Thursday, August 27, 2015

Killing Vox Day: Part Three - What Type of Victory?

The board is set, the rules have been read, and the terrain has been scouted. So, how do we win? 

The first thing to do is to define our victory conditions. Since Vox's power comes from crumbling institutions and escalating (rhetorical) violence, our victory conditions are stable institutions and de-escalating violence. 

There are debates on the meaning of "irony," but it just may apply to a great and mighty Defender of Civilization whose interests are best served by the collapse of social institutions and the spread of chaos.  

These victory conditions can only be met if we do three things: 

1). Earn the moral high-ground. 
2). Engage the enemy face-to-face. 
3). End the Puppy Kerfuffle. 

Earn the Moral High Ground 

The most important thing here is to de-escalate whenever possible. That doesn't mean you should go run and hide, it means to maintain respect and kindness at all times. And while this may be important for online interactions, it goes double for IRL events. You don't win hearts and minds by shooting people in their...well, in their hearts and minds. You do it by feeding and clothing people, by washing their feet. 

Again, this is not about giving ground intellectually, it's about treating human beings like human beings instead of Captain Planet villains. Hug a Puppy. By them lunch. Invite them over to discuss their favorite books. They may never be your best friend, but they may begin to see you as human. 

Vox can win the snarky rhetoric game every time. Can he win the charity game? There's only one way to find out. 

Engage the Enemy Face-to-Face 

Let's face it: shunning Vox has worked about as well as ignoring that strange lump growing beneath your skin. As he rightly says, he was pushed off of a platform so he went and built his own. And build it has and build it shall. 

Containment is no longer an option, but neither is going nuclear. Again, in 4GW how the conflict is carried out matters more than who's right and who's wrong. If Vox's opponents keep a neutral, emotionally detached tone, his assholery will be all the more apparent. Stick to the facts and, if all possible, be friendly.

Vox is entirely capable of maintaining this sort of self-control, and he usually does.

The classic Vox Day Twitter-Exchange Pattern usually goes: 

1. Vox says something triggering, but says it in a neutral tone.
2. Opponent tries to call Vox out on being a racist/misogynist/jackass.
3. Vox appeals to science/reason/logic, implies opponent is ignorant/illogical.
4. Opponent lashes out emotionally instead of countering with science/reason/logic.
5. Vox can now  be as gigantically gaping an asshole as he pleases because "they started it!" 

And he's right! The first person to flip out and resort to unsubstantiated personal attacks always loses the debate. They forfeit the moral high ground, and thus the argument. So don't respond with insults and dismissals, respond with links to evidence and politeness. It doesn't matter how painfully obviously wrong you think he is, you're going to have to claw for every inch and every concession. 

I think that Vox can be counter-goaded into giving up the high-ground. How long can he keep purely rational in an extended debates? I don't know because none of his opponents have engaged him in one. How would he react to someone taking his ideas seriously and providing well-thought out responses? 

So learn to think like the enemy. I don't care how much you hate Vox Day; if you want to go after him, you first have to understand where he's coming from. Read Vox Populi daily. Buy a few of his books. Read the articles and papers he cites as evidence and do some research of your own. If you don't know what your enemy is planning, you will never be able to see the difference between a feint and the killing blow. 

End the Puppy Kerfuffle 

So now we have the moral and mental high ground. This will go a long way towards depleting Vox's power, but we're not done yet. 

The next step is to divide and conquer - or rather, to divide and love. "Conquer" sets the wrong frame of mind. The goal is not to bend enemies to our hideous will but to, you know, have fun reading Sci-Fi novels and playing video games with people. This means taking some responsibility on our side as well. Are we standing up for wider representation or demonizing Europeans? Are we voting for the best Sci-Fi (subjective as that may be) or for stunt novels? Or worse, for the best Tor novel? 

De-escalations are not easy. It will mean listening to former enemies with open ears. It will take soul-searching and a mutual setting down of grinding axes. But the alternative is to let people like Vox dominate the conversation. You don't de-escalate a 4GW conflict by demanding your enemies submit or die, you de-escalate by learning to live together. 

