Sad Puppies: Cognitive Dissonance Makes Our Enemies Oblivious


Predictably, my recent post about how advances in media technology are driving the Sad Puppies phenomenon--and the hostile reactions of its detractors--drew hostile reactions from SP's detractors.

I argued that new tribes of science fiction fans are forming around movies, video games, and eBooks; leaving the New York publishing establishment ever more obsolete.

That's not to say that the folks in charge of NY publishing are politically neutral. To the contrary, the clear pattern of behavior on display at the Big Five leaves little doubt of their left wing bias. But that's tangential to the real casus belli.

The main reason why the NY establishment's knickers are in a twist is that the medium they control--books printed on paper--is losing cultural prominence.

The gatekeepers' identities are invested in their control over mainstream publishing. Any serious threat to their control causes cognitive dissonance: a physiological; not a rational, response. As independents who threaten the gatekeepers' identity, the Sad and Rabid Puppies are convenient scapegoats for their irrational frustration.

Case in point
After hearing about my post, self-identified SP opponent Matthew M. Foster posted his reaction on Facebook. Once again the form, if not the content, of his comment is highly instructive.

Before proceeding to my analysis of Foster's response, read this post on cognitive dissonance "tells" by master persuader Scott Adams. He explains that cognitive dissonance is caused when someone faces an argument against a belief that is foundational to his identity. and to which he has no rational response.

How can you tell when your argument has been convincing enough to cause cognitive dissonance in your opponent? Here's a selection of quotes from my original post, Matt Foster's response to it, and a few of the relevant tells that Scott Adams has identified. Keeping in mind that my goal is to engage in reasoned argument about the causes of SP, ask yourself if Matt's responses are rational or not.
Brian Niemeier: Hugo-nominated author Mike Flynn has written about how people will fall into one of three broad categories when faced with change.
Innovators will champion a new idea just for the sake of novelty. They drive change, but their motives aren't always selfless. They could be narcissists, or on the make for a fast buck.
Conservatives will consent to change, but not until they have reasonable proof of success. Some are true skeptics. Some are hardliners. Some just have cold feet.
Inhibitors will not agree to make changes under any circumstances. However convincing the innovators' logic, and however sound the conservatives' data, the inhibitor's mantra is "No!"
Nonetheless, there are still those who are beholden to the big NYC publishers and their obsolete business model. Interestingly, these folks' behavior perfectly fits the classic inhibitor profiles.
Matthew M. Foster: So, cute to switch what the Pups stand for, and what those who are not sometimes do by switching the definitions of words--but probably best to stick to what most Pups cling to: That the Pups are true and loyal conservatives fighting against the evil forces of Progressive change. It is a silly outlook, but at least closer to true. Of course I don't call the Pups progressives conservatives (the movement is neoreactionary). 
Lone Penguin: The Lone Penguin is the person you see on the Internet imploring others to stop listening to person X. The usual phrasing looks like “Why is anyone listening to that terrible person X?”
The tell is that the Lone Penguin will offer no data or reasoning to back up the emotion. At most, the Lone Penguin will offer a link to a story in which a journalist got something wrong or out of context.
Interpretation: The Lone Penguin hates person X because the argument made by person X is persuasive, and that violates the Lone Penguin’s identity as a person who always disagrees with person X and similar lines of thinking.

BN: Last time, we talked about the drastic changes currently underway in sci-fi fandom, and the media that are driving those changes.
I took a conservative approach to eBook technology and self-publishing in general. I was traditionally published first and only went indie when hard evidence indicated that it was the smarter move.
All of the controversy, tantrums, and libel over Sad Puppies can be chalked up to big fish in the shrinking legacy publishing pond who are standing athwart inevitable industry changes, desperately flailing their arms, and yelling "STOP!"
Given that the CHORF phenomenon is an atavistic reaction to inevitable changes in fandom driven by inexorable advances in technology, we needn't take any specific action to defeat them. Just as new theories ultimately triumph when the prior generation of scientists die off, SF will continue to thrive and grow long after the last CHORF's demise.
MMF: I do agree with him that time will settle things. New generations will grow up in a world that the Golden Age never saw, and the broader range of stories, diverse stories if you will, will be the norm. The Pups will be a glitch, hanging on to a past, even when, as in this article, trying to pretend that their past is actually a new future.
Personal Attack: A personal attack without reason is among the strongest tells. That means the person being attacked has been so persuasive that it is shaking someone else’s self-image.
Politician: My policies will stimulate the economy. Here is the data proving that this plan worked in every country where it became law.
Citizen: That guy is a reactionary asshole
Interpretation: The politician’s argument is so strong that it violates the citizen’s identity as someone that is always on the other side of that particular argument. How can the citizen maintain his old self-image and still feel rational? Cognitive dissonance is triggered and anger comes out.

