What a mess.
Scrolling through twitter this morning (it always comes back to twitter), I found Paul Weimer’s thread (never heard of him before this) citing File 770‘s article Baen Strikes Back; Sanford Under Growing Storm of Harassment.
As you may remember from my previous blog post, a whole bunch of nastiness has been happening, not really exactly at Baen Books, but because of an investigative piece written by Jason Sanford titled Baen Books Forum Being Used to Advocate for Political Violence.
That was three days ago and this has gotten anything but better.
According to the aforementioned “Strikes Back” write up, a number of people have come to Baen’s defense, and some of them in a spectacularly hostile manner (so much so that Sanford has temporarily locked down his social media accounts based on a great deal of harassment including death threats).
Okay, given the evidence presented, some members of the Baen’s Bar forum were at least suggesting violence against “leftist” cities up to and including murder.
Sanford reported on this and began receiving death threats.
File 770 and other outlets reported on these events and at some point, Baen temporarily shut down their forum.
But it didn’t end there (naively, I assumed it would).
I’ll state again for the record, that I don’t know and haven’t even heard of the majority of these people before this whole thing went down, including Sanford.
Hoyt did post this image on her blog, which seems to illustrate her position on the matter.
Her post is rather brief, but it did quote Larry Correia, who I have heard of, and he said:
Yesterday some nobody, wannabe writer, social justice twit released a hit piece “expose” about how posters on Baen’s Bar were fomenting insurrection or some such nonsense. It was the usual bullshit hit piece (the sad part is, by saying the usual, half the country immediately knows exactly what I’m talking about). It was lots of pearl clutching over regular people not toeing their arbitrary political lines, misquotes, errors, quotes taken out of context, and some flat out lies.
However, this was clearly part of a coordinated attack in order to materially harm our business, because immediately after the hit piece was released complaints were filed with the various internet companies Baen uses for services to pressure them into kicking us off the internet. This hit piece was presented as “evidence”. Without going into details the companies then contacted Baen about these “serious allegations” so last night Baen temporarily took down the Bar forum to protect the rest of the company from being deplatformed.
He goes on to say:
Toni Weisskopf is a strong believer in free speech. She publishes books by republicans, libertarians, democrats, and socialists, it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we entertain our readers. Toni doesn’t tell us what we can or can’t speak about.
Let’s stop for a moment. Yes, I support free speech and in addition to being on Facebook and twitter, I’m also on MeWe and Parler (calm down, it’s not as bad as it seems). Yes, in a sparsely or completely unmonitored web environment, the lowest common denominator will be highly active. But then there are the rest of us who’d just like to talk about smaller government, our Christian or Jewish beliefs, loving our grandchildren, and how Firefly is really a libertarian manifesto, without being flamed or censored.
However, there are limits to even free speech.
Even if the people on the Baen forum really weren’t going to shoot out electrical transformers in major metropolitan areas and kill enough leftists (as in human beings) so they wouldn’t be able to come back very quickly, the threats themselves are horrifying.
Imagine being a conservative and hearing leftists say they will restrict or cancel the First and Second Amendments, restrict access to in-person worship in churches, reprogram us to have different political / social beliefs, advocating for keeping us from doing commerce, or even going so far as to say that physical violence against us is justifiable and desired? (has anyone really said that?)
There’s a line in the first Star Trek pilot The Cage (1965). When Captain Pike is captured by the Talosians and Pike is “talking tough” to them, the Talosian leader refers to his “primitive fear-threat reaction.”
I’ve seen examples of that from people on twitter who apparently really hated Rush Limbaugh so much, they celebrated his death by lung cancer. Even when I pointed out that no matter how badly they thought of him, they could rise above his level by not issuing vile insults, they doubled down and lowered themselves even further than he ever did.
You saw exactly the same thing on January 6th with the far-right protesters invading the Capitol complex, and because of that, five people died.
You could even make an argument that the protests, looting, and rioting following the death of George Floyd was the same basic psychological, biological response.
People can say and do crazy things when they’re afraid.
The verbal and even physical hostility and violence against people perceived to be Trump supporters is understandable (though not desirable) when you realize just how much so many people were terrified of Donald Trump.
The threats made by certain parties at Baen’s Bar is also understandable if you realize that they also felt threatened, and a response of at least verbal (textual) violence against those they feared was based on the same “primitive fear-threat response”.
But is it justifiable?
At the end of the day, if you say all you want is peace and to end the violence, responding against your perceived adversaries with violence kind of takes away the validity of your statements.
We get everything from drive-by shootings to full-scale wars based on those emotions and motivations.
I think the defense of Baen Books in general and the Baen Bar in specific is rooted in the same reaction. People feel threatened, if not their lives then their livelihoods. My personal perception is that there is very little room for conservative or libertarian (they’re different) writers and artists in the Science Fiction and Fantasy industry, so maybe some (a lot…most) of those feelings are valid.
However, threatening violence in a credible fashion (and credibility is somewhat dependent on perception), even if the intent to follow through isn’t present, can still look pretty ugly.
In writing this, I’m probably going to catch flack from both the left and the right (Addendum: so far, especially from the right). My one advantage is that I’m so “small” that the major players in this game are unlikely to take much notice of me (and certainly, I’d like to stay off of Mike Glyer’s radar since my one foray into commenting there led to a lot of “unpleasant” responses by 770 readers…yes, leftists are human, thus the “primitive fear-threat response” applies to them, too).