Vox has been very good about blocking attempts to split the Sad Puppies from the Rabids. From his perspective, that would be the worst case scenario. Fragmentation helps 4GW movements on the whole, but a movement that does not navigate the shifting alliances carefully will quickly find itself dismantled.

Fortunately, Vox's extreme views means that he is sitting on a higher concentration of fault lines than Japan. It is likely not a question of if his base will split, but when. We're going to look at one of those potential fault lines and how it could be exploited. 

Specifically, we're going to talk about race. Vox self-identifies as non-White while championing ideas that generally only White Supremacists find acceptable. To be specific, the idea that "races" are legitimate concepts created by genetic differences among human subgroups, and that some races are inherently, genetically more intelligent than others. However, perusing the comments sections of Vox Populi posts shows that some (some!) of his followers criticize him for not being racist enough. Believe it or not, Vox fails at being a White Supremacist.

The difficulty, of course, is that exploiting this weakness would be both immoral and a strategic blunder. I can see the headlines now: "SJWs Attack Vox Day for Not Being a True White Supremacist! MLK Clocks 1500 RPM in Grave!" Attacking Puppies as a group of White Supremacists is already a big enough blunder. A 5 minute search shows they are a diverse lot, even if that diversity includes White Supremacists.

Fortunately, Vox has racial fault lines on both the right and the left. 

White Supremacists are reasonable people, willing to line up behind Vox while he's winning. So are socially conservative Sci-Fi fans. It is all well and good when Vox is giving their mutual enemies black eyes. So long as Vox can keep the spotlight on how evil the SJWs are, he can divert attention away from his own views. The trick is to put the Dark Lord's views back into the spotlight. What was once joined can yet be separated. 

One of the most interesting moments of GamerGate was when the "ethics in game journalism" people closed ranks with the psychotic misogynists. What caused this to happen? Here's one interpretation: 

  1. Psychotic misogynists use "corruption in game industry" as a cover to attack people they hate. 
  1. Ethics people are delighted that their bandwagon suddenly has so many people, fail to ask where they came from. 
  1. Game journalists lump the Ethics people and the psychotic misogynists together in an attempt to discredit both. 
  1. Ethics people and psychotics double-team the game journalists. 
  1. Petty arguments over what percentage of GamerGaters are psychotic misogynists. 
When you are in a foxhole, fighting a war, you do not care if the person next to you is psychotic. You care about killing the people on the other side of the field that are shooting you. By attacking both the Ethics people and the psychotic misogynists, the game journalists drove them into the same foxhole. 

We see a similar situation with the Rabid Puppies and the Sad Puppies. Attacking the Sad Puppies as crypto-fascists looking to destroy Sci-Fi drove them into the arms of a group which is perfectly fine with  destroying Sci-Fi fandom.

But being in a foxhole with a psychotic isn't a very fun position. You're shooting at the enemy and they're out collecting human ears for a necklace. Human beings are very good at rationalizing atrocities performed by their friends, but there's still a point where you realize your best friend's collection of thumbs reflects poorly on you. 

Old-school Sci-Fi fans may not be the most walk-on-eggshells sensitive people, but they also have no dedication to racist ideologies or political conspiracy theories. An extended, public debate with Vox on race could draw him out enough expose his flanks. There is a limit to what most people can stomach.

Multiply this concept by the number of controversial views Vox has, and you start to see the possibilities. None of this will matter to his hardcore supporters, but then, the only thing that could potentially dissuade them is long-term de-escalation. The fringe hangers-on can be shaken loose. 

The 2015 Hugos were likely a win for Vox. The Puppies did not win any Hugos, but goading the opposition into No Awarding (worse, gloating about No Awarding) seems to have moved a significant number of fence-sitters into the Rabid Camp. Enough to seize the 2016 Hugos? Maybe. Enough to repeat the "No Award" votes and flip more people to the Rabid Camp? Probably.

