Stand Tall, Speak the Truth, Never Let Your Enemies Drag You Down

To endure is to win. To endure is to be patient. To endure is to shelter. To endure is to cultivate. That which endures, survive. The inner spirit is untouchable and unbreakable.
-Ivan Throne, The Nine Laws

Last week my fiancee wanted to write a post about her struggles with eczema. But she was afraid. Afraid that people would mock her and laugh at her and tear her down. This is what I said to her:

They don’t matter.

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How far are you willing to go to stand at the roof of the world?

I started blogging when I was 16 years old. I was young and dumb, moved more by hormones and ideals than principles and reason. Even so, I didn’t let self-doubt or fear of consequences stop me. I began blogging and never looked back.

It was the epoch of the Singaporean socio-political blogger. The government promised a ‘light touch’ towards new media. New blogs sprang up all over the place, roundly criticising the government for its failures and shortcomings. Bloggers became the Internet celebrities of our time, with socio-political bloggers billing themselves as the alternative to state-controlled media. They were the people of the Internet age, young enough to be comfortable with the Net, yet old enough to remember a time when the government ruthlessly dealt with even the slightest hint of dissent.

And then, there was me. The youngest blogger of them all, a kid in his first year of Junior College.

We spoke out, gathering allies and contacts in academia and elsewhere. We discussed ideas, organised events, held protests. We formed group blogs: New Asia Republic, Wayang Party, and the one I co-founded, The Online Citizen. The state didn’t stand by, of course. The local press called us cowboys and the lunatic fringe. They said we wanted an online free-for-all when all we wanted was to set up a citizens’ consultative committee to discuss controversial speech instead of reaching for censorship and police powers. When we reached out to government organisations, politicians and ministers for comment, we were met with the same response: silence. And for bloggers who crossed the line of defamation or hate speech, they were on the receiving end of lawyers’ letters and midnight knocks.

We didn’t let them stop us. We carried on.

In school, people learned who I was. I became the Benjamin Cheah, the blogger, the rabble-rouser, good for a laugh since he was the only guy with skin in the game and to him fell the brickbats. Schoolmates mocked my blog on theirs. Trolls descended on my blog, insulting visitors and impersonating me. People talked around my back, getting my schoolmates to relay messages to me. People cheered when I spoke, but otherwise they would never say a word in my defense. One of my teachers liked insinuating that I enjoyed flaming people online. My own parents said it was too dangerous to blog, that the only thing I could do online was praise the government.

I was alone.

I didn’t let them stop me. I continued blogging and writing.

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You wanna git gud, you have to put in the time.

When I entered National Service, I toned everything down. For one thing, I just didn’t have the time and energy. For another, it was against a military directive. During my time, I required a security clearance to carry out my duties. It was completely routine, normally granted to regular people. Instead, the Military Security Department denied my clearance. No reason was given. At that point, I was a model citizen. No criminal record, no history of harassing anyone, just a teenager who maintained a blog about politics. Nobody saw a reason why I was denied. But the message was clear: we cannot trust you.

I kept writing.

After National Service, I went back into blogging more regularly. I wanted to get back into the game, help the local alt journalism scene grow, maybe even create a viable alternative to the news media. But the days of the light touch were over, and few people wanted to support the group blogs financially. The government gazetted the group blogs, slapping on paperwork and legal requirements on what was previously a loose network of bloggers. Fundraising became a significant concern. The government continued its policy of suing people who defamed them and arresting people who spread hate speech.

We carried on. Until they turned on me.

Singapore’s government is centre-left. Its approach to economics focuses on monetary policy and free trade, but its model of governance is reminiscent of democratic socialism. Social engineering is everywhere, from public education to National Service to public housing, and the government exercises de facto control over critical national functions from public transportation to the unions to the press.

However, every dissident I can name labels the government as ring-wing. And they responded by swinging even further left.

When I critiqued the idea of rape culture, I saw the first hint of the divide between me and my former colleagues. Bloggers I thought were rational thinkers started spewing buzzwords, nonsense and insults instead of discussing things calmly. When I criticised SlutWalk Singapore, the social justice warriors came, shrieking and spitting hatred and vitriol all over Facebook. For the first time The Online Citizen had to issue warnings to tone down. When I addressed arguments from feminists on social media, the SJWs returned.

I didn’t start the flame war, but it found me.

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Give them nothing.

Here I learned the truth: the Control-Left does not care about free speech or debate. If you do not toe the party line you are a heretic and you must be crushed.

I also learned another truth: nothing trolls, haters and SJWs say matters.

I have never been aware of their opinions before they announced their existence with a shrieking cacophonous swarm. Every time they swarmed me, they demonstrated why their opinions don’t matter. All the sound and fury signifies nothing. They have exchanged reasoned argument for empty rage. All they have done is to show the bitter, blackened depths of their hollowed hearts. People like that don’t matter and never will.

People like that bully others by manipulating a social script. Most people are conditioned to want to get along. This is natural; this is how civilizations function. So when someone walks up to you, screaming and yelling and denouncing you, it feels like you have somehow offended them, that you are somehow in the wrong. The easy way is to back down and apologise.

But if all you have done is to express a contradictory opinion, you have nothing to apologise for. If all you have done is to speak a hard truth, you have nothing to apologise for. If all you have done is to talk to people who hold different views, you have nothing to apologise for.

These harpies want you to tear yourself down by your own hand. Never give them the satisfaction.

I’m still here. I’m still writing. Nothing they have said will stop me.

People have criticized me for signing with Castalia House and supporting the Rabid Puppies, simply because they don’t agree with the politics of Vox Day, editor of Castalia House and head of the Rabid Puppies. They lied about me again and again. One person even declared he will no longer buy books from CH. They don’t matter. The people who supported me–Vox Day and the Rabid Puppies–matter. Their opinions matter more to me than the opinions of strangers, much less strangers whose only interaction with me is to attempt to drag me down.

With NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, I wrote a novel that could never be published in Singapore. It isn’t set in Singapore, so local publishers won’t be interested in it. Even if they were, the novel touches on the triple taboo of race, religion and politics. As the series progresses, I have no doubt more SWs and concern trolls will crawl out of the woodwork and try to stop me.

They won’t. They can’t. For people with no skin in the game, people I have no relationship with, people whose values and behaviours are antithetical to my own, their opinions have never mattered and never will.

If you dare to stand and live your truth, petty people will come to drag you down. They lead empty lives and can’t make anything for themselves, so they glory in convincing others to surrender their dreams. They are worth nothing. Success comes to those who endure. Those who weather the storm of backbiting, mudslinging and bullying, those who refuse to let their enemies do their work for them. Develop the capacity for endurance and you develop the capacity for success.

For over a decade I refused to listen to the naysayers, the trolls, the social justice warriors. Now here I am, Singapore’s first Hugo-nominated SFF writer, one of the few Singaporean bloggers of my generation still in the game, and quite likely the most prominent Singaporean on Steemit.

And I’m only getting started.

As for my fiancee? She got over her fears, and wrote and published her post here.

If you want to know more about the book no Singaporean publisher would touch, you can find NO GODs, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon and the Castalia House ebook store. The novel has 23 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.5 stars of 5. If you think it’s excellent, do consider nominating at for the 2017 Dragon Award here under ‘Best Alternate History Novel’. Thanks for your support.

Space Opera is about Opera

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Tor launched #SpaceOperaWeek to promote and discusse space opera. In 24 hours, the Pulp Revolution launched a memetic revolution and claimed the hashtag for its own. Now, practically every hashtag and Internet discussion about #SpaceOperaWeek is dominated by the PulpRev folks. This stunning success exposes a hard truth: Tor has no idea what space opera is about.

Tor says ‘Space Opera is at its best when it merges the sweeping, big stakes stories with ordinary human drama‘. That is a laughable notion.

Space opera is about Opera: enormous stakes, huge conflicts, sweeping scope, massive drama, larger-than-life characters. Readers do not want to read page after page of mind-numbing tedium; they already live that in everyday life. They read fiction, especially science fiction, to escape reality, not to delve deeper into it.

David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is a classic example of space opera: interstellar diplomacy and warfare, grand strategy and fleet tactics, conspiracies and drama, high technology and higher stakes. The series doesn’t have Admiral Harrington spending entire novels caught up in mindless staff meetings and tedious paperwork; that’s not the point of space opera. People don’t want to read boring stuff, and ordinary, everyday life is boring. If they want to read about ordinary human drama, that’s what literary fiction is for.

Tor’s assertion to the contrary demonstrates a lack of awareness of what readers want. But that’s what you get when you bring aboard a writer who admits she is “not really a Space Opera kind of girl“.

Space opera is about, well, fun. As John Del Arroz points out on the Castalia House blog, space opera doesn’t have to realistic; it just has to be fun.

Not that there isn’t room for realism if it doesn’t subtract from the story. It just has to be done right.

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Science fiction celebrates the vasty deep of the galaxy, marvels at the strange wonders born in the light of alien suns, and lauds the power of the imagination. Today, sci fi is split into ‘realistic’ hard science fiction and ‘unrealistic’ soft science fiction, with works assessed by how closely they hew to known science. The old pulp masters would have laughed at such a notion. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not useful.

Hard science fiction is the fiction of probability. It celebrates the glory of science today, showing us what we can do with what we already know. It is not about fixing your imagination into tedious todays and stagnant yesterdays, or locking your brain into the realism box. Science constantly changes; a hard sci fi story cannot possibly remain completely accurate forever, nor should it. Instead it should strive to show what humans can achieve simply with what we know today, and build a ladder for us to reach for brighter and more glorious tomorrows.

Starship Operators is perhaps the hardest science fiction anime today. There is no sound in space; the sound is explicitly described as dubbed in for viewers. Battles take hours or days, with ships jostling for position. The only artificial gravity aboard a ship comes from rotating wheels. Light-speed lag significantly affects tactics and combat.

Yet at its heart, Starship Operators is about a group of plucky space cadets waging a one-ship war against an interstellar superpower to free their country while being sponsored by a television company. It doesn’t let science get in the way of the story. Hence there are stealth ships, plasma weapons, faster-than-light travel, and a disturbing lack of thermal radiators. The science in the anime are simply the props that allow the story to be told.

For ultra-diamond-hard science fiction, bar none, look no further than Children of a Dead Earth. It’s a space warfare simulator, designed with the express purpose of exploring what warfare in space would look like. Everything in the game obeys the laws of the universe: thermal stress and radiation, orbital mechanics , the rocket equation, Young’s Modulus and more. To fully appreciate the game you need to have an in-depth understanding of lasers, nuclear reactors, thrust and a dozen other fields. No fantasy physics here – at least, until you unlock the black box design module.

Children of a Dead Earth succeeds because of these limitations. The creator produced a compelling story universe in which humanity has colonised the planets, asteroids and moons of the Solar System. It is a universe riddled with superpower conflict and interfactional rivalries, culminating in a shooting war where fleets of atomic rockets attempt to destroy each other with high-intensity lasers, hypervelocity projectiles and nuclear missiles. While this isn’t strictly space opera, a setting like this demonstrates what can be done today — so imagine what can be done tomorrow.

Soft science fiction is the fiction of possibility. It’s not completely accurate, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, soft sci fi sets the stage for epic tales of tragedy and heroism and sorrow and hope. It takes the readers to journeys to far-off worlds, fires their imagination with depictions of Super Awesome Tech, and the very best stories point the reader to greater truths about the nature of humanity.

