How do we explain the nonstandard nerd?

I spent parts of the the last couple of days reading the archives of the very thought-provoking blog Slate Star Codex. Two posts on it, Untitled and Why No Science Of Nerds? have reawakened my interest in the question of what exactly we mean when we describe someone as a “nerd” or a “geek”.

I’ve been applying the techniques of anthropological fieldwork to hackers and various allied subcultures such as SF fandom for more than a quarter century now. I think I can fairly claim to know a geek or nerd when I meet one. I’ve written before about Geeks, hackers, nerds, and crackers: on language boundaries. Yet what Slate Star Codex reminds me of is that all we have to explain about why this population and its cluster of linked subcultures exists is a cloud of not-very-well-confirmed folk theory.
free photo editor
Which is maybe a problem, because geeks and nerds matter. Modern civilization couldn’t function without them – its tech infrastructure would collapse. Might be nice if we could optimize these people – help them be happier and more productive.

Slate Star Codex buys into popular descriptions of nerds:

“Nerds” seem to share a bunch of seemingly uncorrelated characteristics. They’re generally smart. They’re interested in things like math and science, especially the hard sciences like physics. They’re shy and awkward. They’re some combination of bad at getting social status and not interested in getting social status. They’re especially bad at getting other people to show romantic interest in them. They’re physically unimposing and bad at sports. They don’t get in physical fights and are very unlikely to solve problems with violence. They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess.

I pointed out in an email reply that the following characteristics could be added: “attracted to logic puzzles and strategy games”, “hypercorrect grammar”, “apt to squirrel away huge amounts of both general and specialized knowledge” Unstated but obvious is that the type swarms around computers.

So far so good. I think everyone, nerd and non-nerd alike, can recognize the type we’re pointing at here. And there’s a widely-held folk theory to explain it, which is that the nerd population is a herd of borderline Asperger’s Syndrome or autism cases. I’m going to label this the “standard nerd profile”.

Slate Star Codex plays with this theory, also with the notion that nerds might be distinguished by low testosterone level, or implicitly a combination of low testosterone and high IQ. In this model, sufficiently bright beta males invest heavily in geeky traits because they can’t cut it at “normal” monkey status competitions against hormonal alphas.

It was at this point that I found myself pulling up and thinking “Hey, wait a minute. What about me?”

Any definition of “nerd” or “geek” that doesn’t include me is, to say the least, socially dubious – if we were to propose one nobody in the the non-geek population who’d met me for five minutes would buy it. But there are important ways in which I fail to fit the standard nerd profile.

To start with the obvious: I’m a voluble extrovert with enough bulk muscle to be pretty noticeable. If you suggested “low-testosterone” in my wife’s presence her mocking laughter would chase you into the next county. I always did pretty well at attracting interest from women, and though I’m not very interested in social status I find it ridiculously easy to acquire when and to the extent I need it. Nor do I psychometrically resemble an Aspie at all.

The obvious next question is “Why is this interesting?” “ESR” as an isolated data point is a bit awkward for the folk theory of nerdity, but if you sample enough human variation you’ll find almost any kind of outlier or exception to such classification rules. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate them. You could construct a narrative in which I’m a sort of pseudo-nerd conditioned into those social habits by the accident of growing up with cerebral palsy.

But there are more like me for which CP can’t be an explanation, and I know where to find them. I have been assured by multiple sources with ties to the culture of U.S. military special operations troops that they collect entire sets of muscular nerds with trait profiles a lot like mine. I have no regular contact with those, but I know where to find civilian analogs: they’re a noticeable minority at the better grade of martial-arts school.

Any generative theory of nerdity, therefore, has to explain both the traits of conventional “weedy” nerds a la Slate Star Codex and the smaller cohort of muscular nerd alphas. And there’s a third cohort needing explanation: nerdgirls!

I quizzed my wife Cathy and A&D regular HedgeMage about this, asking them to speak anthropologically about both their own experiences and how they model the ways nerdgirls in general differ from the standard nerd profile. A few interesting patterns emerged.

Both report that the sexual-isolation thing reverses for women. This makes sense; women willing to sleep with nerdy men are relatively scarce (though much less so than when I was growing up), so they get a buffet whether they’re conventionally attractive or not.

Like male nerds, female nerds are bored by or uncomprehending of normal status games. But while athletics intensifies male status competition, it’s an escape from normal female status games; thus, nerd girls are rather more likely to seek out athletics than nerd guys. (Though martial arts seems to be the same kind of exception it is among male nerds – that is, even nerd girls who don’t self-define as athletic are quite likely to gravitate to it.)

Once you accept the reality of muscular nerds and nerdgirls the standard nerd profile seems pretty seriously challenged. It looks overspecified; if it actually describes what a philosopher would describe as a “natural kind” then we’ve identified at least two other “natural kinds” that tend to socially identify with and be identified as nerds. There might be other such natural kinds.

I think the pattern emerging here is of two drivers: high intelligence and reduced interest in monkey politics and status games. The thing is that “reduced interest” can have many causes. You might be a borderline Aspie/autist who is partway out of the game through inability to read the signals (that’s your standard nerd profile). Or you might be a natural sigma/alpha type who knows what the other monkeys are thinking but has little need to interact with them on other than his own terms (the muscular nerd).

I admit that I’m less clear where the nerdgirls fit in this model. We have a few among the blog regulars; perhaps they’ll chime in.

317 thoughts on “How do we explain the nonstandard nerd?

  1. The categories are vague and hard data non-existent. It’s fun to play around and tell stories, but I think it difficult to come to any conclusions.

    • >The categories are vague and hard data non-existent. It’s fun to play around and tell stories, but I think it difficult to come to any conclusions.

      Sure. But maybe we could generate a testable hypothesis?

  2. This denigrates both hard science and soft science simultaneously, which is not an easy thing to do.

    Please stop talking as an “anthropologist.” You trivialize something you have not actually done. Observation and participation must be quantified in order to make it anything more than opinion.

    Where is the statistical data?

    That said, there is a deep question buried here. A more rigorous investigation would benefit humanity. Appropriate data would cast more clear light on the question, in which case I see a call to arms, a call that, sadly, humanity needs…

    • >Please stop talking as an “anthropologist.” You trivialize something you have not actually done. Observation and participation must be quantified in order to make it anything more than opinion.

      While I have some sympathy for this criticism, and maybe there ought to be more quantification in cultural anthropology, you’re trying to hold me to a standard that “real” practitioners seldom meet. Narrative ethnography still has its place.

  3. What role would a hard-wired preference for truth over fakery play?

    This seems to be common in the “nerd” cluster, though it can be expressed differently. Disdain for social conventions that seem dishonest or hypocritical, or obsession with gnostic conspiracy theories in search of The Truth, or bold forthrightness in the face of opposition, etc.

  4. Nerd girl chiming in! I’m of the same view as Chuck for now. I really loathe the increasingly common characterization that

    the nerd population is a herd of borderline Asperger’s Syndrome or autism cases.

    I don’t believe in Asperger’s Syndrome. I think it is a way to convince bright, not-too-socially-apt people that they have a pathological psychiatric condition, now codified by inclusion in the DSM-V. Who is the sinister party behind it? Shrug… I don’t know.

    There are bright, curious, often multiple degree holding women in applied science or tech fields who are feminine, like dating, dancing, want to get married but also have amateur radio licences and spend too much time on StackOverflow. Many, but not all, are in academia or the military, it seems. Again, this is merely speculation, just as Chuck cautioned about.

    It isn’t like we have pick of the litter either, as ESR conjectured (no offense intended in any way). It is awkward to be the only woman in a group. Well, not awkward necessarily, but gender tends to become invisible. That is good for working relationships of course. The most socially comfortable settings, even among the nerds, have men and women; equal proportions are not necessary.

    • >I don’t believe in Asperger’s Syndrome. I think it is a way to convince bright, not-too-socially-apt people that they have a pathological psychiatric condition, now codified by inclusion in the DSM-V.

