone's motives to their face, while people were watching. It's always difficult to get a real sense of social atmosphere over the internet, but it seemed to me that I was watching Torgersen's reputation sink before my eyes, in real time. It certainly happened for me.
Details, and spoilers for Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, under the cut.
You can read the complete conversation at File 770, which will give more of a full sense of people's personalities, but here are the highlights, as I see it.
In the post itself:
Juliette Wade: Brad approached me on Facebook IM on January 25th as follows:Torgersen soon showed up in the comments section, and said:Brad: Juliette, I would like to include your novelette "Mind Locker" on my Hugo suggestion slate for February. Can I have your permission to include you?I did not notice the word "slate" or think anything of it at the time.
Me: Yes, thank you so much!
When the list went live, [I] contacted Torgersen again:[Juliette]: Brad, I am sorry, but if you will be labeling me as a sad puppy I will have to ask you to withdraw me from your list.... After that I walked around my house angry for a while thinking about how disingenuous he was about the whole thing.
Brad [Torgersen]: You've not been labeled a sad puppy. This is the :fight puppy-related sadness list" I contacted you about earlier. You said you were OK with it.
[Juliette]: You did not say you were going to be calling it the Sad Puppies list. I feel like you were misrepresenting it. I'm happy to be one of your Hugo recommendations. This is different.
It's unfortunate that Juliette's fears — at being shamed, shunned, and ostracized, for appearing on the "wrong" list — caused her to withdraw when the slate was released.Notice that he said this, replying to a post in which she said nothing about being fearful, but only that she was *angry*. Several people pointed this out, and Torgersen said:
The Sad Puppies 3 announcement went out on my blog and Facebook prior to Juliette's invite. I know she reads my wall. I guess my fault was in assuming she'd seen it? Hell, since I was on the SP2 slate last year, and everybody knew about that, I guess I was a bit puzzled that Juliette didn't understand what was being asked in 2015. Especially since the word slate was explicit in my request to her.Frequent commenter snowcrash asked:
As always (in these arguments) I find myself being nipped at by ankle-biters who would probably never give me the benefit of the doubt anyway.
Again, phone me when progressives stop using fear.
Any mindset that must us[e] FEAR in manner, is not a mindset I'd trust.
Brad, that's a lovely little red herring you've thrown in on the last comment here, but perhaps it's better suited to the general daily Hugo round-up?Torgersen replied:
For this, I think I'd appreciate an answer as to why in your first comment to this article, you attributed motivations that were not evident to Juliette Wade's withdrawal, as opposed to her simply not being interested in being part of your front in the culture war; or any of a million other reasons.
Ah, snowcrash, after being battered with red herrings over the last 30 days, I think I qualify for an honorary doctorate in the matter. Yes, it's all about fear, whatever else you may want to believe. Fear of being on the "wrong" list from the "wrong" people, and then the wonderful CHORFly progressives will come after you with torches and pitch forks in hand, to hound you into repentance and capitulation, or to banish you from the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction. You know, 1984 wasn't supposed to be an owners manual. Juliette's one of Analog's bright stars. I think she deserves a Hugo. She was upset because she realized she was going to become a target — a target for the CHORFs. As soon as that hit her, she came to me and requested to be pulled. I think she's honest about not understanding the "slate" and SP3 were the same thing. But her motivation for wanting off was all about fear. She didn't want to have to deal with the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction's version of the NKVD.I at least was pretty frustrated with how thoroughly Torgersen seemed to be missing the point of what Wade actually said, and how he kept attributing motives to her that she hadn't expressed.
