Okay before I turn you over to the Zamzummims, once more unto Numbers…
Let me just explain something that seem to still pass a few people by. A probability is just the expression of the likelihood of something occurring. It works real well on large samples. In individuals you actually have to apply that weird stuff: observation and judgment. Try to do it in that order. And for heaven’s sake try to stay away from the ‘If I buy kippers it will not rain’ level of non-causative correlations. If the probabilities say that in the US the chances of a black young man engaging in drug related crime are higher than for almost anyone else, do not hit the young black fire-fighter carrying granny to safety from the blaze with your shovel. Against all genetic probability this level of stupid still exists in humans, and if something that ought to kill can survive, other less-than-probable things will too. Observe and engage brain.
Oh, and we’ve had a few drive-by trolls, who seem think derogatory insults add value to the debate. You’re of course welcome to disagree with me so long as you do so according to local custom: politely and with common sense. There seem to be a few new visitors who take liberty for license, and think they’ll swing a wide loop here. Before you set out to impress me with your cussing skill and pithy worldly wisdom, do remember I learned my genteel use of language in that finest of lah-di-dah schools, the commercial fishing harbor and boats, where I started hanging out – because my dad was there – from an early age. I added some depth to my refined tones at an all-male Military-style boarding school, and did a little journeyman time as an Army NCO, where, because we were all delicate fainting violets, we’d tearfully beg our kindly officers, people like Col. Kratman, to come and gently admonish our uncouth men for us, and then I went to finishing school in a large selection of fish processing plants. You’ve heard of fish-wives? It is all true. Someone out there is bound to be able to school me in vituperation, but it probably would not add value to a sensible conversation. I’ve had occasional ill-informed people tell me I’m being passive-aggressive. Actually, sweeties: It’s more like Godzilla trying wristwatch repair. I’m not good at it, but if I was trying anything but a light touch… I might hurt your tender sensitivities and I actually want to know what you think. Stick with polite.
Now onto topic: Political correctness has come to dominate most of publishing with a rod of iron (painted in tasteful, inclusive colors) and of course science fiction and fantasy, and thus, because except in rare instances of Labrador retriever, the tail does not wag the dog, also to what my friend Kate terms TOFKSFWA. To get into the latter you had to pass through the filter of publishing which increasingly has become far left wing, where PC is the golden calf.
It’s been a slow process, but gradually we got to the point where Baen alone among the larger sf/fantasy houses was prepared to publish whatever they thought they could sell, regardless of the author’s openly declared political or religious or ethnic origins. Distributors, retailers and other publishers did their little bit to make things as hard as possible for them, and it is absolutely obligatory to have as many public sneers at their authors as possible, because they weren’t PC to the core.
“But isn’t PC merely about fairness? About redressing the inequities of the past? You’re Australian. I thought your core credo was: “A fair go”?
There is the problem. Political correctness’s central selling point: It’ll fix things and make them more fair, and there is every indication that as a social species the hairless monkeys like fair and understand it. Plenty of good science to back this up. What do you mean you’re not hairless? To me you all are. All things are relative –and this too important. Remember it. Now, let my friend Numbers explain to you why PC isn’t fair, and creates rather than removes inequities. Yes, I know the world isn’t fair, but actually we’ve been putting many centuries of ingenuity into changing that.