As it stands, the Goliath Vox has issued challenges to many figures in the Sci-Fi community. Are there no Davids among them? This is the perfect opportunity for a SJW Xanatos gambit. If Vox does poorly, then his huffing and puffing is revealed as bluster and he is publicly humiliated. If Vox does well, he can still be goaded into making statements that make some supporters uncomfortable enough to distance themselves. 

Yes, there is a chance that giving Vox a platform like a public debate could legitimize him. But it could also give him enough rope to hang himself.

Part Four: Conclusions

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Killing Vox Day: Part Two - What Kind of War?

So now we have set our board. To your North, the Evil Lord of Stygian Spookiness and his Legions of Evil. All previous attacks have only served to make the monster grow more powerful. How do the Heroes of Light Gender-Fluid Warriors of Non-Exclusive Luminosity Levels take on this beast? 
The board is set, but the rules are unclear. We may have come to understand the enemy a little better, but we have not explored the terrain.  
I mentioned Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) previously, and there's a reason for that. His Naughtiness describes GamerGate and Rabid Puppies and so on as 4GW struggles. Understanding what that means will tell us a significant amount about how he assesses situations and how he fights. 
Time does not allow for a full explanation of Fourth-Generation warfare, but a summary will do for our current purposes. What matters now is that this is the sort of war Vox believes he is fighting, which informs the sort of strategies he uses. 
For those interested in learning more about Fourth-Generation warfare, I heartily recommend Castalia House's own On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. Lind's columns are occasionally racially inflammatory/misogynistic, but they also border on the prophetic in terms of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As is so often true, the Messenger does not disqualify the Message. 
Yes, it will mean throwing a few dollars Castalia's way but then, boycotts were doomed from the start. You were never their target audience. It is a better summary of Vox's beliefs than the Old and New Testaments, and it's not every day that your opponent edits and publishes his playbook for everyone to read. 
What follows is painfully inadequate, but will hopefully point you in the right direction. 
1). Fourth Generation Warfare is about Destabilizing States 
As Mr. Lind likes to repeat over and over (and over and over) in his columns, Fourth Generation Warfare is not simply about insurgencies. It is about the end of the State's monopoly on violence. 4GW erupts when the primary loyalties of the populace are transferred from the formal State to something else they are willing to fight and die for (religion, clan, family). 
Consider the ongoing war in Iraq. It was relatively easy for the Coalition Forces to topple Baghdad and destroy the Ba'athist Iraqi State. We had the bigger, better weapons and the better-trained soldiers. But as we all know, the fall of Baghdad was in no way "Mission Accomplished." 
Pictured: 2015 Hugos Ceremony
Iraq was a State before the invasion, albeit a State held together by duct tape and bayonets. It should not have surprised us that it fell apart so easily. But what did surprise us was how difficult it would be to put back together. Flash-Forward to 2015 and a substantial portion of Iraq is under the control of a self-proclaimed Caliphate that openly rejects the Western concept of Statehood. 
Again, my goal is not to explain or defend 4GW but to look at how it informs Vox's strategies. So what does the end of State dominance mean for the Hugos and GamerGate? 
It is an imperfect comparison, but we can see a parallel between the end of State monopolies and the end of publisher monopolies. States and publishers have the same institutional issues that put them at a disadvantage against smaller opponents - linear thinking, top-down command structures, bloated bureaucratic structures. This also applies to organized non-profit organizations such as WorldCon 
The first practical effect is that Vox is able to attack the "State" without fear of real reprisals. As publishing and fan culture become increasingly open source - no longer controlled by "taste makers" like publishers and fan organizations - the ability of these institutions to harm a writer's career declines. Shoving someone off a platform does not matter in a world of infinite platforms. 
Second, it means that destroying the credibility of the State works in Vox's favor. This is why he does not ultimately care about winning Hugos. While a rocket statue might be a nice feather in his cap, his long-term goals are better served by a fracturing of fandom. Destroying the State allows non-State factions to rise to power. If WorldCon is Iraq, the Rabid Puppies are ISIS. And just as ISIS's ultimate goal is not to rebuild an Iraqi State, Vox's goal lies far beyond the borders of WorldCon. 
Third, it means that the Puppies cannot be destroyed with conventional weapons. Permabanning them from WorldCon will make them martyrs for free speech. Changing WorldCon rules to disallow slate voting will only move slate voting back underground. Only allowing WorldCon attendees to vote will damage the importance and prestige of the award. 
The goal of 4GW is not to take over a State, it is to discredit the State and tear it down. 
2). Fourth Generation Warfare is About Winning the Moral Level 
States cannot be destabilized simply by destroying factories and electrical plants. In WWII, the United States leveled every Japanese city with an industrial base, to the point that we started to run out of targets. And yet, the enemy's will to fight was not broken until we used nuclear weapons. Were it not for that demoralizing event, the invasion of Japan could very well have turned into a complete genocide. 
In this age of mutually-assured nuclear destruction, wars are not decided on the basis of who has the better weapons. We supply Iraqi military with weapons far superior than anything ISIS has access too - at least, until the Iraqi military breaks rank and leaves its equipment to the enemy.  
General Patton never actually said "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country," which is good, because it isn't true. When 15 Iraqi civilians die in a drone strike, it turns their friends and families it opponents of the heartless, technocratic bastards that sent the drone. 
Even killing 15 ISIS insurgents with a drone strike ultimately works against us, because it paints us as cowards who murder with fancy toys. There's a reason we root for the outnumbered, underequipped Rebels against the Empire and their Death Star. People, tribes, and nations want to be ruled by laws of their own making and rulers they respect, not laws imposed by foreign tanks and bullets. 

