On the Subject of “Hot Takes on Scalzi”
Posted on February 21, 2019 Posted by John Scalzi 56 Comments
Just posted a Twitter thread I want to save here for posterity, and also for those of you who don’t bother with that particular service. It involves people complaining about me!
1. So, one of my favorite Hot Takes on Scalzi is the one that goes “I *used* to like Scalzi, but then he went and got all SJW-y” as if this were a new and surprising (and, for me, opportunistic) turn after years of, I don’t know, modest silent neutrality. Well, here’s the thing…
2. I have literally been online for a quarter of a century — my first USENET post was in ’94, and my blog has been up since 1998. I have been spouting off my opinions ALL THAT TIME. I have an electron trail longer than some of these dudes have been ALIVE.
3. And before THAT, I was spouting opinions in print! I was a nationally syndicated newspaper opinion columnist for several years. I have a paper trail that goes along with the electron trail, dating back to ’91 (or ’87, if you want to count my college paper, which, why not?).
4. In all that time, my politics have been — surprise! — pretty much in same area they are now. A few things I’ve moved left on, a few things I have moved right on (no, really), but by and large I’ve been (for the US) mostly-leftish in a petit bourgeois sort of way.
5. And this is checkable because — again — I have a wide and vast trail of my opinions and verbiage going back literal decades. Try it for yourself! It’s all there, somewhere, if you want to bother. Incompleteness will not be a problem for any future biographers of mine.
6. So, when some dude complains that I somehow “went all SJW-y,” the question I’d ask them is: since when? Because I pretty much guarantee you whatever date they pull out of their ass, I can show I was saying largely what I’m saying now well before then. None of this is new.
7. What IS different, perhaps, is that — don’t laugh — I have slightly more humility now, in that I’m willing to accept I don’t know everything, I’m willing to accept that sometimes I show my ass, and I’m willing to at least try to make amends when I do my ass-showing.
8. But otherwise, yeah, this is me, and this has pretty much always been me, as long as I’ve been writing in public. If you think I’ve “gone SJW” it’s because YOU weren’t paying attention before. Which is fine! You don’t have to know my life story. But the issue is you, not me.
9. The thing is, after 25 years online and three decades writing publicly, I’m not going to stop having opinions in public. If this fact bothers you, mute/block me on social media and don’t buy my work. It’s fine, and I don’t need or want your patronage. Read other folks!
10. Just don’t pretend that who I am is something new, or manufactured for sales or cookies. This is me. My track record is long and clear. I’ve been this way for a long time, and will probably be for a while yet. It’s not a surprise, or at least shouldn’t be. Welcome to me.
It’s okay to be SJW.
Mmmm… cookies. 🍪 🍪
I mean, I did title a book of mine Virtue Signaling, so.
You are who you are…and that is why I follow your blog. I read your writing because I enjoy your writing. I admire your candor and share most of your positions. Keep up the good work.
Clearly this is all about him.
I guess what some of them really mean is “I used to like Scalzi when all I had were the books. Lately I have seen his opinions popping up because my friends link to them or quote them and I can no longer ignore his views the way I could before”.
In the 90s, it was a lot more difficult to find out an author’s opinions by accident. I guess a completely different set of people have had the same reaction about OSC, for example.
Ha! I live in such a bubble I had to google “SJW”.
SJW? Single Jewish Woman?
Isn’t it remarkable how some people know you better than you know yourself?
Or, according to Urban Dictionary, Skeleton Jazz Wizard. Now THAT makes sense.
I think it’s a safe guess that, by and large, those of us who hang out here at Whatever tend to like Scalzi being Scalzi.
Your experiences (and many others) on social media in general and Twitter in particular are why I’ve turned away from all of it. It’s a highly toxic environment meant to amplify the worst devils of our nature.
You have my admiration & respect. That, too, has not changed.
But where’s the twitter thread Scalzi’s talking about??????
Those guys who use SJW as a pejorative term? Fuck those guys. And I do mean GUYS, because they’re almost always 15-year-old boys (or emotionally stunted man-children) who think Call of Duty is the ultimate art form.