      I hear you. And I’m sympathetic to the argument that we now over-medicalize what used to be treated as normal personality variations. Your skepticism about Asperger’s pairs nicely with mine about ADHD and “hyperactivity”.

      But for purposes of analyzing the standard nerd profile (and exceptions to it) I don’t think it’s actually relevant whether you treat the “Aspie” trait cluster as a disease or not. What matters more is the actually effects of the cluster and how correlated the traits are.

  5. My theory is when they finally sort out the genetics of Asperger’s / autism, they’re going to establish it’s a bunch of overlapping genes, and some of those will be incredibly common in nerds / geeks.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I’m somewhere between your “standard nerd” and “muscular nerd” — somewhat introverted and bad at knowing what the other monkeys are thinking, but large and (when in shape) muscular. Started at offensive tackle every football game junior and senior (HS) years, lettered in two other sports plus band and quiz bowl. :)

  6. “Narrative anthropology” is nothing more than crypto-marxism.

    I do not hold you to that standard. I call for you to abandon the “anthropological narrative.”

    Let’s talk data. The question is a valid one, for which we do not have data and for which no one is seeking data scientifically. Hence, my call to arms.

    You hit directly on an important question, one that shakes the foundations of civilization. How do we falsify this hypothesis?

    • >How do we falsify this hypothesis?

      I don’t we have anything solid enough to qualify as a testable hypothesis yet. If you do, please state it.

  7. No solid idea what these terms – nerd/geek – really mean. I see how they are sloppily applied. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. If a person needs a label to feel comfortable in their barrel of monkeys, something’s adrift.

    FFS, now we’ve got nerd/geek chic as a ‘thing’ … just wear reading glasses, use some styling paste to give yourself ever-so-totally-not-intentional oblivious bedhead, and play some shitty video games. They’re as comically fake as ‘lumbersexuals’. Pantomime people.

    Whatever happened to just being yourself and fuck the rest?

    • >Whatever happened to just being yourself and fuck the rest?

      Oh, good. I knew I count on you to say something almost exactly like that.

      I find it an admirably geeky attitude.

      :-)

  8. Oops, My Asperger’s-as-myth suggestion was not Chuck’s idea; only blame me for that. I had meant to agree with Chuck’s general sentiments, then forgot to hit carriage return. I’m sorry :|

    Mastiff, I just visited your website, Critical Mastiff. I like your blogroll, very much! Good choices! Iowa Hawk is fun. It is similar to Legal Insurrection. Also, I believe that you found a characteristic common to nerds of all ages and genders, “Disdain for social conventions that seem dishonest or hypocritical”. I don’t think it is less valid due to lack of evidence-based, sociologist-approved data analysis or other quantification. Their track record isn’t so hot.

  9. “Disdain for social conventions that seem dishonest or hypocritical”

    I can ride that wave, maybe harmonizing it with “disdain for practices that are satisfactory, rather than elegant/beautiful”

    • >I can ride that wave, maybe harmonizing it with “disdain for practices that are satisfactory, rather than elegant/beautiful”

      Possibly both the disdain for fakery and this are both rooted in something like a visceral dislike of suboptimality and deadweight losses.

  10. …I find it an admirably geeky attitude….

    I guess I’ve just never really understood this drive some people have to self-identify as a geek/nerd/hacker….whatever label they choose to prize.

    Is there an aspect of vanity to it? Amour propre? If so, wouldn’t this pollute an attempt to discern some hard definition of such labels?

    • >Is there an aspect of vanity to it? Amour propre?

      In some cases I think there is. But I think the relieved feeling of “I’m not alone! Finally a tribe I can identify with!” is more important.

  11. A question (as usual :P):

    1. I fit SSC’s description of nerds, and your additions to it, rather nicely… except that I suck at the hard sciences and am not particularly good at logic puzzles or strategy games. However, I do like reading popular science and have been in love with strategy games since I was nine (courtesy of Civilization II ;D). At my current age (twenty-six), is it possible to get better at those things? Or is this a case of “You either have what it takes or you don’t”?

  12. Human social circles tend to exhibit a fractal structure – within each sub-group is another similar but subtly distinct sub-group, until you get down to the differences between individuals. Something like the label ‘nerd|geek’ is much to broad to apply this narrowly – there are as many definitions of these terms as there are people willing to self identify with the label. If you try to come up with an accurate definition or classification, what you came up with would depend on the tapestry of social structures you happen to be familiar with – which is still far fewer than exist -guaranteeing that people’s mental pictures will vary. Which is why trying to find a definition just leads to counter examples, as in esr’s case. I know quite a few folks that self identify as nerds and/or geeks who break the “They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess” rule.

    • >I know quite a few folks that self identify as nerds and/or geeks who break the “They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess” rule.

      This was actually an objection commenters on SSC raised. I’ve been waiting to see if anyone would comment on it here.

      Data point: I do in fact fit the “straightedge” trait.

  13. …Possibly both the disdain for fakery and this are both rooted in something like a visceral dislike of suboptimality and deadweight losses…

    *nod* … that does seem like a promising abstraction.

  14. >How do we falsify this hypothesis?

    >>I don’t we have anything solid enough to qualify as a testable hypothesis yet. If you do, please state it.

    Opinions for all, nothing for anyone!!!

    Sounds like, sounds like, teen-spirit.

  15. I read this aloud to my wife and asked her feedback. She said one trait she and her nerdgirl friends share which you do not mention is “finding smart to be sexy”. IE, they can see all the eyecandy they want at the beach or movies — but wants to come home to someone who has intelligent things to say and will not be threatened by their own intelligence.

    • >She said one trait she and her nerdgirl friends share which you do not mention is “finding smart to be sexy”.

      Nerd guys feel this way too. Every one of them I’ve ever met, anyway.

      This is not to say that J. Random Nerd would necessarily turn down sex with a woman who’s gorgeous but dimwitted, but there couldn’t be any continuing relationship.

  16. @Dan:

    > Whatever happened to just being yourself and fuck the rest?

    This is it. But the true alphas, who started out not giving a damn, and the true (what? Omegas?) who tried to give a damn but gave up when they could never get it right no matter what, have a leg up over those in the middle who actually notice a difference in the way others treat them based on changes in their own actions. The ones in the middle have to fake not giving a damn, and many of them don’t do it very well.

    > I guess I’ve just never really understood this drive some people have to self-identify as a geek/nerd/hacker

    For the ones faking it, they’re probably trying to fit in. For the others, it’s perhaps a convenient shorthand explanation of why they don’t fit in.

    @esr:

    > Your skepticism about Asperger’s pairs nicely with mine about ADHD and “hyperactivity”.

    Interestingly, I self-diagnosed my own ADHD and went and got a confirming diagnosis just a couple of months ago. The DSM, even the latest one, is crap, because a lot of the diagnostic criteria have to do with people who seek out help because they are failing badly at life.

    Researching it was interesting, because a lot of the described feelings and experiences resonated, but a lot didn’t. One of the reasons for this is that it turns out that I self-implemented a lot of recommended coping strategies.

    Anyway, the best description I found for someone trying to figure out if they match the template is here:

    http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/10117.html

    And here is a humorous layman’s interpretation of the same information:

    http://www.additudemag.com/adhdblogs/21/10648.html

    Although the popular notion of the stereotypical nerd is on the autism spectrum, I think it’s much more likely that most of them are actually somewhere on the ADHD spectrum. Or maybe that’s just me.

    • >Interestingly, I self-diagnosed my own ADHD and went and got a confirming diagnosis just a couple of months ago.

      Cited article says “ADHD is not a damaged or defective nervous system. It is a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules.” That rather makes the skeptical point for me, I think.

      >I self-implemented a lot of recommended coping strategies.

      Can you be specific about those? I ask because on tests for ADHD traits I score just barely subclinical. It would be interesting to know if I’m self-implementing the same coping strategies you are.