We lost the moral high ground to these guys.
The ones forcing innocents to dig their own graves.
That is how bad we fucked up.
 Again, so what? 
Vox has said repeatedly that throwing him out of the SFWA was the worst possible move, and he's probably right. Not because he is das √úbermensch of Sci-Fi, but because you don't win the war by killing the other bastard. You win by getting the other bastard to kill innocents. The bastard who does the most collateral damage loses, because they lose the support of the populace. 
Vox (the bastard) is able to claim with some legitimacy that the SFWA engages in thought policing. His political and racial views were indeed a part of his expulsion. Ergo, the SFWA is engaging in Orwellian mind control - and you could be next! The SJWs at WorldCon care more about politics than awarding deserving Sci-Fi authors! Why should you support them/care who wins?
I understand very well the desire to "kill Vox Day," but 4GW is as much about the message you send to the general populace as the message you send to your enemies. When the Puppies attack the State (publishers, etc.), the State looks weak because it can't control them. When the State attacks the Puppies, the State looks like a bunch of bullies. This is the one of the core issue of 4GW. How can the State fight back without fighting back? Mr. Lind doesn't have any definitive answers, but he does have some suggestions. 
1). Make the stability of the State the first priority. Don't engage in fights that will undermine the legitimacy of the Hugos or major publishers. Don't adopt policies that will call their fairness into question. Don't muck around with the voting rules or strip non-attendees of their rights. These things play into the Puppies' hands.
2). Rely on 4GW allies to fight the Puppies for you. There should be no official response by WorldCon to the Puppies, other than to enforce the rules as they stand. There should also not be an "unofficial" response by WorldCon leadership. If the people oppose the Puppies, let the people oppose them. An intense, studied neutrality from WorldCon is necessary. None of this "cheering No Award is allowed, booing No Award is not" bullshit.
3). In 4GW, the winner is often the one who takes the most casualties, not the least. So long as the Puppies can portray themselves as persecuted champions of free speech, they have the moral high ground. So let them in. Accept them into the conventions and allow them to vote. Let the people experience exactly what the Puppies are preaching, the atmosphere of intolerant smugness that they exude. Let them in, let them win a few small victories, and then let them face insurgents of their own. 
4). Watch your language. You win 4GW by being more moral than your opponent, not more brutal. And by "more moral," I do not mean "more easily offended." Don't fly off the handle, turn the other cheek. Never attack people, always attack ideas. Be kind, loving, and patient when you stand up for the truth. Yes, it is hard. But it is also more effective and generally the better way to be a human being. De-escalation of violence is a victory for the State; escalation of violence is a victory for the 4GW insurgents. 
3). Fourth Generation Warfare is Long 
Going back to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Coalition Forces' timescale was however long it took for the money to run out and their citizens to tire of the war. The Islamist insurgents' timescale is until the Day of Judgment. When playing a game of Chicken, it is wise to confirm that your opponent has brakes and a functioning steering wheel. 
Vox claims to be operating on a similar timescale. Remember, he sees himself in a Manichean war between Light and Darkness. He believes that he is part of an eternal struggle, that his enemies are pawns of a literal Prince of Darkness, and that the war will only end when the universe ends. 
While Vox is honest, he is not always correct. Only time will tell what timescale Vox is truly operating on. And while he may have the tenacity of a Jihadi, his supporters may not. 