Star Wars (the original trilogy!) is an enduring classic of soft science fiction. It has Space Magic, wandering samurai with energy blades and mind powers, galaxy-spanning polities and world-killing superweapons. It’s not realistic and pretend to be. It doesn’t bother with ‘ordinary human drama’, focusing instead on the high drama of good versus evil and the struggle between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. The original trilogy focuses on being fun, and that is why its legacy endures to this day.

Looking further into the past, we see the old masters of pulp writing space opera with an emphasis on opera. E. E. Smith’s seminal Lensman series exemplifies this: elder alien races manipulating younger ones to achieve their ends, superweapons and psionics aplenty, massive space battles with the casual destruction of worlds, and titanic struggles between the forces of civilization and tyranny. Compared to such luminence, mere human drama means nothing.

While it may sometimes be useful to divide science fiction between hard and soft, it is merely a paradigm, to be adopted when useful and discarded when not. Consider the case of John C. Wright’s Superluminary. It features all manner of ‘soft’ sci fi technology–casual biomodification, psionics, the titulary faster-than-light travel mechanism–but the story universe is carefully constructed, with the technology obeying the rules of the universe as faithfully as any other piece of high technology in a work of hard science fiction. With these sci fi elements, Wright tells a story of a young man who must seize the throne of Humanity and lead mankind in a desperate war against a star-spanning race of vampires who have conquered the universe and seek to consume everything. Nowhere near ‘realistic’, but it is an epic space opera told in the grand tradition of the old pulp masters – and vastly more enjoyable than stories of mere human drama.

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Science fiction is about *fiction* and space opera is about *opera*. If people want to read about science or space, there are plenty of non-fiction books, magazines and journals to choose from. If people want to delve into ordinary human drama, they just have to live ordinary lives or pick up lit fic. The science in science fiction makes the fiction *fun*, and the space in space opera is the setting for the opera.

Science fiction is not about dragging readers through muck and demanding they derive pleasure from it. Science fiction turns their eyes to the stars, and space opera takes them there. Space opera is about opera: the glory, the terror, the joy, the horror, the sorrow and the wonder that awaits the intrepid starman who dares to brave the infinite expanse.

Disney’s Gay LeFou is Tokenism

LeFou of Disney’s 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is the lackey of Gaston, the main antagonist. By turning LeFou into a gay man for the 2017 live action adaptation, Disney has sunk ever deeper into the abyss of social justice. Through this act of mutilation, Disney has demonstrated its contempt for the original story. In recent years, Disney has been pushing the social justice agenda hard, producing film after film starring Strong Independent Female Protagonists Who Don’t Need Men. What makes LeFou’s distortion especially egregarious is that Disney’s attempt at virtue signalling is really tokenism.

Squandered Drama

The original novel was published in 1740. The Disney animated film shifted retained the setting of 18th century France. The live-action movie also keeps this setting. And 18th century France was cruel to gay men.

During the Ancien Regime, homosexuality (specifically, male sodomy) was punishable by death. The last gay men to be executed for sodomy were burned to death in 1750. Homosexuality was decriminalised only in 1791.

There was no mention of the French Revolution or the French Terror in the source material or the 1991 animated film. Thus, it’s safe to assume that the events of the story took place before the Revolution. By exploring his feelings for Gaston, Gay LeFou runs the risk of arrest, jail and execution.

Even if the story were set after the decriminalisation of sodomy, he would not be immune. New laws do not automatically lead to new social attitudes. Homosexuality was still widely seen as immoral and unnatural. If Gay LeFou were open about his feelings, he could be ostracised and run out of town. Everyone would spurn him, leaving only the company of the pederasts who frequented the public urinals and the molly houses where they pretended to be women.

This is not to say Gay LeFou is doubleplus ungood. Rather, by casting a gay man in 18th century France, Disney had the perfect set-up for drama, angst, and conflict.

And they squandered it.

The Most Interesting Man in the Room

The most interesting person in an area is the one who is most different from everybody else. In homogenous societies like 18th century France, minorities like gay men are the most interesting people around. They have to face legal repercussions, societal disapproval and disease just to be who they are. Gay LeFou would face enough drama and conflict for an entire movie all to himself.

But the story is not about Gay LeFou. It is about Belle and the Beast.

All things in a story must serve the story. A subplot about Gay LeFou finding his feelings adds nothing to the story. It will have no impact on the protagonists or their relationship; LeFou, both Gay and Regular versions, have exactly no influence over them. That makes the gay subplot a distraction at best, a time-waster at worst.

Disney claims there will be a happily ever after moment for LeFou. This flies in the face of historical fact. The gay subculture of mid-18th century France was marked with profligacy, prostitution, casual sex and group sex. Men in committed relationships with other men were despised — especially those with reputations for being debauchees.

A happily ever after for LeFou doesn’t do anything for the core story of Beauty and the Beast. How his life turns out has little to do with the main characters. As such, Gay LeFou’s story is just a sideshow, a sop to progressives, and nothing more.

By turning LeFou gay, Disney has injected modern liberal attitudes into a setting with vastly different values and attitudes. Through its focus on Belle and the Beast, Disney turned the spotlight away from the struggles Gay LeFou would realistically face in a believable 18th century France, bringing him out only to reaffirm that Gay Is Okay.

Disney’s first gay character is just a token, an object to be trotted out to signal to left-wingers that Disney shares their values, then quietly hidden away when it comes time to actually explore what it means to be gay in such a society. And yet Disney continues to be lauded for its progressive ideas.

In other words: tokenism is okay is progressives do it.

The Altar of SocJus

Gay LeFou isn’t the only indicator of social justice infection. Emma Watson, a self-proclaimed feminist, plays Belle. In the movie, Belle says, “I’m not a princess.”