BN: Storytelling to make a political point to the detriment of fun is what the Puppies have always been steadfastly against. An author's publisher is not his boss. His readers are.
MMF: An amusing twist.
Jokeless laugh: When I [Scott Adams] was training to be a hypnotist, our instructor taught us that a subject will often laugh at something you say, or a background sound, that would normally have no humor trigger. The real trigger is that the subject is feeling the hypnotist’s words translate into bodily reactions and it causes an involuntary giggle.

BN: As the story thus far shows, not only are claims of Puppies injecting politics into the awards the diametric opposite of the truth, politics is just a red herring in this whole controversy--a fig leaf used to conceal the CHORFs' fear of change and to justify their attacks on the agents of change.
MMF: So he paints the Pups as progressives (without using the word of course--he does realise that ushering in change in order to help people is the definition of progressive?) while painting those who oppose the Pups, who've been called progressives over and over again by the Pups, as extreme conservatives (for which he swiped an unnecessary word).
Nonsense Rebuttal: When you hear an irrational response to your rational argument, it probably means the argument was sound but it violated someone’s sense of identity. Here I am talking about the truly illogical responses you see on the Internet all the time, not routine disagreements over data and priorities.

There are two possible explanations for why Matthew responded to my evidence-based arguments with nothing but ad hominem attacks.

  1. False positives: all of his "tells" are in fact rational responses to unknown stimuli.
  2. Cognitive dissonance: lacking contrary evidence against arguments that shook his worldview, Matthew responded with a slew of irrational accusations.
I admit that option 1 could be the right answer. But if it's not, then Matthew has unintentionally provided me with an abundance of useful information about his own self-concept, the beliefs upon which that self-concept is based, and arguments that effectively undermine those beliefs.

Happily, both hypotheses are testable.

All I need to do is present data that refute Matthew's beliefs in ways that challenge his identity. If my analysis is correct, cognitive dissonance will prompt him to respond with irrational rhetoric that simply ignores my hard evidence.

Evidence such as his only book's Amazon rank of #509,455 Paid in Kindle Store:

Compared with my lowest selling book:

Again, I could be wrong. Perhaps Matthew has correctly predicted the future of SF publishing. History isn't linear, and current trends aren't always reliable indicators of future performance.

But if you hope to become a successful author, it stands to reason that objectively considering books that are currently pleasing readers might help you build your own audience.

I can honestly say that I learned a lot from reading books by John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, and George R. R. Martin (and I had a good time in the process). Besides adding more tools to your writer toolbox, reading works by people with whom you disagree deepens your understanding of your own position.

Update from Hugo winner Mike Glyer at Rabid Puppies 2 nominee for Best Fanzine File 770:
(12) SETTING AN EXAMPLE. Here is Brian Niemeier’s tweet, inviting people to read his post criticizing Matthew Foster for using ad hominem attacks.

My comment: See "Personal Attack" in the list of cognitive dissonance tells above. The response isn't surprising, but the point of origin is. Since I expected Matthew Foster to prove my hypothesis first, I may need to work on my aim.

Follow me on Twitter: @BrianNiemeier


  1. Brian, I don't agree with you or Flynn in the slightest about why this has come about. There has been a media diaspora of SFF from very early on. The 1929-36 timeframe shows SFF pulps, radio shows, movies and comic strips with a persistent stubborn core of "connoisseurs" concentrated in the magazines. Generally speaking, that core magazine group and the "mainstream" ignored the other; the mainstream would take from but rarely adapt original SF magazine stories. Mainstream SFF drew from that core genre while transforming it into vehicles more palatable to the general public from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon to the Universal films to the '50s monster craze to The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Star Trek, Lost in Space and finally that event which eventually overwhelmed the core genre - Star Wars.

