(This is the second part of Jacob Lloyd’s series on geeks and social justice warriors. You can find the first here.
So … social justice warriors.
I’m not going to get into an argument about what a social justice warrior actually is, because the very concept is a slippery one – and, in any case, it’s better to see them as social justice bullies. What I will say is that geeks are triggered by social justice bullies.
The core problem with SJWs is not that they are evil. They have good intentions. But they see people as groups, rather than individuals. There is no attempt to draw a line between two different people, not when they’re in the same group. SJWs see Sheldon Cooper and Warren Mears as being identical, even though they’re very different people. People who happen to be in the favored groups get better treatment than the unfavored. Worse, they are unable or unwilling to understand how their words scan to everyone outside their bubble. A reasonable argument (to them) may not seem quite so reasonable to everyone else.
SJW tactics are very well known to geeks – they faced them back in high school! Someone steps out of line – someone unpopular, someone with few true friends – and promptly gets blasted by the SJWs. (The internet makes this worse, as it is now possible to pour scorn on JK Rowling, George RR Martin and others who would be too popular to bully in high school.) The SJWs use ‘call-outs’ as weapons; instead of addressing matters privately, they humiliate their victims publicly. And anyone who apologizes only makes it worse for themselves.
From the geek point of view, the mainstreaming of fandom has brought with it an influx of people who want to drive out the ‘real’ geeks. The clubhouse has been invaded! The jocks and cheerleaders and normal people are taking over and kicking us out! I’ve heard people claiming that geeks are now cool – that they rule the world – but that is absurd. Geek stuff might have become cool, but the geeks themselves are still on the margins. “Are you sure this is the Sci-Fi Convention?” Homer Simpson asks; “It’s full of nerds!”
And yes, this is a tragedy. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that Westerners wearing Japanese clothes is Not Cool and blast it as ‘cultural appropriation’, why don’t you have a problem with newcomers embracing geek culture without embracing the geeks? And if you’re the sort of geek who is painfully woke to the hypocrisies of the modern world, you might wonder why no one ever defends your right to maintain your culture. Remember what I said about geeks being at the bottom? They’re still at the bottom.
The thing is, it’s easy to have an idealized image of people you have never met and societies you have never experienced. But everyone who went through a high school knows geeks. They’re the weird creepy kids at the bottom and, more importantly, they’re harmless. Angry nerds? Who cares about angry nerds? They’re not going to be able to do anything to us.
Geeks are angry not just because their clubhouse has been invaded, but the newcomers have stolen the right to write the rules. Geeks are being told what they should be – and woe betide any geek who doesn’t conform. The SJWs wield popularity and power against anyone who disagrees with them – in short, they’re grown-up high school bullies, no better than the jerk who stole my trousers and pants one afternoon and forced me to run upstairs wearing nothing below the waist. No one wants to spend their entire time in fandom watching their words so carefully they can’t think about anything else. Of course SJWs are regarded with fear and loathing.
What makes this worse is that the SJWs sometimes have a point, which is either convincing to at least some of the geeks or, more importantly, the outside world. John Scalzi, for example, wrote a famous post attacking the concept of ‘fake geek girls.’ Scalzi was quite right to point out that there are no grounds for rejecting suspected ‘fake geek girls’ because there is no way to be sure they’re fake – a point that resonated with non-geeks – but, at the same time, he missed two important points. The influx of newcomers has made life harder for geeks (for example, by driving up convention prices or by attacking fan fiction and fan productions) and, more importantly, by minimizing their experiences. If you clung to your geek-hood through a decade in high school, experiencing massive social exclusion until you stumbled into fandom, it’s natural to resent someone who just walks in and gets feted as a geek.
(Scalzi’s post also drew disapproval from a number of geeks, including the one who brought it to my attention, for spending five paragraphs establishing himself as higher up the geek hierarchy than the unfortunate Mr. Peacock and then another fourteen paragraphs delivering a no-holds-barred beatdown on the original post before conceding that there is no such thing as a ‘speaker for the geeks.’ A great deal of Scalzi’s point – and it is a valid point – was lost because, to some extent, his post scanned as a claim to a title he didn’t have and an attack on everyone who didn’t agree with him.)
The tendency of SJWs to police geeks – or at least to try to police geeks – rubs a great many geeks the wrong way. Being socially awkward and/or somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it is often hard for them to understand speech codes or convention codes of conduct. (Social awkwardness is not an excuse for real bad behavior, but the socially awkward are often punished out of all proportion to their crime.) The fact that the rules keep changing, seemingly at random, or that they are unevenly enforced (something that geeks are all too familiar with) only makes it worse. Fandom, once socially inclusive, is steadily becoming exclusive of those who cannot handle the ever-shifting sands of publicly-acceptable behavior. Worst of all is the belief that a person can be retroactively punished for something they said before it became unacceptable. Retroactive punishment is a recipe for tyranny regardless of the context. And it is unevenly enforced against the geeks, who are (or feel) powerless to resist! They are (or certainly feel themselves to be) a marginalized group.
Question: How do you define ‘Hate Speech?’
Answer: The SJWs will tell you, after you commit it.
Geeks resent – and do their best to resist – hate speech codes because they fear they will be used against them – and their early life supports this. Why should a geek trust a cool kid (however defined) to detail acceptable and unacceptable conduct? Would you put a gun in the hand of someone you thought might point it at you and pull the trigger? And while this does ensure that fandom has to put up with people who really should be excluded, it also makes it harder for fandom to exclude someone whose sole crime is being socially awkward.