Let’s start with the currently fashionable buzzword ‘inclusive’, which is not the same as ‘representative’. It means no matter how small or odd your little subsection of humanity is, it gets an equal seat at the table, an equal place in the book. It is no longer ignored. Isn’t that wonderful? Made you feel all soft and fuzzy inside. Unfortunately, there is this other word ‘demographics’, which has a lot to do with ‘representative’ and my friend Numbers believes it makes great sense to both ‘fair’ and ‘commerce’. After all if—averaged out – it is probable that of any group of people who read, a fixed proportion say 1:100 will seriously want to write, and perhaps 1:1000 of those will have the skill and perseverance to succeed, authors are a measure of readers in your population, and if you aren’t finding about 51% female authors… you’re either not reaching them or stopping them being published, or they don’t read (and if you’re selling books you should want to know which, and why, badly). Taking the above complete thumb-suck figures (which could be established), if there’d be at least one author which fitted your subsection of humanity if your ‘group’ was at least 100 000 strong. And you’d get another for every 100 000. It’d be likely you’d write books which would have special appeal for them, and it’s good business. Of course if there are only 100K – or less — of you, readers might fancy some variation, and a group which has 100 million will have a lot more authors. One could moan they weren’t ‘inclusive’ or politically correct because they have 1000 authors to your one. But it is not _unfair_. Unfair is where you take a substantive section of the populace and you exclude them. Blacks. Gypsies. Jews. Conservatives. And sadly for publishing (and thus SFWA) that ALSO means people you don’t like, who are nasty to you, who hate your guts, who cuss you out, who don’t share your religion, who don’t share your politics, who carry guns, who kill animals for food… It’s not only unfair excluding what amounts to the majority out, it’s just straight out bad business practice, and the shareholders of any large publishing house ought to ask the CEO, and the CEO should be asking acquiring editors what the hell they were doing, just before they get fired – because it’s the CEO or them.
Or that would be true if publishing were all about business. I suspect shareholders might like it if it were. In a command economy – as publishing used to be – they could do whatever stupid they liked. It’s over.
“But… but… but… the historical inequity! You’ve got to redress that. I mean there are lots of old white male conservatives like er… Jerry Pournelle. (Yes, I’m a fan) And they get the reviews and they got most of the awards in the past and… It’s not fair! We need inclusivity to fix that.”
Let Numbers take you for a little walk to the fairground. There’s this ride with all these lovely little dodgem bumper cars. Each of the 100 little cars has a timer on it. Gives you a half hour ride. And the attendant has only been letting on men, because actually they’d been the only ones eager to try it, and they’d been calling their friends – mostly other men, who they thought would like it. The fair owner came along and said he’d had complaints, and he was to let on anyone. So a mixture of folk poured into the little cars, as they came vacant. And yes, the men still outnumbered the newcomer women. And they bumped them mercilessly. After five minutes in the queue women went to the fairground owner and said that it wasn’t right or fair. There were only 10 women on the ride and they were not having a good time. So the fair owner came down and said “we have to redress this inequity! Women first from now on, attendant.” And the women said “so unfair, those bullying men should be kicked off!” But they’re on, and you can’t get them off until the machine’s timer stops. And time passed. The women in the queue chased the men who tried to join the queue away, except for those who wore dresses and red pumps and told them how unfair it all was to women, thereby benefitting themselves. Gradually, all the timers of those who were there first ran out. And as Numbers points out, equity was perfectly restored. And it had been perfectly fair on those men who didn’t wear red pumps who also wanted a go. It was of course their fault that the ride was full of men before they got there.
Numbers says: “If you invent time travel and you can go back and let 50 women onto the ride when it starts its day, you can ‘address inequity by advantaging people’. Otherwise all you can do is create more inequity, punishing people who had nothing to do with the historical inequity, for whom you will try and fix it again, by the same stupid process. Unless of course you want it skewed in your favor and are happy to take advantage of it.”
And you have to ask: who are the real bad guys here? The ones who unwittingly got on the ride first, never meaning to disadvantage anyone, or the ones who knew what it was like to be disadvantaged and deliberately set out to punish and take advantage of… not the ones on the ride, but those who had nothing to do with the earlier situation at all?
Numbers says: “if you want to look at being representative, you HAVE to do so by age cohorts.” I suspect (on the basis of having done a few counts) that, if broken down into age, in fact in the younger cohorts of sf/fantasy if there is overt discrimination and a resultant lack of representative diversity of anyone… it’s Christian white heterosexual conservative males.