  17. >At my current age (twenty-six), is it possible to get better at those things? Or is this a case of “You either have what it takes or you don’t”?

    The drive for self improvement, to fail better, IMO is more central than is talent. The key for me is not caring and just doing the things because they’re fun. The world is full of problems both easy and hard, and there are more problems than people. So if you like solving problems, I think you’re fine

  18. One other thing. I don’t have a cite handy, but my research indicated that there may be reason to believe that, from a biological/anthropological perspective, ADHDers are cut out to be hunters, and neurotypicals are cut out to do the same repetitive tasks day after day.

    I think this may also have some bearing on your open source theory/evolutionary psychology hypothesis. Hunters sometimes hunt alone; sometimes in cooperation. But the type of cooperation required in hunting (or warfare) differs markedly from the type of cooperation required in sewing a quilt.

    And from a corporate standpoint, someone who is tasked with writing some software might be the kind of person to just write it, or might be the kind of person to go try to hunt it down (and to collaborate in wrestling it to the ground, if necessary).

  19. There’s one descriptor left off the list, in my opinion a crucial one: We obsess over particular field of knowledge. Obscure things—if the field is too popular (baseball stats, e.g.) this is mere fandom—and many of us move from one interest to another over time; but it’s obsession while it lasts, not just interest.

  20. There is no one who knows me who would doubt my “geekiness”. I’ve been fascinated by Tech and Computers since the I first had access to them, I have a rather broad bas of knowledge. I’ve got a 20 year (so far) career in the IT field with a degree in Fine Art, and interact with more people over the internet than I do IRL. Heck, I’ve known what IRL stands for since the mid-90s.

    Social cues were always tough for me until I learned to “fake it in software”, but even now when tired or particularly stressed I can be REALLY oblivious.

    There’s still (in my mid-40s) a lot I don’t get about social interaction. I have no input filters, and only learned the output filters over the last decade and a half.

    The whole low-T thing is boolshit.

    I also know that my Testosterone level was about 2 years ago, without *any* attempt to move the needle–the test was taken about 6 or 7 months after spine surgery before I’d started lifting again– it was barely in the upper half of the “normal” range for a male my age. I would like it higher, but I wanted the test “clean”. I’ll get it again hopefully in May or June (if I can get hired on soon and get health care).

    I was the second geekiest person in my Marine Corps squadron, the first having (in 1987, on a E-3 salary) his own computer that he built himself. I just “ran” the one for my unit (a Compaq).

    In boot camp I missed a “perfect” PFT score by about 10 points (on a 300 scale). I got the 20 pullups and 80 situps in 2 minutes, but was only able to run a 19:40 three mile run (this would have been a sub-20 minute 5K for the runners in the crowd). I beat that run time once, barely, but was trying really hard not to throw up and my back was in spasms (I was running in Chuck Taylor hightops. Marine–Muscles Are Required Intelligence Not Expected. I wasn’t intending to run that fast that day, but there was this SSGT, and I decided he would not beat me.)

    So no, low-T is not a *cause* of nerddom, it might be a *consequence* of the lifestyle, particularly if you’re an academically oriented Nerd Boy like either of the Scott’s involved in this, or others around them. That, fortunately is something my father inoculated me against (almost accidentally), along with his insistence that I look him in the eye when I spoke to him.

    Although apparently he couldn’t tell the difference between me looking him in the nose and looking him in the eye.

    • >The whole low-T thing is boolshit.

      Aaand William O. B’Livion checks in, saying exactly what I expected he’d say. :-)

      Not that I think you’re wrong. I had you pegged in advance as one of the muscular-nerd A&D regulars most likely to respond to that.

  21. @igz22:

    I know quite a few folks that self identify as nerds and/or geeks who break the “They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess” rule.

    To address this, and perhaps further address Dan’s question about self-identification — yes, as esr agrees, there could be an aspect of vanity to it for some. In point of fact, most non-straightedge folks I know who self-identify as nerds/geeks, aren’t — at least in my opinion. In some cases, it’s just Dunning-Kreuger in action.

    Especially for nerds of my age, who were nerdly before it was popular, the self-identification is usually just an acknowledgement of how others perceive them.

    • >In point of fact, most non-straightedge folks I know who self-identify as nerds/geeks, aren’t — at least in my opinion. In some cases, it’s just Dunning-Kreuger in action.

      Interesting. You imply that this is a fairly reliable way to spot posers. That seems plausible to me.

  22. High intelligence period. But that is what causes the other effects. Normal people react emotionally slightly faster than rationally. They know how they feel before they know what they think.

    The nerd reverses this. Emotion occurs after reason, if at all. Content-less banter (including many insults and compliments) simply aren’t processed.

    “Shy and awkward” – these apply only in the same sense some adult might not like the company of small children in that a conversation with them requires a lot of work to match the slower baud rate. Nerds know they provoke reactions, but just don’t want to be bothered. (Also note, “introverted” is more accurate than “shy”). As to the physical, that simply depends on what they desire. If they go into Yoga, they will be able to tie themselves into knots. If they go for strength, they will be more than physically imposing. If they go for endurance, they will end up doing triathlons at a minimum. But if they don’t care, they won’t bother. (Note that one of the iOS jailbreakers is “MuscleNerd”, whose picture explains it).

    Given the caffeine and beer consumption (or worse, oenophilia), I’m not sure temperance is a common virtue.

    The “physical violence” is merely part of their calculation. Normally they can’t win on such a battlefield so don’t play. Violence as such rarely solves problems.

    And the final tendency – to bend or break the rules – some rules don’t really exist. That negates most kinds of conformity.

    But also remember the USA was founded originally by the non-conformists in England coming over here because they couldn’t do what they desired over there.

  23. I don’t believe in Asperger’s Syndrome. I think it is a way to convince bright, not-too-socially-apt people that they have a pathological psychiatric condition, now codified by inclusion in the DSM-V. Who is the sinister party behind it? Shrug… I don’t know.

    Aspergers has been a standard diagnosis since the late 80s, and has some definite physical components that tend to steer people away from traditional sports (I was always good at swimming and moderate at long distance running, but crap at anything that required kinesthetic awareness and/or fine motor control. I’m still crap at precision shooting (well, crap is relative, I was Marine after all)). It’s fairly clear that there is *something* there.

    The problem with the Aspergers end of the Autism Spectrum is that it hinges on interpretations of actions by parties who know that a positive diagnosis will mean additional resources to “help” the child, not on any sort of objective test. Same with ADHD.

    If I had to make up numbers on the spot I’d say that 10 to 30 percent of the cases were pure bullshit, and another 10 to 30 were pretty clearly a problem, and a fuzzy middle ground that depended purely on where you drew the line.

  24. > Not that I think you’re wrong. I had you pegged in advance as one of the muscular-nerd
    > A&D regulars most likely to respond to that.

    Geek, please. I’ve got 2 daughters :)

    • >Geek, please. I’ve got 2 daughters :)

      Heh. Fair enough. I use that distinction myself, but in this post I was conforming to SSC’s terminology.

  25. The “straitedge” comes from the particular logic that results in the internal morality for the Nerd”. Some go vegetarian or vegan. Personally, I drink a lot, moreso since I’ve found low-carb beer, but I’m waiting until marriage for sex (Traditional Roman Catholic). But others don’t drink, yet are promiscuous.

    ADHD? The problem is if you can process much more information per second, your attention will wander when you aren’t in “flow” or otherwise focused, and trying to pay attention to someone. I do most podcasts, audiobooks, or “kindle read to me” at 1.5x minimum, usually 2x. While driving, walking, working some physical puzzle, or something else. “I would give you my full attention, but you only seem capable of using 20% of it”. 4 voice Bach counterpoint gets my attention, at least if it is clear enough to hear all four melodies and harmonies.