So what does this mean - practically? 
1). Castalia House's success and the success of Vox's other projects could potentially work against him. A successful business requires more attention than a failing business - success means expansion, expansion means an exponential increase in work.
For now, Castalia House's growth can be maintained on word of mouth - most of which is provided for free by his opponents. The more Castalia House grows (and businesses either grow or die), the more it will come to resemble a traditional publisher, with all of the weaknesses that implies. Besides, the more time Vox spends dealing with business headaches, the less time he has to spend on the ramparts, leading the battle. 
2). No matter how long an insurgent's timescale, they still depend on escalation to keep their supporters engaged. Not every Jihadi wants to fight 'till Doomsday. Some just want to drive the foreign invaders out and live their lives in peace. 
Vox is willing to fight 'till Doomsday, but he needs the conflict to continually escalate in order to keep his supporters motivated. De-escalation means demotivation. Part of the reason GamerGate was/is so effective is that the gaming press declared "the death of gamers" and turned it into a war. The proper response would have been to fire a few "bad apples," tighten a few ethics policies, declare victory, and ignore any further controversy.
This goal can be furthered by leaving bridges unburned and doors open. Leave Puppies with a way out that does not involve public humiliation or eating humble pie. Buy a Puppy lunch instead. Vox brags about his "faceless minions" - show them that to you, they have a face. Humanize yourself to them, and them to yourself. De-escalate, then de-escalate some more.  
3). Reconsider your own timescale. Are you sacrificing long-term opportunities for a chance to score a few cheap shots? Are you winning battles while losing wars? Are you an insufferable, toxic killjoy who can't eat a cheeseburger without complaining that it's CIS gendered? You are part of the reason Vox is winning. 
The urge to attack is wired deeply into the human mind. You see something you don't like, and you want to smash it. Someone says some racist bullshit and you want to deploy the perfect, cutting comeback. You want your "oh snap" moment when you stand against the Patriarchy and get showered in adulation. 
I understand, but I also humbly suggest that you grow the fuck up. By all means, speak up and speak out against bullshit and discrimination. But remember that your conduct will leave a stronger impression than your words. Don't turn a struggle for equal rights or equal representation into your personal excuse to be a jackass. Learn the difference between engaging and attacking. 
Standing up for the truth in a shitty way still makes you a shitty person. Fighting for what's right in a stupid way means that you still lose. The strategic level outweighs the tactical.
4). Fourth Generation Warfare Factures 
As the State collapses, people transfer their loyalties to other groups that may be able to represent their interests. In Iraq, the Kurds closed ranks with the Kurds; the Shi'ites closed ranks with the Shi'ites; and the Sunnis closed ranks with the Sunnis. 
But as time went on, the Sunni resistance fractured into smaller and smaller groups along ideological fault lines. Same story with the Shi'ites. The Kurds have held up better, but then again, they are not organized along ideological lines. 
In-fighting among the enemy presents wonderful opportunities, provided we do not fracture as well. Unfortunately, while a very clear ideological divide exists between the Sads and Rabids, they show no signs of breaking ranks. "The enemy of my enemy is my second cousin," or however that one goes. 
However, that does not mean that there are no ideological wedges to exploit. We'll look at some of them in part three.

Part Three: What Type of Victory?