Now let’s just talk about this discrimination thing and PC…
“Yes that’s why we believe in PC. To stop discrimination! No matter what you say, we need affirmative action because these victims are persecuted!”
‘Well now,’ says Numbers… ‘I thought discrimination was what set humans… hell, what set animals apart from the rocks. You can tell the difference between hot ‘n cold, wet ‘n dry, full and hungry and sexually appealing and not, and gradients between. It’s called using your judgment, and the more intellectual capacity you have, the more skilled you can be at it. It’s good stuff. Probabilities. I love those.’
“Tch. We mean _unfair_ discrimination. Like not giving someone a job, or the same pay just because they’re a woman. Or gay. Or black.”
“Oh I see,” says Numbers. “Yes, only a fool doesn’t judge on individual merit.”
“Yes and women and gays and black… uh people of color have not been judged on merit for years. It’s not fair, they were persecuted. It cost them jobs, safety, income. We want you authors to redress that in books from now on. Movies too. Be more inclusive and show their positive aspects.”
A moment of silence from Numbers. “So you mean that white men can’t be persecuted.” (and I owe this all to George on Sarah’s I am Spartacus blog post. He thought one should get one’s news from reliable news sources… like the BBC, Al Jazeera, and…. Wait for it… the NYT. And that Christians or whites COULD never be persecuted. That only Gays and blacks could be the victims of discrimination. Thank you, George. So much talent in one little comment.)
“Don’t be an idiot! They’re persecutors. They can’t be discriminated against. Why even the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury said Christians weren’t persecuted in England, because Syria and Iraq.”
Numbers says: “you do realize (even you, ex-Archbishop) that all these things are relative. The woman who gets 5% less for the same job as a man is not as discriminated against as the woman who gets her genitals mutilated, but the guy getting 5% more is at the checkout next along, and the genital mutilation is in Somalia. You judge how rich you feel by comparison to your neighbors, not by comparison to some Sheik in Paris. But that said, you wanted them all included in one book?”
“All books! They need to be more inclusive! So that’s at least one black guy, One black woman, one gay woman (in a happy stable poly-amorous relationship), one gay man (also in a happy stable relationship), one Hispanic man, one Hispanic woman, one disabled person, one Asian couple and one white woman, And one white man. He’s conservative, Christian, middle-aged, married, a homophobe a murderer, a rapist, abuses children, kills puppies and works for a multinational oil company. He’s the murdering villain. You can tell he’s a psychopath because he likes guns.”
“I’d never have guessed otherwise! Now as this is set in the US, and the demographic probabilities are not exactly equal as you suggest they are, anywhere except on a Hollywood set…
“As long as they’re the main characters it doesn’t matter. And you should have guessed he’s the bad guy. It’s … it’s what is that word you’re so fond of? Predictable! They’re persecutors, all of them.”
“Ah.” Says Numbers. “But the only place it is predictable is in modern fiction, where indeed it is predictable with a 99.998% certainty. However… In actual fact, they’re less likely to be the villain than many of your other characters. The only reason they show up at all in crime figures is that actually there are quite a lot of them, compared to almost everyone else in your inclusive list. And by insisting on inclusivity… you’ve made their numbers effectively the same as the most irrelevant group. Which means, even if gay women in stable poly-amorous relationships make up 0.02% of the population and white middle-aged (as in 35-55) Christian conservative married men make up around 10 % in the real world… in your book they’re given as equal probabilities of occurring, of being heroes, and therefore of committing homicide. Now normally it doesn’t look like there is any chance of a 0.02% of having committed a crime. After all, of the 14748 victims, if the probability of them committing the crime was merely the national average… they’d kill 3 people. At the national average (which in fact they are way under) White non-Hispanics (about 64%) would kill nine thousand some change. Only your inclusiveness just made their share of the total very smaller as a probability, and yet… they’re always guilty. Does not compute. You can’t have it both ways. Either the 0.02% occurs in about that proportion in books, in which case they’ll be murderers (or heroes) so rarely that you may as well ignore it, or if they’re equal and equal heroes… they have to get an equal share of murders. ‘Inclusive’ actually makes your permanent villains even more discriminated against.”