This is a time and place when girls and women aspired to be treated with the grace, courtesy and respect accorded to princesses, and to receive the wealth and luxury the title implies. Further, in that time period, such a retort would indicate that a) Belle is a troublemaker who will not acknowledge the roles of women at that time, b) Belle disrespects the Beast’s servants, and by extension her host, and c) the Beast (who is a prince) has poor taste for choosing such a troublesome woman as a companion — which suggests his ability to judge people and make decisions is impaired. This, in turn, would lead the Beast’s servants to either ‘educate’ Belle on proper manners and/or convince the Beast to find a new companion.

Likewise, Belle wears a dress that conforms to modern fashion sensibilities, flying in the face of historical female fashions of the time that emphasise narrow, inverted conical torsos. The excuse is that Belle is a more active heroine than before. Which is nonsense — clothes do not define a character. As any good creator knows, having your character deal with clothing hang-ups at the most inconvenient of times is a prime source of comedy and tension. At the very least, everybody would look askance at Belle’s fashion sense and actions, and start whisper campaigns against her, forcing Belle to change her ways. At worst, the Beast would believe them and ditch her.

Again and again, the movie sacrifices verisimilitude on the altar of social justice. Instead of capturing the little details like the difficulty of wearing women’s dress of the period or the drama that arises from making social faux pas, Disney chooses the easy way of toting a token gay man and a feminist from out of time, and pretending the drama that should have occurred would not happen.

The live action film had so much potential. It could have been filled with the angst, drama, social sniping and prejudices that define an epic historic fantasy romance. Instead, Disney sacrificed it all to signal to progressives that they, too, hold modern ideas.

Such a poor prize for such a grand price.

The disease of virtue-signalling must be fought wherever it appears in fiction. It robs stories of their full potential, turning them from potential epics to hollow tales, just so that the creator can say, “Look at me! I believe in SocJus too!” Creators like these are not interested in fiction. They are only interested in ramming their ideas down your throat.

Sources:

Still: Beauty and the Beast, 1991, first sourced from Disneyfied or Disney Tried

From Twickenham to Turkey: Eighteenth-Century Gay Subcultures in Europe, America and Australia

Gay subcultures in eighteenth century Europe

The Sodomite Becomes a Molly

1700-1750 in Western fashion

Emma Watson’s Belle ditches the corset and princess title in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Beauty and the Beast Director on His Decision to Make LeFou Gay: ‘In a Very Disney Way, We Are Including Everybody’

The Rhetoric of Provocation and Offense

There are many people in the world who will not be persuaded by reason, and even the most rational humans can be swayed with the right emotional leverage. For years the Left has utilised outrage to dominate the political arena. Now the Right is taking up the same tactics, especially the New Right of America. Case in point: Ann Coulter.

Feel the rage? The pleasure? The amusement? Whatever you are feeling now, let it pass through you. When your heart is calm again, read on.

Coulter’s tweet was deliberate. With that one statement, she addressed three separate audiences, with vastly different reactions.

Her first audience are the people who oppose her. A tweet like that impinges on their beliefs and values, triggering outrage and denouncements. Indeed, the hate-fest on that tweet was epic, even by Twitter standards. That tweet would forever alienate this audience.

But what kind of people will get offended over the use of rape as a rhetorical device? People who sympathise with the plight of illegal immigrants, oppose Donald Trump and his policies, and Social Justice Warriors and progressives of every stripe. In other words: people who would never agree with Coulter’s views no matter what. If she is not concerned about their opinion of her, Coulter incurs no cost in offending them.

The second audience are the people who support her. These people support Donald Trump, agree with his proposal to build the wall, and believe illegal immigration is a scourge. They will support every argument against illegal immigration, no matter how emotional or contrived. This is Coulter’s core audience.

Most of them are regular people who despise rape. In their perception, Coulter’s tweet engineered a subconscious connection between illegal immigration and rape. And Trump’s supporters would be well-primed with facts and statistics pointing to the number of illegal immigrants who are gangsters, drug dealers, murderers and rapists. This tweet activated their sense of moral righteousness, triggering feelings of camaraderie and the pleasure of finding a fellow traveler. Coulter’s tweet spoke to the hearts and minds of this audience, and continues to resonate with them.

The third audience are the people who can view the subject dispassionately. They either do not have a stake in the situation, or are able to step back and view the exchange for what it is: an allegory reflecting the absurdity of the original statement. These are the people Coulter would like to win over — but it is a bonus, not her primary objective.

These people can’t be classified into a homogenous mass. Their politics span the entire political spectrum. Their values and morals are equally diverse. Some may appreciate her use of rhetoric; others will be turned off by her talk of rape. But more than a few will use the discussion as a springboard to further examine the issue and investigate Coulter. And they will learn that Coulter correctly predicted the rise of trump, while the sitting Mexican President has one of the lowest approval ratings in history (12%), has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, cracked down on dissenters, allowed the growth of crime and violence, and engaged in a multitude of reforms that weakened the rights of labourers while consolidating power in the hands of the oligarchs. If Coulter manages to convert any of these thinkers to her point of view, she has profited from the tweet.

This strategy of provocation works on three levels. By speaking to her core audience, she maintains and grows her support base. By offending those would be offended anyway, she gets them to blast her tweet far and wide and reach a greater audience, effectively manipulating them to do her work for her. By prodding the non-partisans, she sways who she can to her perspective, generating buzz that keeps the momentum going.

Let’s examine her tweets at the macro level. These are her tweets before her provocative tweet.

These are the ones after (excluding her retweet of Donald Trump).

Notice the sharp uptick in replies, retweets, and likes. Before the tweet, she had an average of 237 replies, 838 retweets and 3300 likes for her past three tweets. After the tweet, the average shot up to 533 replies, 2566 retweets and 7066 likes for her next three tweets.

But that’s not all. In the following three tweets, there is an average of 376 replies, 1086 retweets and 3666 likes. While the momentum generated by the rhetoric tweet is dropping off, the average numbers of replies, retweets and likes are still higher than before the tweet. When Coulter sees her numbers drop below a given threshold, I predict she will say something offensive again, and keep her base growing.