Re: Point 8 “If you think I’ve “gone SJW” it’s because YOU weren’t paying attention before.”
Or they were paying attention and, like most people, didn’t care much about your politics. But since then some group they wish to identify with has decided that you are the enemy and this is how they choose to signal their virtue to other members of the group.
Really. Is SJW one of those acronyms used to sniff out the old farts?
Guilty. And by nearly a generation.
So tell me. ;- )
Does that mean ‘liberal’ doesn’t smell anymore?
Of course whenever I get this morose I find it’s a good thing to go stand out on your front lawn and watch a Falcon 9 night launch. Kind of like a Ray Bradbury character. It re-establishes a bit of my belief in our ability to do something noble.
1994? You arriviste, you. That’s not even before Eternal September commenced. Somewhere, Leader Kibo is shaking his head. ;->
Thank you for being you. It’s why I read your work and read you here.
well, i think you’re great
I *used* to like Scalzi (for the books), but then I discovered he was all SJW-y, and new I really like him (for the whole writing package). I fear the day I meet him in person and we have to partake in some forbidden ukelele/concertina jam, for then I might have to really really like him.
r.e. #10, I’m left wondering what he WOULD do for cookies.
@whbeebe: I haz a jealous! Falcon 9 night launches!
No cookies, but yes, shave ice.
Well, since I read in Portuguese “A Guerra Não é Para Velhos” I started to buy gradually everything that has been written by John Scalzi.
I have not been disappointed. I’m very lucky to have discovered this writer.
Personally, I don’t find you to be SJW-y. Granted, I’ve been following you for about three or four years in the blog world, but it seems like you’ve been very consistent with your views and not like those who jump on the SJW bandwagon because it’s chic, helps to one to get ahead in today’s world and you can legally bully someone w/o having to look at the overall context of a given situation (that’s just my personal observation).
I may not agree with some of your views but I do admire the consistency in which you partake of them.
I used to like John Scalzi, but then he started forcing his opinions on burritos on to me.
If it helps I am about your age, been SJW as well and have always appreciated your words.
Also I think your right, with age comes the realization we don’t know everything.
Maybe they’re just mad Mr. Scalzi is doing anything at all besides writing the sequel to The Consuming Fire.
What are the issues you moved to the right?
John, have you ever looked into the demographics of your fans? Although I think it’s unlikely to happen. it would be funny if you announced: “Survey says… 3.9% of my fans are SJWs!”
I’m not that keen on the fiction myself (not my particular taste) — I’m just here for the truly wonderful Skeleton Jazz Wizard opinions. Daaaamn, that Scalzi can do Sparkling Jeweled Witchcraft like a Sumptuous Jumping Wookiee!
This is why I don’t like Scalzi. SJW stands for Smudge Just Works, and I don’t see much of Smudge-san at all. So please, more of the Smudge-san if you don’t mind.
No, no, SJW stands for Smudge Junkie Windfall, the official name for a post containing one or more pictures of cats.
“It’s certainly true with respect to Old Man’s War that a lot of people read it and assumed from the subject and writing style that I was conservative. This is one reason I warn people not to project too much of their own assumptions onto an author. You’ll often be surprised.”
OMW was infatuated with violence, it pointed at genocide then shrugged it off, it reveled in vengeance. The aliens being fought were religious extremists who wanted to wage war for religious reasons and couldnt be reasoned with, or they ate human flesh and liked it. They were presented in ways similar to how conservatives try to dehumanize their human enemies. The cdf is fighting an never ending war against irrational aliens who have been othered into something that can be easily slaughtered with no moral concern. Humans are good. Everyone else is evil.
Old Mans War is an homage to Starship Troopers. The problem is that Starship Troopers is military propaganda written by Heinlein in response to SANE trying to slow down nuclear testing and reduce nuclear stockpiles. The earth is human, militant, and good. The aliens are unhuman, communist, and evil. You cribbed from military propaganda, and ended up echoing that exact same military prooaganda.
The difference is this: Heinlein used Starship Troopers war as a stage to give his mouthpiece characters a platform to monologue heinleins militant position. You used the war as a backdrop for a love story.