“Humph. They deserve it”
“Actually they don’t. There is of course a probability of homicide for each subgroup that you wanted to ‘include’. It’s actually lower than average for whites – a lot less than black Americans for example, and it’s very much lower for men over 25, dropping rapidly as they get older. Wealth reduces the chances further. And despite serious money going into trying to find evidence to the contrary, people with strong religious beliefs (particularly ones which hold the killing of other humans in abhorrence) actually are less likely to kill, and legal marriages are by the probabilities more stable and happier than other folk, and as mental instability and unhappiness and a lack of a support network are major reasons for homicide… and therefore your married church-goer is less likely than his peer group, and far less likely than average to commit murder. And actually there isn’t, also despite attempts to prove otherwise, any evidence that any political mainstream groups are more likely than others to commit homicide (the extremes are – but actually I think you’d be hard put to find the far left less likely than the far right. More like the other way around). And legal gun owners just aren’t trying hard enough to be bad… But he’s always guilty.”
“But he IS! Can so happen sometimes! There is a chance.”
“Yes, there is a chance. A tiny one. One book in 100 … or 50… or 25, that’s plausible, but not damn near every movie, every book. The guy who the real victim of crime is safest running to for help to… is portrayed as a villain. Almost always. That’s really going to help real-life victims isn’t it? It also does affect his chances, his self-image just as much as it affected any of the ‘included’.”
At this point it turns into a chorus of “Numbers you racist, sexist, homophobe etc etc.” which seems to be where every unwinnable argument ends.
However: The one thing about your standard PC villain is that he’s a really, really, really bad at being a whiner. The statistical probability that any other ‘inclusive’ group would be howling blue murder if one tenth of the level of improbable discrimination routinely applied to ‘wicked’ people like him was applied to them is 1000:1. Shrug. He’s got broad shoulders. But don’t think it doesn’t irritate him, and gradually stop him buying your books. And because those are most of what’s on offer, any books at all. From what I can gather, his female counterpart, and their kids, their friends and colleagues (all of whom are more likely to read English for pleasure than any other sector–given public schooling’s demise and the loss of parental input in many other sectors of society — barring the tiny group who can afford to send liberal left wing private schools) are just about sick of a diet that batters their suspension of disbelief too. In economic terms PC has destroyed a lot of writers’ livelihoods.
Now for the ‘why do you beat your wife’ question: Why should many publishers and the organizations supposedly dedicated to promoting the welfare of writers… support PC so vocally? I can see the sense of showing parts of society that are not seen and sometimes have an unfair bad rep… but not at the expense of losing your existing readership, especially if there is no evidence that you gain them, or anything like the same numbers.
Well, time to blow my own trumpet (something I always love doing, SO much, but it goes with the job) and leave, I guess. I’ve written a lot of books. Included a fair number of people of various groups, as people to be judged on their observed actions (which is something I do rather passionately believe in, actually). I think I’ve always managed to either explain why they’re there in that setting, use them plausibly, have the proportions within the grasp of possible reality… and not be exclusive about my heroes… or villains. I don’t think I have had any oil executives, but I did have a conservative Christian pacifist learning to shoot someone when it became necessary Slow Train to Arcturus
and a left-wing modern pastor turning into a closet satanist Soot & Cassandra
And this series,
which is exceptionally rare in a modern fantasy set in Europe, in Earth history, where the heroes are what they probably would have been: Christian Knights, white and male, and being human, fighting, drinking, sometimes making mistakes, womanizing, but still men who believed in honor and the crosses on their armor… and standing as a bulwark against the darkness that seeks to devour the fat little burghers they protect. Buy it and you help to keep me writing. Buy Baen books and you keep them publishing.