As an aside, I also had to stop following Camestros Felapton (pseudonym) on his blog and on twitter some weeks ago, not because of his comments, but a few of his readers basically went berserk when I mentioned I was a conservative (which the blog owner knew and didn’t seem to take personally). The blog owner didn’t intervene, which I took as a sign, and it became yet another swimming pool I vacated rather than fall victim to more “offended” sharks.
So when is this all going to stop?
As far as the Baen Bar report, people will eventually run out of steam and find some other outrage to focus upon (both on the left and the right). Human beings have such short attention spans on social media.
But in a larger context, I wonder if it will ever stop. I speak of “the left” and “the right” but people, in terms of their political and social beliefs, run a broad scale. There really aren’t just the two ends of the line. Most of us exist somewhere in-between the poles, and we even slightly shift one direction or the other on any given day.
Maybe it will never end. That’s the curse of social media and the ability to almost instantaneously express our opinions (on blogs without censorship of any kind) to anyone with internet access and who happens to surf on in.
I’d like to think of myself as a voice of reason shouting into a cyclone of emotional chaos, but I doubt few will see it that way.
I will say that I think publishers like Baen should continue to exist. Again, according to my perception, there are far too few publishers who are willing to even consider an author who isn’t of a certain leftist perspective, regardless of how well that author may write.
Even Sanford’s original report points this out relative to Baen:
Baen and the company’s current publisher, Toni Weisskopf, market many of their books toward a specific subset of readers, what John Scalzi has called the Orthodox Church of Heinlein [See Note 4] As a result of this editorial bent, the press frequently publishes books by outspokenly conservative SF authors such as Tom Kratman, Larry Correia, John Ringo, and Sarah A. Hoyt.
However, it’d be a mistake to think Baen only publishes socially conservative writers. Bestselling Baen author Eric Flint, for example, was a long-time progressive political activist and member of the Socialist Workers Party. Other authors published by Baen include Joanna Russ, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Harry Turtledove, none of whom fit into the conservative author narrative.
The “Orthodox Church of Heinlein” crack comes from John Scalzi who not only thinks he’s a “grown up” because he laces his writing with the word “fuck” but actually pulls up his “big boy pants” in offense when people like me point that out.
Sanford makes publishing conservative authors sound like a bad thing, a terrible aberration in an otherwise leftist, socialist, sane, and safe universe.
If that indeed is true (and how would I know?), then Sanford, and maybe a lot of other folks, are missing an important point.
Hate speech aside, the majority of those of us who lean even slightly right of center (or are too close to center even on the left side of the scale), aren’t interested in hate, killing, shooting transformers, revolutions, civil wars, and free helicopter rides (I had to block someone on multiple social media platforms because he said he sincerely was all for that sort of thing), that is unless we’re writing a science fiction dystopia that happens to include those elements.
You don’t hear from us most of the time because we’re not the ones making all the noise.
A good friend of mine, who I haven’t seen for nearly a year, is like me in many ways. He’s a Christian, conservative, a long-time comic book and science fiction fan, and probably one of the most peaceful people I know. He also suffers from ALS, which means he’s dying by inches. I haven’t seen him for so long because of COVID, but really, at this stage in the development of his disorder, getting a cold might prove fatal.
Did I mention he’s peaceful? He’s also a brilliant software developer (no, not all political conservatives failed the eighth grade and live in trailer parks). He’s also a Christian and frankly, a much better person than I probably ever will be. He does not and never has advocated for violence. Imagine that, a conservative who isn’t violent. We’re out there. Some of us are writers (my fiction work is strictly after hours and on the weekends, but I’ve been a technical writer and published textbook author for 20 years).
Yes, hate in all its forms, regardless of the social, political, and ideological source, must be resisted, and people of good conscience, again regardless of the social, political, and ideological viewpoints, should and will resist it.
In writing this blog post, in my own small way, I’m resisting it. That said, although the centerpiece of this article is the Baen Bar, it covers much more territory. If you justify your own hostility (“oh, but mine isn’t as bad/not the same because…”) while condemning another, you are no better.
Yes condemn violence and hostility where it actually occurs, but don’t use that as an excuse to also condemn anyone who has the label as “conservative” or “right” or “libertarian” or “Republican”. It’s just as wrong when people also condemn all “liberals” or “leftists” or “Democrats.”
Extremism on either end of the scale is harmful, and both extreme left and right can be the basis for totalitarian dictatorships (history presents many examples). If you want to get on your high horse and rant against something, then yes, rant against extremes.
But also remember, unlike many of the specifics being cited, the majority of us along the political-ideological scale, aren’t into all of that. No one is, unless they choose to be.
Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale): What if I do Rachel? My parents deserved justice.
Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes): You’re not talking about justice. You’re talking about revenge.
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Sometimes they’re the same.
Rachel Dawes: No, they’re never the same. Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better, which is why we have an impartial system.
-From Batman Begins (2005)
Justice or revenge. The quote above aside, down here at the level of being human, in the pool of our own emotions where we feel threatened, sometimes it’s hard for us to tell the difference. Unfortunately, that means on some occasions (and perhaps many) when we think we’re being just, such as potentially blaming over 100 million people in the U.S. for the attitudes and actions of relative few, we aren’t. Are you?
P.S. Don’t kill Baen. If you really are just, then the world in general and SF/F in particular desperately needs balance rather than highly biasing the scale.