    We also are not monkeys, or to the extent that we are returning to that, it is a bad thing. Apparently genetics and the bell curve make nerdettes far more rare than nerds. The “patriarchy” was based on reason – girls liked alphas, even if they weren’t reliable, good providers, or even abusive. Men liked “10”s, not women who would make good wives and mothers. Parents were less emotional about the choice of spouse. And there are four loves (see CS Lewis). There is a love from the will, and a love from the reason. And there’s a love from something lower, Eros. If you decide to love someone via will or reason, Eros can follow. But if you start with Eros, it is unlikely to go beyond.

  26. To combine the two points: Nerds care deeply about things to the point of obsessively learning about them, and can not or will not care that these are so obscure “nobody else” cares about them.

  27. @Sol on 2015-01-05 at 20:16:15 said:

    My theory is when they finally sort out the genetics of Asperger’s / autism, they’re going to establish it’s a bunch of overlapping genes, and some of those will be incredibly common in nerds / geeks.

    …offensive tackle…

    Aren’t most of them? I mean, I’ve never seen a *polite* one. Even the British tackles are pretty rude.

    (Can you have any definition of geek/nerd that doesn’t include puns?)

  28. To combine the two points: Nerds care deeply about things to the point of obsessively learning about them, and can not or will not care that these are so obscure “nobody else” cares about them.

    I believe (which means no evidence) that Geeks are extremely curious about the world around them, how & why it works.

    How many Geeks do you know who are complete dunderheads outside of their main field? Most of them I know–real geeks, not just guys who’d rather sit home and play playstation games all night–might not be experts in more than one or two fields, but you put them in a room with a legitimate expert or two, and they can ask the sort of questions that are a bit deeper than surface. And they can usually do it across a dozen fields.

    • >Most of them I know–real geeks, not just guys who’d rather sit home and play playstation games all night–might not be experts in more than one or two fields, but you put them in a room with a legitimate expert or two, and they can ask the sort of questions that are a bit deeper than surface. And they can usually do it across a dozen fields.

      Agreed, but there are serious conceptual pitfalls in interpreting this observation.

      There’s a case that this isn’t geek-specific but just the way people with high IQs are. Then there’s the case that there might not be a natural kind “geek” separable from having a high IQ.

      I’m not arguing for or against either position right now, simply pointing out that there’s a category problem lurking.

  29. One thing I think that factors into nerdiness is how it relates to coming of age experiences. I was much much “nerdier” in Junior High and High School than in college or afterward. A very common nerd story is being unpopular and awkward at that time. However this speaks back to the idea of getting hard numbers on this because I think everyone struggles with adolescence.

    But I am a teetotaler and do agree with that context, and also the desire for systems (including social/political) to actually make sense. But that leads me to something that hasn’t been mentioned yet. I think another trait that many nerds share in this vein is a general leaning towards libertarianism.

    Then to segue off of that, I think the hardcore left is literally scared out of its mind that libertarianism is gaining traction and have gone on a hardcore attack on “nerds” because they are the easiest libertarian target out there. They are right to be afraid because IMHO socially liberal/fiscally conservative beats the hell out of socially liberal/authoritarian state and deep down they know it. The social signaling we hate, that high school in crowd bullshit, is the only thing they have to argue for their ever more absurd social policies like “yes means yes”.

  30. @esr:

    Some traditional coping strategy examples:

    (0) Exercise. I don’t do this as well as I should. It sounds like you do it fairly consistently — if so, that would go a long way towards explaining why your symptoms are minimal.

    (1) Apparently ADHDers are good at losing their keys and wallets. This never happens to me. The recommended coping strategy is to have a place by the front door where these go. I actually keep them on my desk when I’m at home, and they never leave my pocket when I’m out. But I go one further — I keep my shoes at my desk, because when I go out, they get put on and the keys and wallet and phone go in the pocket.

    (2) Trying to make sense of facts as they are presented and remembering just the minimum. The smarter ADHDers are apparently notorious for remembering the minimum possible, and deriving what’s necessary on the fly. E.g. the whole of trigonometry from x**2 + y**2 == z**2. Since a very young age, I’ve never really been interested in facts that didn’t surprise me. If it’s surprising, I challenge it and either call bullshit, or add it to the small set of truths that I have to maintain.

    (3) Prepaying my bills so I only have to think about them quarterly.

    (4) Finding and working at jobs that are not the same boring thing every day. (When I was younger, I used to change jobs a lot because the first year at a new job is almost always challenging and exciting.) I always try to seek out a few varied small jobs to go along with the big one so that I can do something else for awhile if I get bored.

    (5) Getting up and walking around a lot during the day.

    In addition to the general coping strategies, there are many that are specific to software development, or even more specific to my own situation.

    (6) DRY is especially important for ADHDers. It was boring enough the first time — who wants to do it again?

    (7) Likewise version control. If you know a codebase (or even if you don’t but know that it used to work), you don’t want to re-read the whole damn thing. Just show me what changed. I don’t know why there is resistance to version control some places, but I don’t think it comes from ADHDers.

    (8) A related (symptom? coping strategy? who can say?) is a severe allergic reaction to excel spreadsheets. I’ve learned to cope with them, because a lot of really good engineers like to use them as data entry tools. The python module xlrd is my friend, allowing me to accept multiple spreadsheet revisions, and get the actual data I care about into revision control, where I can go back and point out inconsistencies to the spreadsheet author if he gives me bad data later.

    (9) As I’ve discussed in the past, I typically eschew debuggers and most tools except for the trusty oscilloscope. I make sure I know the capabilities of spectrum analyzers, logic analyzers, phase noise analyzers, etc., but the best debugging tool is the brain.

    (10) Checking schematics is brutally repetitive. It would be so even if the guy doing the schematic entry never forgot what I told him, but he has issues. Maintaining a library that helps me check a schematic, and writing 500 — 3000 schematic-specific lines of Python is much easier.

    • >Some traditional coping strategy examples:

      Some of these sound like me, some don’t.

      >(0) Exercise. I don’t do this as well as I should. It sounds like you do it fairly consistently

      If serious exercise twice a week (totaling about 3hrs) is “consistently” enough.

      >(1) Apparently ADHDers are good at losing their keys and wallets.

      Used to happen to me when I was younger, doesn’t anymore. Perhaps I now have unconscious coping habits that prevent this.

      >(2) Trying to make sense of facts as they are presented and remembering just the minimum.

      Totally not me; I cheerfully digest huge volumes of not especially surprising facts, confident that they will eventually be useful.

      >(3) Prepaying my bills so I only have to think about them quarterly.

      I’ve delegated that to to my wife. The degree to which I fear and hate paperwork is possibly the most ADHD thing about me.

      >(4) Finding and working at jobs that are not the same boring thing every day.

      This is probably why I invariably have three or four projects running concurrently.

      >(5) Getting up and walking around a lot during the day.

      Nope. I doubt my daily walking qualifies as “a lot”.

      >(6) DRY is especially important for ADHDers. It was boring enough the first time — who wants to do it again?

      That is totally me.

      >(7) Likewise version control. If you know a codebase (or even if you don’t but know that it used to work), you don’t want to re-read the whole damn thing. Just show me what changed. I don’t know why there is resistance to version control some places, but I don’t think it comes from ADHDers.

      Yup. That’s me too.

      >(8) A related (symptom? coping strategy? who can say?) is a severe allergic reaction to excel spreadsheets.

      Insufficient contact with Excel to know if I’m allergic.

      >(9) As I’ve discussed in the past, I typically eschew debuggers and most tools

      Not me. I use every tool I can bring to bear. I routinely run no fewer than 4 different code analyzers on GPSD.

      >(10) Checking schematics is brutally repetitive. It would be so even if the guy doing the schematic entry never forgot what I told him, but he has issues. Maintaining a library that helps me check a schematic, and writing 500 — 3000 schematic-specific lines of Python is much easier.

      That does sound like what I do with boring tasks.

    • I should note my history of head injuries precludes a normal ADHD diagnosis. Four of the first five coping mechanisms are quite similar, though.

