The problem with absolutes

Yesterday, I really wanted to avoid politics, controversy, and just about anything that would get my blood pressure up. Yesterday was, to me, a day of contemplation and remembrance. Like most Americans old enough to remember the events 15 years ago, I know exactly what I was doing when I first heard about a plane flying into one of the Twin Towers. I remember watching in disbelief as the second tower was hit. Then wondering, as the Pentagon was hit and the heroes of Flight 93 took their jet down in a filed outside of Shanksville, if the world had gone mad. I stood in line with so many others later that day, doing the only thing I could do: donating blood.

So, I planned to think about those men and women who sacrificed so much that day — as well as those men and women who stepped up and willingly served this country to protect it in the days since then — yesterday. Instead, I got pulled into a discussion (and I use that term loosely) because I had been tagged in a Facebook post.

Now, most times I don’t respond when I’m tagged on FB unless there is a specific need to. Social media is a time sink that can do terrible things to productivity. But this time, I’d been tagged to look at an article about something I care about and, because I’ve had a good online relationship with the person who tagged me, I decided to read the article and respond.

And that lead to my consideration about how, when we deal in absolutes, we tend to diminish our own arguments, whether we mean to or not.

I’ll admit, the first thing that had me looking askance at the article was in one of the opening paragraphs when the author stated that the Sad and Rabid Puppies had “hijacked” the Hugos. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen that particular word used but, on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it seemed a very poorly considered word choice. It also isn’t correct. But that’s not the purpose of this post.

What struck me throughout the conversation with the article’s author, and in viewing his conversations with others he had tagged, is how he chose a side, dealt in absolutes and refused to budge on some things. Even when he had to admit the Sad Puppies had done nothing against the rules, he clung to his belief they had “hijacked” the Hugos. His only reason, as far as I can tell, is because he didn’t like how it was done. He also clung to the assertion that those who supported the Sad Puppies should have publicly disavowed Vox Day. Why? Because Vox is evil (okay, I’m stretching it here but there are those who do say just that.)

But here is my question. Why should anyone be forced to disavow anyone else on a personal level when that person is not really involved in the crux of the matter being discussed? Vox has been made a lightning rod for those opposed to Puppies of all ilks. Vox as the person, not as the author and not as the publisher. His personal beliefs have been attached to both Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies and for two years or more, Sad Puppy supporters have been told the only way the other side will even consider looking at our work for the esteemed (by them) Hugo is if we personally and publicly disavow Vox.

That was an assertion put forth by this person who tagged me yesterday. Sads should “do the right thing” and tell the world how evil Vox is. Sorry, but that is a red herring in the entire Sad Puppy question. By making it an absolute that we have to do it to show we want to “do the right thing” is to hold us to a standard the other side isn’t willing to hold itself to.

When Irene Gallo called all Sad Puppies Nazis and misogynists, people rallied around her, citing her right to free speech. When someone — and I can’t remember who right now — accused Brad Torgersen of marrying his wife, who is African-American, simply to hide his prejudice (to act as a beard, if you will), there were few voices from that side saying the person had gone too far. When Sad Puppies put forth a list of recommended titles for the Hugos, it was called too white and too male even though there were women, people of color and gays on the list.

So, when someone tags me in a post and basically demands we admit these absolutes occurred and demands we “do the right thing” without, in the same article, requiring the same thing from the other side, I tend to dig my heels in and try to defend my position. That’s hard when the other side doesn’t want to discuss it. When they say, I did my research and I’m sticking with my choice of “hijack” and you need to condemn Vox, there is no discussion. There is only an absolute — the OP’s.

And that is sad. I love a good debate. I love to discuss. But when the discussion is one sided only, that isn’t a discussion. When someone says, “you have a point but it’s not going to change my mind”, that’s not discussion.

Here’s the thing. When you talk in absolutes, you are refusing to admit there are exceptions — and there are always exceptions. Too often, the absolute you point out is actually how the minority of a group act or think. So, by claiming it to be absolute, you dismiss how any number of people think. That’s not good in a writer of any sort, be it a blogger, a FBer or a novelist.

I’ll even admit I got a bit hotter under the collar about the discussion that I should have and that was because of what yesterday was and the OP’s conscious decision to use the term “hijack” and his refusal to even admit it might not have been the best choice of words considering the day.

So here’s the challenge we all face from time to time. It is easy to fall into the challenge of absolutes. We need to recognize it and be prepared to defend that stance when we take it. Defend it not with rhetoric but with facts. If you can’t do that — and if you aren’t prepared to show your hand when you say you have the facts to back you up — then maybe you need to reconsider your stance. This is true whether you are talking politics, economics, religion or — gasp — publishing.


  1. Ritual denunciations are part of all totalitarian regimes. Denounce or die. (And all too often: denounce AND die, quietly, off stage, because they can’t afford you recanting.)

    My response to all demands for ritual denunciations is a two word answer. I’m not sure if the second word is “off” or “you”, but I know what the first word is.

  2. “Obi-Wan Kenobi: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

    Lefties seem to love the above line but “deal in absolutes” concerning their opponents. 🙁

    1. The problem is, there is a faction of our side that does the same. (See some of the rhetoric coming from the Rabids and even some of the more rabid Sads.) However, I will admit, it is difficult not to deal with absolutes when the other side is constantly maligning you with words like “Nazi”, “Misogynist”, etc.

  3. An absolute attack, sadly, can often only be blocked by an absolute defense. If your attacker knows no bounds and will fight on every front, you have to respond on every front. That tends to drag you down to their level.

  4. No argument there. 🙁

    On the other hand, I’m “told” that it’s wrong to believe in “absolutes” in terms of morality yet the Lefties also deal in “absolutes” in terms of “these are the Proper Beliefs/Positions”. 🙁

  5. I was dealing with a similar fellow in the last few days, although his preferred metaphor was to call the SP effort a “Bank Robbery.” When I asked what Hugo Bylaw they broke, he didn’t reply, but persisted with the accusation on another sub-thread.

  6. For the record, unless I’m misremembering (entirely possible, my memory could give black holes pointers on how to suck 😛 ) the guy accusing Brad of using his wife as a shield is Arthur Chu, who prior to going full potato as an SJ Wanker had as his main claim to fame having some bit of success on the game show “Jeopardy”.

    As for “discussion”, not surprising. Just like “compromise” nowadays is treated by the hard left or sympathizers for same as “you give me what I want, and I may consider giving you some small token further down the line”, “dialogue” (or occasionally “conversation”) is now used by them as a shorthand for “I want to harass and harangue you, and you’re not allowed to say anything against it”.

    1. Yep. The problem is, most of us have figured out what their game is and no longer wish to play. What they have failed to realize is that you can only beat the dog so many times before he turns on you. I honestly believe a lot of them have yet to understand that is exactly what is happening right now. We are tired of being beaten because we aren’t the right sort of fans or we don’t write the right sort of books. Who cares? Let the readers decide what is right and what isn’t.

  7. If one wanted to give Chu’s comment a charitable interpretation, one might argue that he meant Torgersen had used his wife as a cover in that moment, not that he’d married her for that purpose.

    But I see no reason to be charitable to Chu.

    1. When he decides to show charity to us, I’ll show charity to him. I only have so many cheeks to turn and they long ago were turned and slapped. They don’t get to repeat.

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