Sci-Fi’s Right-Wing Backlash: How a Small Group of Deranged Trolls ...

The sad history of our four decade unfinished Washington Monument was a lesson the Hugo Awards folks failed to note. The Hugo is on its way to becoming a laughingstock. Corruption of the Hugo Awards process forshadows what's happening to the internet and our civilization, in my view.

Lazy democracy is like an open comments section -- left unmoderated and unguided, the worst people take over.

One of the false promises we’ve been made that people keep buying into is that the Internet is a “democratizing” force, that the digital world gives us instant access to the real vox populi, that the simple fact that anyone canleave a comment, or answer a poll, or submit an entry to a contest means that everyone does, and therefore opinion of “the Internet” is everyone’s opinion.

This is obviously false.

The problem with democracy in general isn’t so much that people are “stupid” or “evil” or the other nasty things that people who rag on democracy like to throw out, it’s that there’s a ton of decisions to make and people are busy. The “vote” doesn’t end up being among everyone but among the tiny subset of people who really care about that question, which isn’t necessarily correlated with being right about that question–often, in fact, it’s the opposite.

The people who pay the most attention to these questions are the people who have some deep emotional investment in the issue at hand combined with a great deal of time and emotional energy to burn making their “voices heard” about it. That can happen on any end of the political spectrum, but in practice? It tends to be a space dominated by privileged reactionary jerks.

No public forum for comment can exist long without being taken over by “the trolls”...

Today’s longest-lasting, most determined trolls have a real ideology behind their trolling, and it usually takes the form of a feeling of betrayal and resentment of the world around them and a knee-jerk rage against the idea of progress.

The worst trolls are almost universally hard-right conservatives, in other words, and they generally care about their pet causes with a breathtaking fervor that their enemies can’t possibly hope to match.

... the Hugos are the most prestigious awards in the field of science fiction writing,...

... they’re done by popular vote, but to vote you have to pay $40 for a “supporting membership” to Worldcon, the organization that sponsors the Hugos. Tons of people read science fiction; relatively few of them know how to vote for the Hugos; and out of those, not everyone’s going to drop $40 just to express their opinion about what they’ve read.

... giving money en masse to an organization you dislike so you can subvert and take over that organization? Who’d go that far?

It predates even the Internet.

... the story of why the Washington Monument remained unfinished for 40 years, from 1848....

The Washington National Monument Society, trying to raise funds, allowed contributors to have a stone carved with their name added to the monument in return for a donation...

They made the mistake of accepting a donation from Pope Pius IX...

... the cultural reactionaries ...called themselves “Know-Nothings.”

In response to the outrage of having a Catholic stone inside an American monument, the Know-Nothings stormed the monument grounds, stole the stone and threw it into the Potomac River. They then proceeded to game the system of membership in the Washington National Monument Society, buying themselves memberships en masse ... and electing themselves leaders of it.

They then demonstrated the key way Internet democracy failed: After the initial “viral” wave of donations from Know-Nothings themselves passed, funding for the Washington Monument dried up because normal people were freaked out by the Know-Nothings (for good reason). The Know-Nothings’ reactionary zeal proved to be of little use in actually getting a monument built, and they totally failed to do anything with the monument for the next few decades until finally after the Civil War the government had to take over and fix it. (Funny, how often the story ends that way.)

I’m not saying that a version of the Hugo Awards that regularly gives high honors to marginal writers mainly known as right-wing cranks will ruin literary science fiction as a field. I am saying that the unfinished stump of the Washington Monument was an embarrassing symbol of failure that, for decades, made our nation a laughingstock, and that that’s what tends to happen when you have a “democratic process” that’s easily hijacked by deranged reactionary zealots.

We should have learned a long, long time ago that “Just let the public give their input” is a lazy, useless and above all dangerous way to make decisions. If you want democracy you have to put effort into designing a process that actually makes sure your voting population matches the relevant population and to keep the process from being captured by bad actors. If that’s too hard for you, then accept that democracy is too hard for you...

Worst case scenario, your public platform becomes a mouthpiece for the worst people in the world, who won’t give it back until they’ve run it into the ground. [emphasis mine]

Mismatched marble reminds us of how well lazy democracy works. We're all here at AN, in part, because Brother Richard works so hard to keep out trolls.

The marble discontinuity indicates the four decade failure.

image source

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Replies to This Discussion

This does seem troubling. Will something like the Left Behind series end up winning for best novel in the not so distant future? 

That is a scary possibility!

The people who pay the most attention [...] are the people who have some deep emotional investment [...] combined with a great deal of time and emotional energy to burn making their “voices heard” [...]

Today’s longest-lasting, most determined trolls have a real ideology behind their trolling, and it usually takes the form of a feeling of betrayal and resentment of the world around them and a knee-jerk rage against the idea of progress.

The worst trolls are almost universally hard-right conservatives, in other words, and they generally care about their pet causes with a breathtaking fervor that their enemies can’t possibly hope to match.

Another specific example is the angry misogyny and defense of Dominator-Culture male privilege summarized in Lewis's Law, Helen Lewis's observation that "the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism." The atheist community has certainly felt those attitudes!

(Ruth, as I've often said before, I "Like" and appreciate your reporting even when I emphatically don't "like" the facts behind it!)

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