      1) I keep one day old pants (usually cargo shorts) in a fixed place in the bedroom. Keys, wallet, phones, comb, knives, and cash go as near as possible from one place in the dirty pair to the same place in the clean pair.

      2) I have great search and research skills and dedicate lots of my memory to knowing where and how to find the boring bits.

      3) Automatic bill payment for most things and a ritual for the rest. I pay early rather than late and do all of my manual payments for the month at once, from the same seat, in roughly the same order each time.

      4) Those early varied jobs in concert with #2 have me in a position of consulting generalist with varying depths of specialty and the ability to throw together an inelegant first version quickly in new niches. I then try to refine both my understanding and the code as time and priorities allow. I find it very distasteful to revisit old code without making improvements beyond a requested new feature or bug fix if I’ve learned anything new about the problem space.

  31. ADHDers are cut out to be hunters

    Peter Freuchen in Book of the Eskimos had it pointed out to him that the best hunters were orphans who grew up fighting the dogs for food ;)

  32. @esr:

    >> and they can ask the sort of questions that are a bit deeper than surface. And they can usually do it across a dozen fields.

    > Agreed, but there are serious conceptual pitfalls in interpreting this observation.

    A related observation, which combines this with the “I don’t give a fuck” aspect, is that the geek will ask the questions. Others might not, because they may worry that it will be a stupid question.

    Here’s one area where I see a possible intersection between ADHD and geeks. As I was mentioning earlier, a hallmark of intelligent functional ADHD seems to be a focus on surprising facts. At a lecture, an ADHDer may or may not be engaged, but if he is engaged, it’s probably partly because he’s asking questions. Depending on where the answers lead, he’s perfectly willing to take the lecturer and the rest of the class down a completely different path than the one intended.

    I actually should have added this to the list of coping strategies. If I’ve paid good money and time for a seminar (or usually, rather, if my company’s paid the money and I’m spending the time), I will work hard to get my money’s worth out of it — at least up until the point I conclude that the lecturer is an idiot who can’t teach me anything.

  33. @tz:

    > The nerd reverses this. Emotion occurs after reason, if at all.

    I could be wrong, but I think there are hundreds of counterexamples to this on the linux kernel mailing list alone.

  34. @esr:

    Totally not me; I cheerfully digest huge volumes of not especially surprising facts, confident that they will eventually be useful.

    I do too — I should have qualified that with “uninteresting.” Although my interests are wide, they are not all-encompassing, and when confronted with something boring, I remember the bare minimum, and when confronted with a system, I try to derive the rules.

    Not me. I use every tool I can bring to bear. I routinely run no fewer than 4 different code analyzers on GPSD.

    Well, I did overstate my case a bit. Obviously I use compilers, etc., and lint stuff. I also use a lot of specialized code translation tools, and being a software guy, I make a lot of tools. In fact, that’s part of how I define myself — toolmaker. I also find and use tools that nobody else in the company knows about. For example, I recently used an open source verilog compiler called verilator to compile a model of some of our hardware blocks into a DLL that can be used from Matlab, C, or Python.

    But a lot of tools have opaque interfaces, and I refuse to invest two days learning a tool that, if it works correctly, will give me everything I need to know in an hour.

    I’d rather invest 3 days in building a reconfigurable tool (hardware or software) that gives me building blocks I understand for the future. Yet, all around me, I see people who will cheerfully spend a week trying to make a commercial piece of hardware do what they need, before they give up and come to me so I can whip up some small custom FPGA load for them.

    If I need to use a spectrum analyzer for an hour, I’ll grab the guy who spends his life with it and make him do the measurement, because I know what it is capable of and I know what I need, and the details are just boring.

  35. I just realized that my distaste for debuggers/debugging and my distaste for hardware tools is fairly directly related to one of the defining characteristics of ADHD, which is what I term a lack of cache memory. One interruption and you’ve blown your cache and have to start over. This is exceptionally problematic for debugging, where, almost by definition, you are having to maintain a lot more state in your mind than in other programming activities. I almost never attempt to debug at the end of the day — always start fresh in the morning. So I usually manage to structure my work so that very little debugging is required, which means that it’s not worth becoming proficient with the debugging tools.

    Likewise, I find test boring and repetitive, so I’m exceedingly unlikely to become overly proficient with the tools we use for product testing.

  36. >I think the pattern emerging here is of two drivers: high intelligence and reduced interest in monkey politics and status games. The thing is that “reduced interest” can have many causes.

    This model sounds right to me, but I think you’re missing a component. Every “nerd” I know has something (usually many things) that they are obsessive about getting correct – the 80% solution is never good enough. This correlates with intelligence, but I’m not sure about the causation.

    Anecdotally, I’ve known people with the “obsessiveness” of a nerd, but without the raw intelligence, and I’ve met some, but many fewer, people with the intelligence, but without the obsessiveness. Neither group struck me as very “nerd-like”.

    I’ll see if some of my friends want to weigh in on how/if nerdgirls fit into the model.

  37. Yet another qualification on debugging/testing — I’m good at finding and fixing problems, and will often happily and productively diagnose things that are thrown at me. “Root cause analysis” is one of my specialities, because I can imagine a system and all the interconnected parts and think about which sorts of failures could cause the observed symptoms, and decide on additional quick tests that would help narrow down the possible failure sources.

    So people often come to me with problems, and I ask them to do a few things that I would consider boring and repetitive, and get back to me, and then I tell them the answer. Everybody’s happy.

  38. @Joshua:

    Every “nerd” I know has something (usually many things) that they are obsessive about getting correct – the 80% solution is never good enough.

    This is one of the reasons I suspect an overlap with ADHD. Unfortunately, when the general public thinks of “obsessive” they think of OCD, but the kind of obsessiveness you describe is, I think, very much related to someone with ADHD being able to hyperfocus on things they find interesting.

  39. I think the terms nerd and geek are simply colloquialisms that loosely describe a set of noticeable and somewhat unique features found in people that we may meet and interact with in our daily lives. It this way, these terms are similar in use to the characterizations of jock and stoner. They allow us to use language to communicate summary knowledge in a concise fashion.

    However, the edges of these characterizations are amorphous and fluid, and trying to pigeonhole people into strict categories can be somewhat arbitrary and misleading.

    One of the features of urban living is that differentiation often requires pushing the envelope of common cultural types and creating new tribal associations. Which came first, the computer or the nerd?

  40. I am an example of a geek/nerd who isn’t straightedge, though my drinking tends to be infrequent, and usually not past a mild buzz. I have almost no use for smoking, outside the occasional cigar. That’s infrequent enough that doctors tell me to disregard the ‘do you smoke, and how often?’ questions on their patient questionaires. I’m curious what Patrick Maupin’s other criteria are for identifying posers, or if that alone flags me as one in his opinion.

    I suspect that if one were to survey more European geeks and nerds, one would find more who drank or smoked. In the week I spent in Vienna this summer, I observed that having a beer or glass of wine with a meal was not uncommon and no big deal. The same applied to lighting up a cigarette when one stepped outside. Hell, the hackerspace I visited even had a smoking room.

  41. “They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess”

    wait… what?
    That would leave me out then. But where does someone who can recite the drop out to 1000m for .308 Sierra BTHP 168gr with a muzzle vel of 2650 fps at sea level and ambient of 26degC fit in?

    Seriously? geeks and firearms? match made in heaven. Just ask a serious shooter to justify a pet load or caliber choice.

    • >That would leave me out then.

      SSC did say “less likely”, but even teetotaler that I am I wouldn’t say nerds never drink or drug to excess.

      >Seriously? geeks and firearms? match made in heaven.

      The Geeks With Guns events have long been popular.

  42. @Jeremy:
    I spent a year in Germany, and went on regular dinner outings with the computer science department at the university I was studying at. Among them, fairly heavy drinking was not only “not uncommon”, but routine, though I don’t think anyone got completely plastered, and I wouldn’t say that any of them weren’t nerds. (Not with discussions like “if we use base 10^110, the vacuum catastrophe can be dismissed as a simple rounding error” going on).