People are drawn to drama. Rhetoric provokes conflict and conflict leads to drama. On social media, retweets and likes are the lifeblood of public figures. They provide a gauge of how that person’s ideas are viewed. Replies are secondary — almost nobody has the time and energy to go through hundreds of responses. The retweets and likes are a rough-and-ready measure for everyone else to see how well-liked and socially-acceptable a tweet is, creating a bandwagon effect that recruits more people to their point of view.

There are many people who insist on decorum and reason — in other words, dialectic. These are nice sentiments, but social media is not the place for dialectic. Every social media platform is designed for entertainment and consumption. Twitter has a hard limit of 140 characters. Gab offers 300. Facebook emphasises one-liners with larger fonts and hides longer statements. Social media is not inherently designed for the rigorous arguments and logical thought processes required to properly deliver dialectic. That is the province of books, blogs, websites, speeches, podcasts, videos and debates — but not text-based social media.

Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one. After deciding his values and ideas he will invent reasons to justify his faith in them. To make this work for you. you must trigger a powerful emotional response linked to a specific idea. This will sway someone to your side, making him more receptive to follow-on arguments — if he will not create his own arguments.

The key players of the Alt-Right and the New Right understand this. They know the Left, especially the Control-Left, has used this strategy for years without fail. They scorn the Old Right who refuse to use such tactics in the age of Twitter and Tumblr; by refusing to adapt the Old Right has conceded the culture war to the Control-Left. The New Right, with the Alt-Right as their vanguard, is turning the Left’s tactics against them. The rise of the New Right, with Trump as their God Emperor, reaffirms their use of provocative and offensive rhetoric. They will continue to rely on such rhetoric while taking measures against the real-world consequences of uttering fighting words.

The culture war is upon us, and offensive rhetoric is the weapon of choice. Understand this, or be swept away by the inexorable forces of history, politics and human nature.

The Boston Tea Party and the Washington Riots are Not the Same

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery attempted to draw moral equivalency between the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots.

They are not the same. I can’t tell if it’s willful ignorance of history or deliberate distortion of the record, but when dealing with the far left, there is no difference.

By drawing comparisons to the Boston Tea Party, the Left is attempting to legitise wanton acts of destruction and rioting. They are attempting to create a narrative to justify future riots, the same kind of riots seen in Ferguson and Baltimore. But the Tea Party is not the same as a riot.

The Boston Tea Party


(W.D. Cooper. Boston Tea Party., The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving. Plate opposite p. 58. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

The primary target of the Boston Tea Party was the East India Company, a government-granted monopoly that benefited directly from the Tea Act passed by King George.

When the Sons of Liberty boarded the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver they destroyed the tea — and only the tea. They did not sink the ships. They did not attack the crew. They did not lay waste to the port.

It was a deliberate, focused act of violence aimed at property, with a government-linked monopoly as the primary target and the government itself as the secondary target. It did not involve anyone who was not a beneficiary of the Tea Act. Even so, the Sons of Liberty — and everybody else, including their allies and sympathisers — recognised that the protest itself was illegal. The colonial government did not suppress the Tea Party because the colonial government supported the cause, not because the protest was legal.

The Boston Tea Party itself was the culmination of decades of colonial frustration with the British government. The colonials believed it was not fair for King George to levy taxes on the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament. They saw King George and Parliament as remote rulers far removed from the goings-on in their lands, utilising taxes and the Regulars to keep the colonials in check. Despite decades of arguments, London did not budge. Taxation without representation was the order of the day. When the Tea Act passed, it undercut the livelihoods of colonial tea merchants while propping up a government monopoly on the brink of collapse. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Black Blocs of Washington

Now contrast this with the riots in Washington, fronted by the infamous Black Bloc.

This is in no way comparable to the Tea Party. The Tea Party did not deliberately attack people. The Washington rioters attacked police officers, and smashed windows and torched cars belonging to private businesses and individuals unaffiliated with President Donald Trump or the Federal government.

Disrupt J20 was an excuse to indulge in random acts of gratuitous violence. The rioters didn’t target anyone or anything belonging to Trump or his administration. They simply attacked ordinary Americans who live in a city that overwhelmingly voted against Trump, a President who has not done significant anything yet.

Think about that: the progressives, anarchists, antifascists and other groups were attacking their own supporters, in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Instead of peaceful protests and petitions in a nation known for responding to such methods, the rioters indulged in violence.

The Washington riots had far more to do with the Stamp Act riots than the Tea Party. And the Stamp Act rioters, it should be remembered, were so destructive that the Founding Fathers sought to distance themselves from them.

The Slippery Slope

To be fair, the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots have one thing in common: they were both acts of political violence.

Political violence rots the body politic. It is an irrevocable step towards chaos and bloodshed. Mob violence signals to everyone that the political process has failed, and it is time to unleash the beasts within. History tells us that mob violence is the death of liberty, democracy and civilisation. From the fall of the Roman Republic to Byzantium during the Imperial Exile, the French Terror to the Cultural Revolution, mob violence is a symptom of coming chaos.

The Boston Tea Party irrevocably led to the American Revolutionary War. America looks fondly upon the Tea Party today because America won the war. Had the British won, the textbooks and the popular narratives would be far different indeed.

The Washington riots allow Progressives to tell themselves that mob violence is acceptable, and a preferred tactic in future controversies. But this is a delusion. The riots also tell the Hard Right what to expect when the Progressives come for them.

I have seen discussions of armaments and tactics among the militant right. They are ready and willing to inflict bloodshed on a scale beyond what the Left can dream of. The Left calls for gun control, safe spaces and feminism; the Right believes in gun ownership, training and preparation. The Progressives may bring boots and clubs and stones; the Hard Right will wield AR-15s and Molotov cocktails and IEDs.

If the culture war goes hot, who do you think will win?