Then Wade herself showed up:
Brad Torgersen, you are pretty brazen, trying to speak for me, and I would appreciate it if you never attempted to do so again. I was entirely unaware of the Sad Puppy connection because I had deliberately been avoiding looking at your wall, much less your blog, for going on two years. My maintenance of our friendship was out of courtesy. I guess I was too idealistic, thinking that Sad Puppies might be over and that you would just be talking to me about some Hugo recommendations, but I do like to think the best of people. It should not be my responsibility to go and look up whether a person is being dishonest every time they say they like my work. Just to be clear, you have clearly got no idea of my motivations and are trying to spin them to your benefit. I was appalled by your actions in the Sad Puppy business last year and obviously made a mistake in thinking that you should be taken at your word (with the understanding that people include all relevant and important information when they are informing someone of something, which you did not do in this case.) I would never, ever have wanted to associate with Sad Puppies after last year, because of the depth of my anger over their behavior. I felt sick that you had deceived me and betrayed my confidence, and the fact that you denied having done so is irrelevant. You, and your actions, were what I was avoiding in pulling myself off the list.Youch, I said, watching. That'll leave a mark. I guess we'll see Torgersen apologize now ... but instead, he said:
Juliette, your comments make me sad. There was no deception involved in my desire to put your forth for Hugo consideration. I still think you're one of the rising stars at Analog, I've always liked your work — going back to your first cover piece, for which you graciously personalized my copy — and I still hope you get on the Hugo ballot one day.and went on to say:
If I'd known SP2 bothered her as much as it did — ah, social media, sometimes what you show us doesn't count nearly as much as what you don't show us — I'd probably not have asked or approached her at all. Juliette, on this count, I hope you can forgive an honest error.In reply, one of the Puppy commenters who goes by the handle "GK Chesterton", told him:
You are unfortunately continuing to be too nice. The woman just bit your hand in a public setting. You didn't do anything to her, she just wants to separate herself from you. When people do that to you you shake off your shoes and walk away. It is an old lesson and a worthwhile one.Torgersen replied:
Thanks for parsing it the way I parse it, GK. Perhaps I am too nice. It sucks being in a room with people who not only won't give a man the benefit of the doubt, but will invent any reason — any reason whatsoever — to declare a man a villain.A little later, he said:
Because I am about to spend many months away from my family — in a foreign land, for king and country — I don't have as much time to devote to this thread as I'd prefer. The situation with Juliette got sideways, and it's a drag that she's upset. But then again, Juliette and I were always a million miles apart on most political issues. Both of us (from what I can tell) have gravitated in different political directions, within the field. Maybe she's gone so far away she now thinks I'm literally bad news? Maybe she's simply got a lot of people talking into her ear about me being bad news? Regardless, the people in this field who actually know me, have stuck with me. High and low. Not always in agreement, but always in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie.A bit later, I commented:
I am honestly appalled at what I've seen here. I really thought Torgersen was "the nice one".In case it's not clear to you why I was appalled: Torgersen talked at length and repeatedly about how Wade was motivated by fear, and never seems to have noticed that (a) she never said nor implied that was true, and (b) she was really pissed that he attributed made-up motivations to her.
I admit, hanging around people like "GK Chesterton" does make lots of things look "nice" by comparison, but I'm, just — wow. I don't get the impression that he realizes, even now, what the heck Ms. Wade was talking about, and why she's — quite justifiably IMHO — wroth with him.
And the rest of us just stood there (digitally), watching while Torgersen kept trying to re-write a history we could read by scrolling up.
Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man won the first Hugo Award for best Novel, in 1953. The Demolished Man is about a murder, but it's not a mystery: we know from the start (because he's a POV character) that Ben Reich killed his business rival Craye D'Courtney, after Reich proposed a merger and D'Courtney turned him down. But [SPOILERS] the detective on the case is baffled, because Reich seems to have no motive: D'Courtney sent Reich a message accepting his offer.
In the end, we find out that Reich mis-heard the message, because he was already determined to kill D'Courtney -- who, it turned out, was his biological father.
Bester makes the whole reveal pretty Freudian, which didn't impress me when I read the book in the 1970s and is rather quaint now. But watching Torgersen editing his perceptions in real time, the plot of The Demolished Man starts to seem much less contrived, much more psychologically realistic.
Discussing the File770 conversation at Making Light, UrsulaV said:
The thing is, thinking of my grandmother--well, I loved her very much, and she was not a stupid woman, but I don't think she could have stopped herself. It wasn't like she was making conscious choices to change history, she just...did it. Even if there was a paper trail, even if every word was recorded, she would have kept doing it. If she was on the internet (and thank all the little gods she wasn't!) I imagine she'd be as bad as Torgersen and Day in revisions in comments where we could clearly SEE the truth by scrolling up.OtterB added:
It wouldn't have been stupidity or anything else, she just literally would not have noticed herself doing it. I think probably that's what we're seeing here with people that you can watch change history in real time--they literally don't expect you to notice because THEY don't notice.
I postulate that, for the people who do this without malice or even intent, the narrative they believe they are part of exerts a sufficiently strong magnetic pull that it lines up the facts in accordance with their view of the story. Facts that don't line up are discarded as irrelevant or reshaped to better fit the narrative.And this, of course, reminds me of Karl Rove's scorn for the 'reality-based community:
said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.And, with the power of their minds, their own clothes.