The Sad Puppies affair, in some ways, was seen as proof that fandom had been infiltrated by bullies. The Sad Puppies were branded a bunch of white men and accused of racism and sexism, although Larry Correia is Hispanic and Kate Paulk is female. Instead of trying to disprove the Puppy case, the Puppy-Kickers tried to delegitimize the Sad Puppies. Disagreement is one thing; bullying, slandering, boycotting, de-platforming and social exclusion are something else altogether.
This was not, of course, the only incident. Elizabeth Moon – who is seen as a heroine by many geeks – was disinvited from a convention after daring to express an opinion that SJWs found unacceptable. Maybe it was. But bullying is also unacceptable and the SJWs were bullies. Others have been attacked for being ‘problematic’ – even Wil Wheaton was savaged for daring to use the term ‘Spirit Animal.’ And, as I suspect Wheaton learned, apologizing only made it worse. Kudos to Wheaton for eventually snapping back at his tormentors. SJ online has a bad reputation because, as this post notes, it has not only thoroughly earned its reputation, it is also counterproductive.
It’s easy, when you’re on the outside of a culture, to have no more than a superficial understanding of it. It’s also easy to fall into stereotypical beliefs about its inhabitants, particularly when some of them do behave badly. But it is also easy to deliver massive offense – or make yourself hatred – through prescribing remedies that are either blatantly hypocritical or openly harmful, based on a simple misunderstanding. Geeks fear and loathe social justice warriors because SJWs remind them of their experiences in high school. The cool kids are coming to take our clubhouse and push us out …
… And there is nowhere else to go.
Calvin (to Moe): Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?
Moe: They’d hit back.
Calvin: I guess that has a certain unethical logic to it.
Geeks see SJWs as bullies, picking on them because they’re defenseless. Think about it – if fandom is so unspeakably awful, why would anyone who isn’t a hardcore fan want to join? It’s easy to believe that the true purpose is to gain power, then turn into a tyrant and start picking on everyone who isn’t politically correct. Why should geeks give SJWs the benefit of the doubt when their life histories tell them that their previous tormentors were nasty. And fighting back isn’t easy – as most socially awkward people know all too well – when there is enough truth in the tyrant’s argument to make it maddeningly difficult to disprove.
Indeed, geeks (as I can personally testify) often find themselves victimized by people who are debating in bad faith. These people are not interested in exhaustively debating every last item of a given issue, but in finding something – anything – they can use against the geek. The geek rarely realizes, in time, that his opponent is playing to the gallery, waiting for the geek to say something that can be taken out of context and used against him. The geek thinks in terms of objective right and wrong; the SJW thinks of subjective right and wrong. This makes it easy for them to claim that they are ‘offended’ and then demand punishment. They are incapable of understanding that, in civilized society, the accusation is not proof. You cannot simply point the finger and demand that everyone accepts your view of the matter. You must put together a case that will satisfy everyone – and if you can’t defend your own position, perhaps your position is not – and never was – defensible. It is your job to educate me if you wish me to accept your argument. Convince me you’re right!
And they are rarely capable of understanding someone’s motives, however misguided. It is a great deal easier to blast geeks for being ‘racist,’ or ‘sexist’ or merely ‘problematic’ than to understand their point of view.
The sad irony of the whole affair is this. Inclusivity is not a bad thing. And yet, like so much else, the level of toxicity lies in the dose. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a convention accessible to, for example, people with physical disabilities. What sort of monster would refuse to install wheelchair ramps if it were physically possible? But, at the same time, how much are we losing by widening fandom? If someone doesn’t want to join in the first place, why should we change in hopes of inviting them? And how many of the ‘inclusive’ changes lead to geeks and other socially awkward souls being excluded?
Look at it this way. I don’t like sports. I have never willingly attended a NFL game in my life. I don’t think I’d go to a game unless someone paid me a small fortune. But why should the match organizers make changes in hopes of luring me? The changes I would demand would spoil it for the football fans who do enjoy it. And by what right should I – or others – demand that changes be made?
It’s not about science-fiction. It isn’t about justice. It’s about power. It’s about constantly finding new reasons to be offended, which can then be leveraged into power. It’s about people who have forgotten that they have to justify their actions to people outside their bubbles. And it’s about people who are more interested in making short-term changes without considering the long-term good of fandom as a whole. Or, for that matter, what might happen if they are perceived as nothing more than schoolyard bullies.
The baleful effects of SJWs on fandom have been tragic. I know people who – particularly after the latest kerfuffle – have sworn never to attend another convention again. The fun has gone. Other writers have hired so-called sensitivity readers, only to discover that it isn’t enough to save their works – American Heart, for example – from being declared problematic. And still others have fallen into ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater mode,’ choosing to believe that the SJWs can never have a point. Like so many other battlegrounds of the culture wars, both sides have come to believe that making a concession will lead rapidly to many, many more.
If everything is problematic, then nothing is problematic. And why should geeks make concessions when there is always something else to cause offense?
I don’t like some of what I’m hearing on both sides of the divide. There is no longer any assumption of good faith, no longer any social trust. Fandom is being torn apart, with famous names charged with being ‘problematic’ and other controversial names working hard to burn down the entire edifice. We have started to lose something very important to us – our community – at precisely the time geek stuff has become more popular than ever before. And I regret it more than I can say.
I’d like to close this essay with a simple observation. Social Justice Warriors want change. And yes, sometimes the change is necessary. There is injustice in this world. But they are very poor at making the case for change in a manner that everyone can accept … and very good at alienating everyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% (and defining words to smear their opponents). They need to adapt, not come across as schoolyard bullies picking on people who have already been socially marginalized enough in life.
And they need to learn some basic empathy for those who feel themselves at the bottom.