Are there any limits to free speech?
That’s a question I have been pondering a lot of late, as the storms of Puppygate swirl all around me. My own politics are liberal… which means I lean left, but not way over to the fringe left. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to dissent, all of that has always been central to my political attitudes. The freedom of the artist to create should be absolute. I have always been against censorship, silencing, McCarthyism. (The McCarthy period, a particular fascination of mine, was one of the blackest eras in American history. The Time of the Toad, Dalton Trumbo called it; Trumbo was one of its victims).
((It should be noted, since idiots always misunderstand this point, that freedom of speech does not mean you can say whatever you want wherever you want. If you want to proclaim that you are the new messiah or call for ethnic cleansing of Martians or even promote your new book, I think you should be able to stand on a soapbox in the park, or start your own website, and do just that. I don’t think free speech requires me to let you into my living room to give your speech, or into my virtual living room here on the internet)).
Of late, I have begun to fear that the Time of the Toad has returned. Only this time, thanks to the internet, the Toad is much larger. This Toad is Tsathoggua, for all you Lovecraft fans out there. And this toad is so huge and monstrous and venomous, and seems to have so many friends and fans and worshippers, that it has begun to shake even my long-held fervent belief in the sanctity of free speech… and the basic decency of human beings.
I am talking, of course, about the Toad of Hatespeech.
I am not a gamer, and I have not closely followed GamerGate. Nor do I care to get embroiled in it now. I don’t care who slept with whom, or whether some reviews were biased… but I do care that some of the participants, especially women, received death threats and rape threats from anonymous toads on the internet. I have never met Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian or Brianna Wu, and I don’t know that I would agree with them on the issues at the heart of GamerGate, but it does not matter. Threats have no place in civilized discourse, and neither do slurs like “cunt” and “slut” and “whore.” Oh, yes, I am aware that some say these women fabricated the threats against them. Bullshit. I believe they did indeed receive such threats… for the simple reason that friends of mine, women I DO know, and love, and respect, have received similar threatening and demeaning emails whenever they have dared to express an opinion online.
And now there’s Puppygate, and I have been posting about that, and in the course of which I have had some exchanges with Larry Correia, the founder of Sad Puppies, and Brad Torgensen, who ran the SP3 slate. And both of them tell similar tales: of anonymous phone calls, libel and slander, vicious emails, death threats… death threats! All of these, presumably, coming from “my side” of fandom, those who oppose the Puppies. Do I believe them? I don’t want to believe them. I would rather cling to the belief that my side is better than that. That’s hard to do these days, As strongly as I disagree with Torgensen and Correia about the Hugo Awards, and probably a hundred other issues, I have no reason to think them liars. I think they are telling the truth, just as Quinn and Sarkeesian and Wu were. On the internet, it seems, abuse trumps debate every time.
Death threats. Really? Really???
It really makes me wonder. Were there always so many toads out there, so many slimy squirming venomous cowards lurking in their parents’ basements? Or did the internet somehow just bring them into being overnight, these children of Tsathoggua?
I really don’t know, but it makes me despair. Is this what we are as a country, as a people? When we disagree, is it really necessary to spit and snap at each other, to throw around insults and obscenities, to make death threads, rape threats? Can’t we just debate the issues?
I have lots of problems with this year’s Hugo ballot, as I have made crystal clear in the posts below. But there is one nomination that I wholeheartedly applaud… the only suggestion from my own “recommended” list (one novel, two movies, some TV shows, six artists, and Laura):
LAURA J. MIXON made the shortlist for Best Fan Writer. Here’s why:
I am not going to talk about Requires Hate here. I do not have to. Laura Mixon has said everything that needs saying. I cannot overemphasize how much I admire her courage, her diligence, her compassion, her integrity. She did something that needed doing, something no one else was willing to tackle for fear that they too might be targeted. I will also say, as a one-time journalist with a j-school master’s, that this is investigative journalism the way it ought to be practiced: thoroughly researched, well sourced, based on verified facts, everything checked and double-checked and backed up by first-hand testimony.
And here’s the thing: Laura Mixon is a “Social Justice Warrior” if ever there was one. Unlike me, she might even accept that label. She cares about social justice. She hates sexism, racism, misogyny. She wants our field to be more inclusive. She has fought her own battles, as an engineer writing hard SF, and being told that women could not write hard SF. Laura is well to the left of me. She’s also a kinder, gentler, and more forgiving person than I am. And yet she did this, devoted months to it, uncounted amounts of efforts… because someone had to, because lives and careers were being ruined, because people were being hurt.
I hope she gets a Hugo. For herself, and for all of Hate’s victims.
There’s something else that needs to be said here. Requires Hate did not flourish all alone. Had she been a lone voice crying in the wilderness, ignored and shunned, she could not possibly have done the damage that she did. She had enablers. Allies. Others who shared her goals and values to a greater or lesser extent, and for that reason were willing to cheer her on, or at least turn a blind eye when she called for writers to be burned alive, or raped by dogs, or have acid thrown in their faces. I am not going to name names here, though I could. If any of you are reading this, you know who you are. Some of you even called for Requires Hate to be nominated for a Hugo as Best Fan Writer… the very award Laura is now in contention for (irony is a bitch). Instead of speaking up for the victims, you wanted to give an award to the person attacking them. You should be ashamed, every one of you.
Which brings me back to Puppygate… and, at long last, to the Rabid Puppies.
Only Nixon could go to China. If a liberal Democrat had done it, the Republicans would have attacked him mercilessly. Yet it had to be done, and the world is better for it.
Only a so-called “Social Justice Warrior” could expose Requires Hate. If a conservative white male had done it, liberals and feminists might have rallied to her defense (sad to say).
I do believe that there are decent, honest, well-intentioned conservatives in our field, many of whom are deeply involved in the Sad Puppies movement. Brad Torgensen and Larry Correia among them; my disagreements with them so far have been on the issues, but I don’t believe that they are racists, sexists, misogynists, bigots, or haters. But I do have a question for you:
When are you going to do something about Vox Day?
Make no mistake. Vox Day and Requires Hate are twins. Mirror images of one another. The Toad of the West, the Toad of East, each of them spewing forth the venom of hatred and violence, poisoning any attempt at honest dialogue. Requires Hate had her acolytes and enablers, and so does Vox Day, and it is from those toads that they derive their power.
Liberals and moderates and “SJWs” can denounce Day all they want, and it only serves to generate more hate, more division, more death threats. His followers will just shrug that off. But if some respected figure from the right were to speak up, well, maybe someone would listen. But do we have a conservative in the house with the courage and integrity of Laura Mixon, someone honest enough and brave enough to denounce the excesses of their “own side?”
I hope so.
That’s what we need. Fandom, our country, our world. There will always be haters, that’s part of human nature. There will always be toads. But we do not need to tolerate them. Yes, I do believe in free speech, we should all be free to say whatever we want… but not without consequences. And if your free speech is hatespeech, if you want to exercise your freedom by denouncing black people as savages, suggesting that gays should be raped straight, or calling down rape and acid attacks on writers whose books displeased you, you should not be surprised when you are shunned, abandoned, and denounced by all decent human beings.
I want to be a part of a culture that has NO tolerance for death threats, rape threats, or hatespeech. We are better than that.