  43. I see no contradiction actually. The nerds naturally attracted to any activity that offers zero social rating growth and infinite number of level of self-improvement and internal development. Math, and physics, and computers are just most common, martial arts a bit less so. Rarer such activities are tango dancing, chemistry, ornithology, and rock climbing.

  44. I wonder why people stereotypize nerds as physically weak. Maybe the group in America has different genetics.

    Here in Europe, the diversity of nerdish body types is quite big, and there are some large muscular types there.

    Accidentally, one of my grandfathers was a village blacksmith and the other one had extremely physically demanding job in industry, both were very muscular and strong. Now I do not have that much exercise, but I still received those same genes and the body structure corresponds to them. There are at least two quite muscular programmers in my company; if you gave them different clothing and a war hammer into the hand, they would look absolutely naturally like medieval warriors (up to the moment when they would start discussing the correct angle of the swing).

  45. @ESR excellent topic, I wanted to research/discuss this long ago. My experience and hypotheses, with predictions:

    – A boy is perceived, for some reason, as weak and an easy bullying target. Age 4 to 10.

    – Bullying, and general disrespect and lack of popularity, makes he feel he is inferior. He develops a certain self-hatred.

    – The strong rocket of puberty, from about 12 on, intesifies his self-loathing. He may decide to regain his self-respect for using his well working brain for productive purposes (math, science, programming) but now I would like to talk about the other type of nerd. The D&D etc. type.

    – He escapes into a dream world of fantasy literature, RPGs and videogames where he can escape being his loathed self.

    – He makes occasional forays back into the real world, desperate to find a girlfriend – he thinks that would solve all his problems. His primary motivation is not even sex drive, but the drive for acceptance and validation. He has a tendency to see potential girlfriends as replacements for his mother (unconditional love) – which really repulses most women.

    – Whenever he tries to move back to the real world and improve his attractiveness and chances with girls, his self-loathing sabotages the project. Instead of improving himself, e.g. buying better clothes but ones that still match his fundamental personality and looks, he tries to hide his loathed personality and tries to masquarade as someone else.

    Predictions:

    – Submissive, whipped-dog look e.g. not having the courage to look into people’s eyes
    – Daydreaming, not being aware of the surroundings, worst possible case: reading a book while walking to school. Easily scared.
    – Cosplay, fantasy, RPG etc. escaping reality, escaping the loathed self.
    – Either really poor clothes and looks (he does not feel his loathed self deserves decorations)
    – Or (rarely) a very, very fake fashionable-guy, very artificial, in this case, not improving his looks, as he does not feel his real looks deserve improvement, but trying to masquarade as someone else, like a popular mainstream guy, hiding his real self. Obsessively copying dance-club fashion yet unable to wear it well because he is a fundamentally different type etc.
    – Productive nerds (math, programming, science) often want to “die” as their real self and be reborn as The Expert. This means they invest 100% of their ego into being the perfect programmer or scientist. Every time they make a mistake or are proven wrong their whole newly made self identity is in danger, so they obsessively defend it. You all know this type. Suggest he made a mistake or got a fact wrong and you get an obsessively flood of words, a huge rant, defending it, from a sweaty, clearly distressed face.

    Interestingly, all this should result in very low testosterone (losing competitions reduces it, and all that bullying and disrespect is basically that), yet nerdy boys tend to get hairy legs earlier than non-nerdy boys! Also, nerdy men are more likely to start male pattern baldness around 25. While the whipped-dog submissive nerdy behavior predicts low-T, the opposite seems to be true. And this is the aspect I don’t understand at all.

    Potential cure: regain self respect by realizing at least certain types of nerds are respected and not seen as worthless. Programmers are respected, but still not sexy. I realized writers are respected in the sexy sense. Writers are clearly nerds, and yet they never have a problem getting laid. I realized that while I am not a writer, being an avid reader, writership is not far from my real personality and self. Thus imitating sexy writers is not a self-loathing masquarade, but an actual self-improvement. So I began dressing and behaving like writers. My ultimate goal was to develop an Albert Camus type charme. (ESR your idea of Heinlein as a role model also worked well.) This is much more realistic, and closer to the real self, and thus not self-loathing but self-improving, than either giving it up or imitating the mainstream.

  46. Ages ago, Paul Graham wrote:

    Clothing is only the most visible battleground in the war against formality. Nerds tend to eschew formality of any sort. They’re not impressed by one’s job title, for example, or any of the other appurtenances of authority.

    Indeed, that’s practically the definition of a nerd. I found myself talking recently to someone from Hollywood who was planning a show about nerds. I thought it would be useful if I explained what a nerd was. What I came up with was: someone who doesn’t expend any effort on marketing himself.

    A nerd, in other words, is someone who concentrates on substance. So what’s the connection between nerds and technology? Roughly that you can’t fool mother nature. In technical matters, you have to get the right answers. If your software miscalculates the path of a space probe, you can’t finesse your way out of trouble by saying that your code is patriotic, or avant-garde, or any of the other dodges people use in nontechnical fields.

    (Emphasis added.)

    This doesn’t explain all the patterns, but it does feel a little more essential than the other things.

  47. @Jon Brase – good you mentioned Germany. There are some people on Reddit who argue the geeks vs. jocks tension is not a human universal but merely the culture of American high schools, mainly specialization (riding either sports or study into a college admittance). In my experience, Central European culture also has this tension, despite this lack of specialization. In the countries influenced by German culture (so roughly between the Rhine and Ukraine), geekdom mostly comes from the “humanist” intellectualism that considers itself “above” bodily activities, considers anything that has to do with violence (i.e. martial arts or guns) primitive, and generally tries to live as a “pure intellect”. This has old traditions – 100 years ago humanism around here dictated the only sport suitable for a gentleman is fencing.

    It would be easier to find cultures where this tension does NOT exist.

    I think Britain is a good exception, largely because they have a strong cultural feature of pushing upper-class or intellectual boys to do sports, and often violent ones. E.g. Tolkien was a good rugby player. (Also girls – Kate Middleton played hockey, not a very princessly sport.) 100-150 years ago upper class, intellectual British aristocrats had boxing as part of their education – which probably horrified the “humanist” German intellectuals as something utterly crass and below them.

    My opinion is that precisely this, the British upper class model of the boxing intellectual, is what could put an end to the recurring curse of nerddom (in the negative sense) and save this kind of suffering for the future generation of boys. I think boxing and similar things generate that kind of manly self-confidence that prevents the bullying and disrespect that creates that kind of self-loathing that is characteristic of nerddom (nerddom in the negative sense: not Unix hackers, but RPG, D&D, fantasy literature, other kind of escapist fans).

    Another option could be to respect nerds the way Japan, China, India does, but I think it does not work – my limited experience with them suggests that despite the respect they get, they still somehow don’t respect themselves the same way a British style boxing intellectual does. I think they miss that testosterone.

  48. @ESR @Patrick

    >The degree to which I fear and hate paperwork is possibly the most ADHD thing about me.

    This is probably a very predictive trait. If there is one thing common in geeks is the sheer horror of data entry type tasks and similar stuff. I don’t think anyone around here could be bribed with less than a months income to type in one page of printed text into a text editor. Does this predict ADHD? I thought it simply predicts intelligence.

    By the way, the drugs used to treat ADHD (in children) are similar to the drugs ravers take when going to dance on techno music. And frankly I don’t think under that kind of influence boring paperwork becomes easier, so I suspect either it is not ADHD or adult and child ADHD is different.

    I mean, okay, that kind of music is repetitive too, but in a different, hypnothic, mesmerizing way.