But imagine if someone liked “Song of the South” growing up, and then they write somehing that is an homage to that movie. There is a good chance they’re going to bring along some racist baggage from the original movie. Maybe they arent Racist, they dont burn crosses or anything, but they repeat and regurgitate some racist tropes. Does it matter whether someone reading that wonders whether the author is racist or not but the author protests they never burned a cross in their life? When it gets down to it, i dont think so. They repeated racist stereotypes.
Starship Troopers is military propaganda. And your cribbed ST’s portrayal of war as a backdrop for your OMW love story. You might not be a Mitary Propagandist, you dont argue for endless wars and dehumanize our enemies, but your story has echoes of it. Whether or not YOU MEANT to do that isnt really the point.
Whybird, you speak truth. I am so with Wheaton on the burrito issue.
I am politically conservative. I read both your books and your blog. I often have a differing opinion than you do. However, I always find your opinions well thought out and presented in a manner that is neither condescending nor confrontational. I thoroughly enjoy your books. I have never felt like you were figuratively beating the reader about the head with your opinion. Your blog is enjoyable, as even though I don’t agree with everything you write, it always makes me think. It is important to be exposed to ideas and opinions outside of our comfort zone. So as I conservative, I thank you for your beliefs and the way in which you share them. I will continue to read your books and your blog. Have a great day.
I really like your novels but unfortunately vomit a little in my mouth when I read about your political views. It’s interesting that as we get older we are supposed to move more right; I guess you’re still growing up. Not unusual for most men. In the meantime I will still add to your income and buy your books. BTW why do we have to pay almost as much for eBooks as hard bound books? Personally this industry should give you an eBook free if you buy a new release hard bound book.
My father, a Political Scientist, had your “I polled my coworkers: would they rather hunt a giraffe, or Newt Gingrich?” column taped up to his office door for YEARS. (He likes giraffes, and does not like Newt Gingrich.) The “I liked John Scalzi before he got all POLITICAL” take is basically disclosing “I discovered John Scalzi when Old Man’s War came out, and I drew all the wrong conclusions about the politics in that book.”
I enjoy your books and like your blog. However, I only have so much time in my day to just passively enjoy John Scalzi. I cannot believe there are people out there who have time to troll you and complain about you and whatever else. sound exhausting?
Are you sure it’s more than just one dude with a mental illness?
Just as a point of information, I’d be fascinated to read a column on what you’ve shifted slightly right on, if the fancy ever takes you.
As far as people becoming more conservative as they age, my understanding is that men usually become more conservative as they age while women usually become more liberal.
While I enjoy our gracious host’s fiction, it’s the blog that made me a lifelong fan. His refusal to punch down, his respect for women, his love for his family, and his commitment to social justice all command my respect. The idea that any of those things would make anyone “throw up in their mouth a little” completely baffles me.
“It’s interesting that as we get older we are supposed to move more right”
And yet the US has moved so, so far to the left from 1776. Abolish slavery. Give women the right to vote. Restrict child labor. Regulate safe working conditions. Regulate good and medicine. Legalize inter racial marriage. Legalize gay marriage.
Apparently, the old saw that people get more conservative as they age is more a side effect of population statistics that show that poor people are much more likely to die younger than rich people, so the statistics swing so that, percentage wise, it seems like there are more old conservatives, but actually, theres less poor people.
I don’t understand why anyone would go on reading something that makes them “vomit a little in my mouth”, but each to their own.
I also have my doubts about the idea that all women or men move to the right as they age, speaking of those I know it certainly is not the case. The people I know are mostly fairly political, including Labour Party members, and the only obvious change in their views is that they have more knowledge from which to argue their position. A good example would be that I can point to periods when the UK had a far higher rate of marginal tax than we do now, and also had a flourishing industrial sector.
In the early 1980s, I discovered that John O’Hara (1905-1970) had become a right-wing newspaper columnist for a few years in the mid-1960s (I came across a paperback collection of those columns), at the same time that he was writing some of the greatest of his many short stories and novellas, none of which had anything to do with national or world politics (indeed, many were set before the Second or even the First World War). It was quite a surprise – not a pleasant one. I wonder what readers of his fiction thought about this at the time.