Drop the ‘Strong and Independent Female’ Label

Progressives, social justice warriors and feminists love gushing over strong, independent females in fiction. It’s an affirmation of their beliefs and ideas, a reflection of their worldview in popular culture. Critics constantly highlight the presence of such strong, independent females everywhere they appear: books, games, films, everywhere. What is truly remarkable about this phenomenon is that the phrase ‘strong, independent female character’ means nothing at all.

Let’s break it down. We have ‘strong’, ‘independent’ and ‘female character’. The last is self-explanatory. The former two, in the context of fiction, make little sense.

Let’s look at ‘strong’. When pertaining to people, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says:

1:  having or marked by great physical power

2:  having moral or intellectual power

3:  having great resources (as of wealth or talent)

6:forceful, cogent<strong evidence><strong talk>

10:ardent, zealous<a strong supporter>

11a:  not easily injured or disturbed :solid

11b:  not easily subdued or taken <a strong fort>

13:  not easily upset or nauseated <a strong stomach>

While ‘strong’ makes for a convenient shorthand, the word carries so many connotations that as a descriptor it is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

A female character may have an IQ in the 99th percentile, but if she can’t even lift a 20kg barbell, can she be called ‘strong’? A female character may be an Amazonian, but if she runs away at the first sign of conflict, can she be called ‘strong’? If a female character is a billionaire with a talented staff of hundreds, yet squanders her wealth and time chasing frivolities, can she be called ‘strong’?

The word ‘strong’ requires context for a complete understanding of the character. Why not simply use more specific words?

What about ‘independent’? Merriam-Webster says:

:  not dependent: as

a(1):  not subject to control by others :self-governing

(2):  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>

b(1):  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent <an independent conclusion>

(2):  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3):  not bound by or committed to a political party

c(1):  not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents>(2):  being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>

d:  showing a desire for freedom <an independent manner>

The character doesn’t need other people to make decisions for her. She is capable of making her own choices and driving the plot through her actions. By being self-reliant, she stands out from the other characters, and her will sometimes clashes with theirs, creating the drama that feeds fiction.

In other words, she is a major character.

‘Strong and independent’ basically means ‘plausible major character’. There’s no point in celebrating main characters just because they happen to be female; all it means is that you’re only concerned about appearances. The label of ‘strong and independent’ will not make female characters stand out. The term has been used so many times, semantic satiation has set in, rendering the label little more than fluff.

In the realm of fiction, words are currency. If you are a writer, marketer, reviewer or otherwise involved in the industry describing a female character, seek superior words to more accurately reflect the character and make her stand out from the crowd.

Is she a sharpshooter and a martial arts expert? That makes her a human weapon. Is she capable of defending her dignity and achieving her goals in the face of widespread prejudice? That makes her assertive. Does she have an IQ of 180 and regularly invents world-shaking inventions? She is a genius. Has she survived major trauma and bounced back? She is resilient. Can she turn her enemies against each other? Then she is manipulative.

In other words, describe her as though she were a man.

Male characters aren’t described as ‘strong and independent’; they are described by skills, history and worldview, making them stand apart from each other. When freed of fluffy shorthand labels, they all become unique.

By contrast, female characters who labelled ‘strong’ and ‘independent’ are reduced to three words: strong, independent and female, signifying nothing of import. Their identities are erased, and they are all damned by faint praise.

This post isn’t about sexual differences or sexual politics. It is simply about crafting a brand for major characters through the use of powerful descriptors.

Don’t settle for the ‘strong and independent’ label for females and males. Seek more accurate and impactful words, and make the characters shine.

Women writers have never been more advantaged

(Image c/o Flavorwire)

This article by TODAY newspaper on female writers is heavy on human interest and light on facts. In fact, the lede flies in the face of reality.

The literary scene has long been dominated by men. Despite notable female authors such as J K Rowling and, closer to home, Catherine Lim, the consensus is that women writers remain disadvantaged in a male-dominated literary world.

It is fashionable to claim that there is a ‘consensus’ that women writers are disadvantaged. But what is the ground truth?

The 5 genres that make the most money in the industry are romance/erotica, crime/mystery thrillers, religion/inspirational, science fiction and fantasy, and horror. Of these genres, women dominate romance and SFF. 2 out of 5 may seem proof of male domination, but this is not so.

The romance genre outstrips every other genre. In 2014, sales of romance books were estimated at $1.44 billion, nearly twice that of thrillers. In 2015, romance books account for 40% of all Amazon Kindle sales. The overwhelming majority of romance books are written by women, for women. This means that women have the biggest slice of the publishing pie, and tend to earn more money than their male counterparts in other genres.

As for SFF, women have a stranglehold in three distinct subgenres: children and Young Adult, urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Going beyond the veterans — JK Rowling, Nalini Singh, Lilith Saintcrow, Faith Hunter — many newcomers in these fields are women. Some publishers, such as Tor and Math Paper Press, commit themselves to diversity by welcoming or seeking submissions from women and minorities; other publishers publish women and minorities exclusively. As for SFF, especially Western SFF, courtesy of the long and bitter culture war, female writers are almost always given preference over male ones to ‘fight’ the invented narrative.

Now consider: historically, have there ever been mainstream publishing houses that openly favour women? Especially in an age when major bookstores are forced to close and traditional publishers are losing profits?

In addition, the Internet favours female writers. Go to your search engine of choice and look up variations of the following in your favourite genres: ‘best female writers’, ‘top female writers’ and ‘recommendations for female writers’. Now switch ‘female’ for ‘male’.

Notice something? If you search for female writers, you get female writers almost exclusively. Search for male writers, and you get female writers and mixed-sex lists of writers. Unlike women, you have to go out of your way to search for male authors in specific fields before you can get male-only lists of writers.

Women also dominate publishing houses: 78% of staff in publishing houses are cis  women. Throw in other sexual minorities and the number will be higher. Men are not keeping women out of the field. If there’s anyone preventing women from being published, chances are high that they are female.