    But I don’t understand the hate for Excel. Excel is not a data entry tool, it is a Swiss Army Knife. E.g. ad-hoc reports/data analysis: copy-paste database table into Excel, throw a Pivot Table on it, boom you have sums, filters, 2 or 3 dimensional reports etc. all under 1 minute. Also, Excel can be understood as a kind of “paper”. After I realized half the middle managers are too lazy to log on to an ERP system and run a report, I wrote a lot of scripts that generate and e-mail reports fully automatically so they have no excuse for not looking at them, and after many tries I ended up making all the reports as Excel files. The reason is that the recipients want to WORK with them, not just read them, like copy-paste three monthly reports together and analyse the trend or something like that. They take an inventory aging report and re-work it into a format the top management wants to have the info etc. Excel is simply the best kind of “interactive paper” (better than HTML) to “print” automatically generated reports on.

  49. But I don’t understand the hate for Excel. Excel is not a data entry tool, it is a Swiss Army Knife.

    My only hate for Excel is the whole “the good is the enemy of the best” thing. I keep telling myself i should sit down and try to create a bastard love child of Matlab/octave and Excel. With Excel mostly providing the glossy front cover and Octave providing the background oomph and with a touch of DB access added for spice..

  50. In trying to classify nerds/geeks with some basic spectra that discriminate effectively, the DiSC tests perform quite well. Let’s assume that engineers are a reasonable proxy for nerd/geek and that a sample size of about 300 diverse successful people is sufficient. The engineers are overwhelmingly dominated by the conscientiousness trait. The particular flavor of nerd that I believe ESR exemplifies is more strongly aligned to the dominance trait. What these traits have in common is an adversarial bias: “perceives the environment as unfavorable.” Where they differ is perception of the power balance between self and environment.
    Overall, I think the simplest classification that includes ESR, myself and those we find some commonality with in one broad stroke is: people of moderate to high intelligence (say IQ 130+) that perceive their environment as adversarial to their person.
    However, I am curious to learn more about people for whom the first criterion applies but not the second. They seem rarer than the nerd/geek archetype.

  51. @Patrick: Aaargghh, the cache flushing. I’m so with you on that one. You get all the details into your head you need to finally make some progress on a problem and then the phone rings. Context switches are expensive. With practice and written notes I can juggle half a dozen or more ‘easy’ problems- did that taking calls and working on trouble tickets in my web monkey days (working level I/II support for a web hosting/e-commerce group). But you can’t do hard problems that way.

    You both left out self-medication. Stimulants help ADHD people relax and concentrate. Up to a point, I find caffeine relaxing and soothing.

  52. >>I know quite a few folks that self identify as nerds and/or geeks who break the “They’re straightedge and less likely to drink or smoke to excess” rule.

    >This was actually an objection commenters on SSC raised. I’ve been waiting to see if anyone would comment on it here.

    That straightedge thing splits both ways. Either nerdy people really fit that, or they *really* don’t. No middle ground. I’ve seen both, quite vividly.

    Live in an undergrad dorm at a ‘nerd’ school, and try to ignore the sex noises. Haven’t been around in goodness, decades, don’t know what it’s like now but there were places on campus at my alma mater that were well known for sex-and-drugs hedonism. And during one particular party held every spring at a certain dorm with a very shady reputation, there was always a room set aside the first night (yes the party lasted several *days*) for the orgy. Nirvana once played that party, before ‘Nevermind’ came out. When nerds cut loose, they do it very seriously.

  53. I do want to comment on the disbelief of Aspergers. I have worked with a kid who was diagnosed with Aspergers and he truly does have no real ability to asses or respond to some social interactions. He just doesn’t have the means to sense those things. He does fit the nerd stereotype, focus on deep specifics on issues, intelligent, etc. However, having dealt with someone with real Aspergers, I can tell you that A LOT of nerds try to claim Aspergers and most definitely do not have it. It’s a whole other level of socially awkward. A Lott of nerds know they’re awkward and shy, Aspergers sufferers don’t have any idea about that at all.

    Aspergers is real, but so is nerds claiming they have it.

  54. >I think Britain is a good exception, largely because they have a strong cultural feature of pushing upper-class or intellectual boys to do sports, and often violent ones. E.g. Tolkien was a good rugby player. (Also girls – Kate Middleton played hockey, not a very princessly sport.) 100-150 years ago upper class, intellectual British aristocrats had boxing as part of their education – which probably horrified the “humanist” German intellectuals as something utterly crass and below them.

    Not a bad idea, but you’re forgetting the Germans and their swords (and facial scars). And yes, American nerds have martial arts and guns. Lots of guns.

  55. I think the question of what the identifying characteristics of a nerd/geek are is an interesting one.

    I think the physical characteristics are a red herring. I’ve never been much good at sport, and have always been keen to avoid scenarios where physical dominance is key. As a teenager, I wasn’t particularly strong either, and was quite skinny. However, for the last couple of years I’ve been doing weight training at my gym, and am now much stronger than I’ve ever been, and can lift more than most of the other people at my gym. I think for many nerds the scrawny physique is more a matter of lack of training, which comes from a lack of ability or lack of interest in sport.

    The mental attributes are much more important: high intelligence, and a love of problem solving. Also, a general thirst for knowledge, a desire to know how the world works, and a desire to *understand*, rather than just know facts. I can see that this would tend to lead to an interest in the hard sciences, maths and computers where there are hard answers, and an underlying order to things.

    I’ve never described myself as teetotal, though I don’t drink alcohol very often these days; I just don’t feel the need. As a student I frequently drank to excess, but I didn’t stop out of any principle, just that the circumstances arose less often. I suspect that this (lack of drinking alcohol) is another aspect that is not a core part of being a nerd, but just a consequence of other circumstances.

    I’m inclined to agree with the comment about disapproving of things that are fake or superficial. This can contribute to the social awkwardness that many nerds experience, since lots of small talk is about things that aren’t really of any consequence.

  56. @Jim

    >Seriously? geeks and firearms? match made in heaven.

    OK, we really need to define two kinds of geeks now, even though they overlap, the STEM geeks or productive geeks, and the fantasy / RPG / videogame / cosplay, or escapist, or self-hating geeks.
    I would say, for the second type, something like LARPing is the match made in heaven.

  57. the STEM geeks or productive geeks, and the fantasy / RPG / videogame / cosplay, or escapist, or self-hating geeks.

    I don’t know whether your types are the bright lines you think they are… I blend both typings.

  58. @David

    >Let’s assume that engineers are a reasonable proxy for nerd/geek

    Let’s not, at least if we include both aspects of it. In our high school class, four of us were huge AD&D fans. None of us became an engineer. I went to business school and ended up being an ERP programmer / consultant, another guy went to study history, became a historical correctness checker for a videogame developer company and ended up actually being a high level videogame development manager, the third one is dead since he got hit by a car on his motorbike but used to be a forester (to fulfill the fantasy vision of living like elves), and I have not heard about the fourth of us but he was too much of a poet type to become an engineer.

  59. It seems to me you’re looking at the Venn diagram intersection of three phenomena which are often correlated but don’t seem to have any direct connection.

    1. Poor or unconventional social abilities. 2. Lack of athleticism. 3. Love of technical or intellectual topics. (Note that I am leaving out anything about high intelligence. Let’s not flatter ourselves.)

    A nerd must satisfy at least one of those three criteria to be recognized as such, but we really only identify someone as a “true” nerd when they hit two or three of them.

    What’s interesting is that once a “type” or class gets identified, you can have people claiming membership who no longer satisfy any of those three criteria. Hence the phenomenon of extremely buff cosplayers at conventions who don’t go to any of the science/literary panels because they want to go out clubbing later on. They’re well-socialized, athletic people uninterested in nerdly pursuits, but they’re “nerds” because they like being in that milieu.

  60. David Michael Barr, I had never heard of the DiSC test until m employer had me take it as part of the job application process. I come out high on both the dominance and conscientiousness scales, and low on the other two (influence and steadiness). What’s interesting to me is that they label this pattern as Creative. I don’t think of myself as being all that creative, really.