It’s interesting how good the correlation is between someone bleating about “sjw” and discovering that they are jerks. It’s as if there is a connection between stupidity and the wish to be social injustice wanker.
Only tangentially related to this post, but I’d love to read any hot takes that you have about these comments by Liu Cixin (of Three Body Problem fame).
@Greg, your over-the-top critique is an example of why we can’t have nice things. I read a book and think to myself “that’s an interesting story.” Others read the same book and immediately go after the author for any perceived indiscretions on the part of the author. I’m fully aware of the background of Starship Troopers (both the book and the 1997 Paul Verhoeven sendup; what a blast that was!) and believe me when I say OWM isn’t an homage to Troopers, but yet another story about war written in space.
The Colonial Defense Forces that pull John Perry into their world are eventually deconstructed across the next two books in the OMW trilogy and shown that they too have feet of clay in the last book, “The Ghost Brigades.” Heinlein wrote a single book that set the standard/anchored the start of military SF. Scalzi took the trouble to build a far more elaborate universe across three very good volumes, and in the process showed one possible negative outcome of a human political system dominated by a military coterie and how that outcome (eventual extinction of the colonies) was possibly avoided. I suggest you read the entire series, especially the last book, and then sit back and consider the much bigger picture painted by those three core volumes.
Wheebe: “OWM isn’t an homage to Troopers, but yet another story about war written in space”
“The Starship Troopers correlation, on the other hand, is emphatically not a coincidence, since Old Man’s War is modeled after that novel in several ways. ” –Scalzi
Wheebe: “I suggest you read the entire series”
My comment was an answer to scalzis question in the original post above wherein he asks: “when some dude complains that I somehow “went all SJW-y,” the question I’d ask them is: since when?”
The “when” is right after OMW came out. OMW is a right wingers, war mongers wet dream. I am sure non war mongers can bend the story to their view, but again, this is about the guys who said they liked Scalzi at one point, and then he went all SJW. Right wingers read OMW, see someone beating their war drum, and excitedly come to this blog, only to discover scalzi isnt a war mongerer.
So, the answer to “when” is “right after OMW came out”.
“your over-the-top critique is an example of why we can’t have nice things..”
The Consu are war mongering religious zealots who cannot be reasoned with==> perfectly aligns with right winger islamophobia.
The Rraey like to eat human flesh, rendering them inhuman(*) and killable without moral qualms. ==> perfectly aligned with war mongerers who dehumanize our enemies.
There is a scene in OMW where the protagonist is stomping on tiny aliens and rampaging through their tiny city like godzilla, he briefly ponders the moral implications of possibly killing civilians, but then shrugs it off with the oddest justifucation for war crines i have ever read: sonething to the effect of: there are things more evil than me, so i wont worry about me being too evil. ==> aligns perfectly with right wing arguments against following international laws of war, justifying torture, and other war crimes. They dont follow the rules, why should we
There is a scene in bootcamo where the protagonist is thrown into a training, and ends uo doing better than people who used to be generals or officers in earths army. ==> aligns perfectly for right wingers disregarding experts they disagree with. See also: Shinseki.
I dont think Scalzi invoked these tropes -on purpose-, but he did copy/paste them from a master military propagandist.
(*) what is the term for “dehumanizing” an alien race? They were never human, soo…..
I know I’m going to hate myself for doing this…
Firstly, the modern definition of homage is to publicly show special honor or respect.
And if you want to stick with that and apply that to OMW, then I won’t argue with you on that point any longer. Even though you’re wrong.
If you re-read what you quoted from Scalzi’s article in its entirety to add needed context (of which, yes, I was aware):
“The Starship Troopers correlation, on the other hand, is emphatically not a coincidence, since Old Man’s War is modeled after that novel in several ways. The most obvious is of course the military setting and the introduction of a starry-eyed protagonist into that milieu, and the subsequent progression from recruit to grunt to seasoned veteran. More generally, however, Old Man’s War follows roughly the format of a number of Heinlein “juvenile” novels (of which Starship Troopers was one originally): It’s meant to have the “boy’s own adventure” feel that RAH jammed into those books. One could easily say it’s a classic “juvy,” just with a 75-year-old as its hero.”