    For the first time in the genre's history we started to see stories influenced by film and TV rather than other stories. The old core had an open disgust for Black Lagoons and Dr. Who. A. E. Van Vogt's "The Weapon Shop" from 1942 is still more sophisticated than the vast majority of SFF film and TV even to the present day. No one would have even considered adapting "The Weapon Shop" at the time. The first truly nuanced screenplay adaptation of Frank Herbert - the Sci-Fi Channel's 2003 mini-series Children of Dune - wasn't filmable for over 40 years after Dune saw its first magazine publication. The reason for that wasn't just special effects; no screenwriter or public existed prior to that time which could meet such complex material halfway. The entrance of or opposition to mainstream conformity is another issue.

    MMF tells you himself what's truly going on when he uses the phrase "diverse stories" and then writes "ushering in change in order to help people." That is the single persistent pattern you see from "SJWs" who are the driver behind all this; it is nothing more than a conspiracy theory concocted out of nothing by what "SJWs" really are - irrational, hateful and paranoid Third Wave Feminists driving naive do-gooders before them with semi-plausible yet bizarre Orwellian rhetoric about "not publishing..." they've perfected over a period of 50 years. The straight white male is the Devil and it's no more complicated than that.

    The con is simple: straight white males - being racist, sexist, homophobes - resisted "diversity" in SFF (even while suppressing Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany by publishing their SF when they were 22 and 20, and Delany getting Nebulas at 24 and 25, Russ at 35).

    "sci-fi and fantasy have always been a very white, very straight, very heteronormative, male political project. A very colonial project... . By not publishing black authors, by not publishing books about black people, that’s become the message by default. Whiteness being the default has been the message." - Daniel Jose Older

    That of course leads to the cure... "diversity," affirmative action and "helping people."

    "Dandy McFopperson ‏@rosefox @jsuttonmorse @djolder Dark Matter, Afrofuturism, Women Destroy Science Fiction!, Apex Book of World SF vols. 1 and 2..."

    "Diverse" and "help people" has the same Orwellian stink about it all Grand Dragons do. There has never been any tacitly agreed upon institutionally bigoted push to "not publish" anyone. You can't publish people who don't exist. I can't concoct a black NHL all-star team no matter how many stars I wish on or intersectional feminist Klan rallies I hold on Twitter.

    1. There's every possibility that you're right about the root cause of SF's media diaspora. Your tireless cataloging of the other side's bigotry certainly provides an orgy of evidence.

      And you'll get no argument from me against the plain fact that folks like Foster and Older insist on playing ball with ever shifting strike zones for us but no strike zone for them.

  2. Here's "Cat" at 770 telling how MMF's views are the more accurate:

    "... the fans drawn in by (new) media are precisely the younger ones more friendly to the social justice the Pups hate... Pups believe women and minorities are winning too many awards, and that the presence of themes that interest us make works of fiction boring."

    The more honest translation of that is the Pups rightly see the "social justice" movement in SFF as a KKK based on concocted and pointed lies which demonize men, whites and heterosexuals as an entire group, don't like being discriminated in talent contests because of their race and sex, and find stories which place mommy two-daddies and race ahead of story boring.

    Notice how "SJWs" always present themselves first and foremost as anti-group defamation but have no binding definition of that which would rise to the level of equal protection. In other words their "social justice" is a scam. The truth is they never have quote marks they can put around their lies and they serially lie about the content of old-school SFF.

    Look at the quarter century 1938-63 cluster of 44 of the 48 stories in the 3 vol. Hall of Fame. Then look at the quarter century 1991-2015 cluster of the Tiptree Awards nominees which are in essence the very affirmative action/gender literature SJWs are now pushing in the Nebulas and Hugos. That latter worthless pool of stories is exactly what SJWs have done to any aspect of SFF they influence, and it is a flat out destruction of genre. It is not a question of "not liking" women winning Tiptrees but of how worthless their stories are combined with the odds of me winning a Tiptree. Since WisCon doesn't lie about their priorities no one cares about those odds. But shift it onto the Nebulas and Hugos and people are going to fight back against these incredible liars.

    1. "Notice how 'SJWs' always present themselves first and foremost as anti-group defamation but have no binding definition of that which would rise to the level of equal protection."

      They make not noticing difficult to say the least.

      And the fact that they only ever respond with group or personal defamation proves that our efforts are effective.

  3. I think the fact that there even -is- a Sad Puppies is proof enough that people are tired of the same old bullshit.

    It is therefore not surprising that the guys who write and publish the same old bullshit are having a collective hernia. This is money to them.

    1. Grassroots consumer revolts don't happen for no reason. Just ask GamerGate.