Female writers who choose the self-publishing route also enjoy similar advantages to their trad-published sisters. As these lists demonstrate, the majority of popular indie authors are women who write in the fields of romance, erotica, young adult, children, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

The situation is more complex than the narrative wants you to believe.The narrative ignores demographic preferences. Women flock to romance, female-driven fantasies and stories with a heavy focus on relationships, while men prefer thrillers, uplifting works, and stories that emphasise action. The majority of female authors understand the female mind best, while the majority of male authors are familiar with the inner workings of the male mind. It’s a matter of different strokes for different folks.

I do not bregrudge women writers for finding literary success. I think the more stories and writers there are out there, the richer the world will be. That I live in an age where I have to make such a clarifying statement is telling as is. I am, however, allergic to nonsense, and the facts simply do not support the narrative.

In the literary history of mankind, women have never been more advantaged.

Cultural Appropriation Enriches Everything

Lionel Shriver gave a speech critiquing the concept of cultural appropriation, leading to this temper tantrum filled with politically correct whining. I’m amused that people think ‘cultural appropriation’ is an intellectually honest concept.

What is cultural appropriation? From Shriver’s speech:

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

But let’s go deeper into progressive-speak and take Everyday Feminism‘s definition of cultural appropriation. (Emphasis theirs)

In short: Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.

But that’s only the most basic definition.

A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

That’s why cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange, when people share mutually with each other – because cultural exchange lacks that systemic power dynamic.

It’s also not the same as assimilation, when marginalized people adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t.

Some say, for instance, that non-Western people who wear jeans and Indigenous people who speak English are taking from dominant cultures, too.

But marginalized groups don’t have the power to decide if they’d prefer to stick with their customs or try on the dominant culture’s traditions just for fun.

Even with this more specific definition, cultural appropriation is nonsense. Culture is intangible. It is a set of ideas and practices. If a stronger party adopts elements of culture from a weaker party, the weaker party is not in any way further diminished. If anything, the weaker party spreads its memes and ideas to the stronger party, giving it influence over the latter.

How is this not a subversion of the dominant culture? How does this undermine the weaker culture?

The concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ suggests that there is a deliberate effort to steal cultural ideas, but this is clearly not so. Is there an equivalent of an Archchancellor of Cultural Warfare who decrees that the people of his empire should unanimously adopt the practices of a given oppressed people in a certain year? Is there a grand conspiracy that decides which cultures to promote and which cultures to ignore?

No. It’s simply people deciding to adopt the ideas of another culture after finding them useful to their lives.

Looking at the three concepts of culture promulgated by Everyday Feminism, you will see that they are saying that dominant cultures are evil for taking ideas from a weaker culture and for imposing those ideas on a weaker culture. In other words: heads I win, tails you lose. The only way to win is to not play — or to be a self-designated victim.

As an idea to grapple with reality, ‘cultural appropriation’ is intellectually bankrupt. It is simply an excuse for an arbitrarily-designated minority to point and shriek at an arbitrarily-designated majority under the guise of cultural protection. It is a tool to justify affirmative action of the basest kind: to tear down or promote someone else’s work not because of its merits and demerits, but solely on the basis of identity. It is a weapon that self-declared ‘progressives’ use to erase the vibrancy of humanity.

In Singapore, the local patois is Singlish,  English organized along Chinese grammatical rules with loanwords from Malay, Tamil and various Chinese dialects. Singaporean cuisine is a fusion of every culture that has passed through the land. You can find Chinese selling nasi lamak, Indians cooking Western food, Malays preparing curry chicken, and a vast array of restaurants offering food to suit every palate, be it Japanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, vegetarian, even kosher food. Peranakan people are of Chinese descent who settled in the Malay Archipelego, speak a creole of Malay and Hokkien, have Chinese religious customs and adopt Malay fashions, and developed a distinct cuisine. Among the locals and foreigners who pass through Singapore, English (or Singlish) is the language that bridges everybody.

The world would be a far poorer place if people refused to adopt ideas from different cultures.

Where writers are concerned, the first thing they should do is focus on the story. Not the PC harpies shrieking about cultural appropriation, not the elitists who sneer at anything that isn’t capital-L literature, not the social justice warriors who project their narcissism and inadequacies on everyone.

If you’re a writer writing about a culture you’re unfamiliar with, you have to do your research. You have to capture nuances of behaviour, the idiosyncrasies of language, fashion sense, cuisines, social hierarchies, everything that marks a given culture. To do anything less is a disservice to the story.

Dressing up the setting of your story in foreign clothes but making everyone sound like you doesn’t enrichen the story. Kubo and the Two Strings, for instance, has the dressings of Japan, but everyone speaks and acts like Americans, and the weapons and armour are period-inappropriate. This is not cultural appropriation, though — this is simply a failure to do the research, or else a deliberate stylistic choice that detracts and distracts from the story.

Writing about a foreign culture is a road to growth and empathy — the opposite of SJWs who would demand that everyone shut up and stay in their little boxes. Done right, works about different cultures contribute to the wonder and the majesty of art — the opposite of SJWs who would rather everything be reduced to grey, flavorless mush. Stories of different peoples allow readers to see through the eyes of others — the opposite of SJWs whose insistence on arbitrary identities require that everyone become soulless, narcissistic blobs incapable of empathising with anyone.

If you like an idea from a different culture, don’t be afraid to use it. Never let the harpies keep you from greatness.

After the Hugos

Vox Day wrote excellent write-ups about the Hugo Awards here and here. Taken together, they are a veteran’s perspective on the state of internal politics in science fiction and fantasy.