Firstly Scalzi is doing what every honest author does (and should do), he acknowledges his influences. He states quite clearly that his story is “modeled” after key elements of Troopers, and he explains why: development of characters that the reader will want to invest their time into getting to know by reading the novel. To quote Scalzi again:
“In a general sense, I think Heinlein is a fine writing teacher — his enduring popularity after many of his sf contemporaries find themselves slipping out of print suggests there’s something about the writing that is atemporally appealing; that is to say, as fresh today as when it was first written. And whatever that is, it’s worth study and worth emulating (so long as it’s married to one’s own individual narrative gifts; no point writing exactly like the man, after all).”
There’s nothing wrong with doing exactly what Scalzi did, and as far as I’m concerned, did quite well. Scalzi even goes on to say how this isn’t applicable to every story, offering two examples that show where it wouldn’t have worked. But OMW was the kind of story where the Heinlein example of character development was a very good fit.
Scalzi’s last paragraph gives a succinct reason for why he used Heinlein’s Troopers:
“Whether Old Man’s War is actually successful is another matter entirely, and I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide. Certainly it doesn’t try to be exactly like Heinlein. For better or worse, I’m my own writer, and even if I could write exactly like Heinlein, why would I want to? He left enough books lying around. But as I’ve said, I’m happy to play with some of the forms he’s championed and see what I can do with them. If you’re thinking of writing a book, think about fiddling with them as well. You might be surprised (and happy) with what you come up with.”
As an individual reader, yes, OMW was quite successful, and so where the following two books in the trilogy as far as I’m concerned. He says he’s happy to play with some of the writing and character forms, and I find no issue with that either. I do not, however, call that an homage, just an honest assessment of how he used Heinlein’s story writing in his stories. If you’re insistent on calling this an homage then it would be better to say that Scalzi is paying an homage to Heinlein the writer, rather than a single story in Heinlein’s catalog or Heinlein’s political stance at the time.
I would also like to point out that cherry picking specific quotes out context is the lazy man’s way to try and win an argument, or worse, to miscast his motivations. But then those are the times we live in.
If you know you’re going to hate yourself for doing it, then why did you do it?
Why don’t you and Greg take this into email if you want to continue the discussion, since it appears you two are planning to get heated about it.
You’re right, I was wrong. My apologies to you and Greg.
I’m 65, and I would say I’ve moved more and more to what is usually thought of as “the left” as I’ve aged. My own view is that, when I was young, I bought a lot of the myths that were told about society and about how people worked. As I’ve gotten older and watched things happen and seen the atrocities that have been committed and the lies told by the people who told all those myths, I’ve gotten more and more skeptical of anything that the people in power (at any level) say. I’ve watched as those atrocities get buried in lies and silencing. And I’ve seen that, no matter how bad a situation may seem, the reality is always far, far worse.
And I’ve seen how the marginalized and disempowered are not only screwed over, but their screwing-over is presented as being their own fault, or even as good for them. Having been treated the same way when I was young, my sympathies always lie with whoever the people in power (at whatever level) are dismissing or demonizing.
If I’m going to make up theories, I might theorize that being “conservative” is a consequence of privilege — it’s the privileged, after all, who have the most to lose from any change in the status quo. And though in my adulthood I’ve acquired a fair amount of privilege, I look around me and see the same sort of people who bullied me when I was the outsider (Brett Kavanaugh comes to mind), and I identify, not with them, but with the people they bullied — and still bully.
I don’t think I’ve done enough to earn the title of SJW, but I’m definitely on their side. (And I’d be happy to be in their “ladies’ auxiliary.”
I avoid Twitter like the plague, so thanks for sharing this in a blog post.
While men might shade to the ‘conservative’ as they age and women to the ‘liberal’, I would hope both become much more nuanced in their views.
Unless Smudge is involved.