I don’t understand why Social Justice Warriors make such a big deal about the Hugos.It’s a meaningless status symbol. A little trophy doesn’t put food on the table, and in recent decades it is no indication of merit. As a child, every award winning SFF work I picked up was so utterly boring it turned me off from the field. Even today, I read far more thrillers and non-fiction than SFF post-1980. Where a plebeian genre writer like me is concerned, there are only two objective indications of a successful SFF story: honest reader reviews and overall sales.

Rabid Puppies, and to a lesser the Sad Puppies, have demonstrated that the Hugo Awards are irrelevant. Last year, the SJWs voted to burn down most of the Hugos than to pick a Puppy nominee. This year, the SJWs chose non-controversial picks over No Award — never mind that other finalists are objectively (in terms of sales figures, reviews and achievements) more deserving of the award, such as Jim Butcher or Toni Weisskopf. The Hugos will soon be changing their voting rules in response to the Puppies — no doubt to shut out the Puppies and only the Puppies.

The awards are so irrelevant that in a nation obsessed with firsts, nobody cares that I’m the first Singaporean to ever be nominated for the Hugos. And I don’t blame anyone. A small group of people played kingmaker, forced the SFF-SJWs and their allies to react to their strategy, AND recommended choices that more accurately reflect reader interests or literary accomplishments than the actual awardees. This tells any reasonable person that the Hugo Awards, ostensibly to represent the finest in SFF, are broken.

A Hugo Award is a hollow award.

I spent more time, energy and brainpower planning and preparing breakfast this morning than I did on the Hugos this year. Somehow, a tale I wrote, itself nothing more than a testbed for technologies and tactics like the Takao, made it all the way to the nominations. While I’m pleasantly surprised and grateful, I lose nothing by not winning the Award, and gain nothing but bragging rights by winning it. I have no stake in the Hugos and no reason to care, now or in the future. Likewise, my target audience doesn’t care about the Hugos or other awards, only whether a story is worth time and money.

I measure literary success not by trophies but by stories. Flashpoint: Titan is only the beginning: coming up next is The Burning of Worlds.

Marvel Comics is Dead

An artist strives to frame his ideals in an image, to challenge his audience and make his vision immortal. But the parasite says, “No! Your art must serve the Cause! Your ideals endanger the people!”

-Andrew Ryan, Bioshock 2

When parasites create art, the result is Marvel’s present lineup of comics.

In the last two days, Marvel has produced two pieces of social justice-inspired works. The first casts Gwen Stacey as a sex-flipped Spider-Man, with Donald Trump as the villain. The second has Tony Stark handing over the mantle of Iron Man to 15-year-old  Riri Williams. The virtue signalling is so obvious, it is painful. Couple this with Female Thor, Evil Captain America, and a number of Marvel characters suddenly becoming lesbian, bisexual, gay, black, female or Muslim, and it’s obvious that Marvel has declared its position in the culture war.

The announcement of Black Iron Girl demonstrates comic book logic at its finest. The Iron Man suit has fought supervillains, aliens, mutated superhumans, assassins, magicians, monsters, supersoldiers, and rival suits of power armor. The suit transforms the wearer into a one-man army. In what sane universe is it a good idea for a veteran superhero to hand over the suit to a 15-year-old? How does a teenager somehow possess the judgment to properly use a weapon of mass destruction?

Iron Man, it should be remembered, fights in a staggering number of environments, including densely-packed urban cities. The wearer only has milliseconds to properly identify and engage targets with the appropriate weapon. Firing missiles at the wrong time or the wrong target would blow up a building full of innocents. The suit’s repulsor beams can blow holes through walls and armor; it is extremely easy for an inexperienced user to kill a roomful of civilians instead of a legitimate threat. Even trained soldiers and police officers would find this extremely difficult.

Tony Stark, at least, had the excuse of founding SHIELD and the Avengers, and with those organisations and his inherited wealth, he would have access to superior training and colleagues who could help him develop his skills. And he became Iron Man at 21, when he was a legal adult. As for Williams, her major achievement is somehow reverse-engineering an old Iron Man suit. And because of that, it is somehow acceptable to turn her into a child soldier. Which is illegal by international law, by the way.

None of this, of course, matters to the high priests of diversity. It is far more important to have yet another black female STEM-inclined superhero(ine) than for the story to make sense. Needless to say, Williams will embody the finest traditions of social justice, perhaps even throwing in references to Black Lives Matter, and will either become a Mary Sue or make mistakes so trivial that they can be glossed over.

The American comic book industry is particularly ripe for social justice infiltration and subversion. Many beloved characters have been around for decades: Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Thor, Batman, Captain America, and so on. They have become static archetypes. Instead of character development or introducing new characters, Marvel prefers signing on new artists and writers to introduce ‘fresh’ takes on existing characters, which inevitably leads to Social Justice subversion. This disrespects the audience that previous generations have grown and served, and any publishing company that disrespects the audience is bound for the ash heap of history.

Contrast this with the Japanese manga industry. Virtually every artist creates his own unique stories, characters and worlds. The industry rewards success and punishes failure: artists who enjoy high sales are allowed to continue their career; those who do not are axed, and only very lucky ones are given a second shot. Characters, plots and worlds are not recycled among different artists as a matter of procedure; creators, stories and characters stand or die on their own merits, and characters are either retired or given new story arcs for greater development. There’s also far less blatant politicking and social justice in manga than in American comics.

While Japanese manga generally do not have archetypical characters, in my personal experience the industry as a whole offers richer and deeper stories than anything Marvel has to offer. They also tend to have a faster release schedule. And the very best manga characters become archetypes in their own right: Sailor Moon, Vash, Kusanagi Motoko, Vegeta, and so on.

The Americans have much to learn from the Japanese in the field. Focus on good writing and characters; introduce fresh characters and IPs to explore different themes instead of rehashing old ones; and get rid of the social justice virtue signalling. Art is not a weapon to reinforce a narrative or protect people from dangerous ideas; art is its own end, as the extension of the artist, and to catalyze the audience’s own growth.