  61. Shenpen touched on some of the negative sides of the nerd stereotype. Somebody who delights in their knowledge of complicated, obscure or hard-to-learn systems, and uses that knowledge to boost their ego as a substitute for their other failings in life, and to gain an advantage over other people who don’t understand them. Doesn’t care about how easy to use software is. Emotionally attached to languages/tools, and boasts about how great they are and should be used in more circumstances.

  62. Re: the straightedge thing, I drink a fair amount (mostly beer), but I’d say that I approach it in a nerdy manner. I keep close track of what I drink and take detailed tasting notes (I maintain a blog to that end as well). I’ve delved fairly deeply into process, history, homebrewing, barrel aging, trading, and the like. Amongst the general beer community, I’m less interested in playing monkey status games (I’m not one to berate people for drinking macro beer or brag on the number of wales I’ve had) than most. I’ve not done much in the way of informal anthropological fieldwork, but I participate in various activities in this realm and have considered writing up something along these lines. It’s something I’ve noticed in a lot nerds who particupate in traditionally non-nerdy activities – they approach it like a nerd.

  63. I don’t think of it as creative. To me, it was a problem that needed solving, so I solved it. The same goes for my other costumes, and other things in general.

    I have a 1983 Mercedes 380SL. Last June, a major suspension component rusted through, causing the right rear spring to poke through the bottom of it. This rendered the car unsafe to drive. I wound up, over a period of about 5 months, disassembling the rear suspension, replacing the component, then putting it all back together – a little bit at a time, thinking my way through each step. I think that approach to solving the problem was nerdy; the average shade tree mechanic would have gotten the job done faster, but sloppier.

    OTOH, how many nerds would have done that, instead of either paying someone to do the job or else junking the car?

  64. I think it’s a mistake to conflate social aptitude and athletic aptitude as indicators of membership in the same “muscular nerd” taxon. At least, it makes me hard to account for: diagnosed HFA, pretty inept at the dating game, yet lettered as a varsity swimmer in high school despite a number of then-undiagnosed chronic health issues, and now run and hike in -30° weather as my idea of fun and have occasionally been observed picking things up and putting them down.

    • >I think it’s a mistake to conflate social aptitude and athletic aptitude as indicators of membership in the same “muscular nerd” taxon.

      I do too. You are correctly pointing out that you are a standard-profile nerd who happens to be athletic. Members of the “muscular nerd” taxon need not necessarily be athletic but are necessarily extroverted and social alphas or sigmas.

  65. I would classify myself as a muscle nerd even though I’m an introvert, but I believe a large part of that is related to the bullying I experienced due to having Essential Tremor (ET-Trembling Hands). I started coding games at the age of 12(Apple IIe), but then computing resources were no longer available to me, so I got into weight training, but was more interested in the epistomological aspects than the noterity that came with it. Got a job where I graviated towards the computers I was exposed to and have been a computer geek since then.

    Maybe it’s because I usually tend to trust machines more than people.

  66. @ Shenpen

    If there is a distinct and evolved psychology to nerdism, to my knowledge it hasn’t received any serious investigation (or categorization) by the professionals in the field; so you have to wonder if this is just an exercise in self-selection.

    And as others have pointed out, there are extensive exceptions to the common patterns. I ride a mountain bike over 5,000 miles a year in serious terrain and can outperform most jocks in riding athleticism. And we seriously discuss physics, cosmology, genetics, and game theory modeling of evolution while doing so.

    I don’t see nerdism as a club characteristic, but more of an aberrant distinction.

  67. One property of nerds is that they’re more inclined to absorb information they’re taught without question and create complex systems to rationalize it all. This makes them good at leading math, physics, and computers. This also manifests as creating elaborate rationalizations for potholes in their favorite fictional universes.

    Another manifestation is a tendency to take seriously and adopt extreme versions of whatever ideology/religion they fixate on. This explains why some nerds are “strait edge” and others the opposite extreme (it depends on whether they fixate on traditional morality or “counterculture” morality). After reading Aaronson’s recent post, I suspect the reason for the prevalence of MtoF transsexuals amend nerds is them fixating on the “men bad, women good” school of feminism.

  68. >I think the pattern emerging here is of two drivers: high intelligence and reduced interest in monkey politics and status games.

    I think the high-IQ correlates, but it isn’t the category definition. There is something specific about what gets substituted for monkey status games that makes the nerd – pursuit of mastery of a specific, usually intellectual, activity, perhaps?

  69. > high intelligence and reduced interest in monkey politics and status games.

    To me these things are almost the same, or rather the former is the cause of the latter. I think smarter people have the capacity to seek higher goals than the baser desires that give rise to monkey games. I was thinking about what examples there were of highly intelligent people who are also highly interested in the latter. I suppose many of the super alphas, like CEOs and successful politicians are often very intelligent and often very interested in status seeking. They seem to be outliers though, and they seem to be people who have an augmented capacity allowing them to master both worlds.

    Your comments reminded me of this essay from the ever insightful Paul Graham. In it he argues that nerds are unpopular because they care less about popularity than other things, because they are smart enough to know that there are other things more interesting to care about.

    Also, FWIW, my observation is that the word “nerd” is rather pejorative. It carries all those social consequences that you mentioned. I would not, for example, call you a nerd, from what I know of you. The word geek seems more appropriate. This is a word that has some color of nerd, but definitely is much less pejorative, and in fact has become quite complementary. I doubt any woman would say she was attracted to nerds, but many would say they are attracted to geeks.

    Oh, and while you are discussing all these words, you might want to add a British word I learned from some of my British friends — that is the word “boffin”. It seems to fit somewhere between nerd and geek on the spectrum.

    • >Also, FWIW, my observation is that the word “nerd” is rather pejorative. It carries all those social consequences that you mentioned. I would not, for example, call you a nerd, from what I know of you. The word geek seems more appropriate. This is a word that has some color of nerd, but definitely is much less pejorative, and in fact has become quite complementary.

      You are right, and I’m normally careful about the distinction. It has been a bit blurred in this thread because we’ve been using SSC’s terminology.

  70. On high IQ: I think it is simply a bias: low-IQ nerds are so deep in the chasm of loserdom that their existence hardly even gets noticed. But when people are forced to admit that damn that awkward guy is actually smart, that draws a certain kind of attention, and through this kind of noticing is the high-IQ nerd stereotype born.

    Again I must emphasize that nerd has two meanings, the productive, STEM kind of meaning, which is indeed something that has a fairly high IQ barrier of entry, and the escapist, fantasy aspect, which doesn’t. When I was 12 my favorite book(s) was Dragonlance Chronicles. Re-reading it at abut 20 I realized how shallow it is – really, you don’t need to be too smart to like that. And the main reason it was such a nerd icon is that we could very, very much identify with Raistlin. Not because it was a smart book.

  71. The idea that the common trait is avoidance of status seeking is tempting but I’m not sure it’s backed up by reality. Look at the state of open source. Little benevolent dictators each followed by their own squad of followers, heated controversies that are no longer technical but rather political (systemd?) and so on.

  72. @Jessica Boxer

    >our comments reminded me of this essay from the ever insightful Paul Graham. In it he argues that nerds are unpopular because they care less about popularity than other things, because they are smart enough to know that there are other things more interesting to care about.

    I have the 100% opposite experience but with Type B nerds (more D&D than STEM) – boys who always wanted to be normal, popular, extroverted etc. but never managed to due to a complicated interplay of introversion, self-hatred, weakness, cowardice, lack of self esteem, getting bullied / disrespected, and so on. This created the escapism from the social world into fantasy, or computers.

  73. @Emanual

    From my angle, not. First – too old. From my angle (the negative aspects) the difference between nerds and non-nerds disappears 30+ and especially 40+. Nerds gain the social skills, basic looks,self-confidence slowly etc. while non-nerds lose their advantage in fashion, popularity etc. coolness, focusing on other aspects of life, like work and family. It is quite common that two high schoo classmates, one being a celebrated popular guy and the other being the always marginalized dork, are pretty much on the same level at 40 and become friends.

    You can see it at work. The 20 years old salesguy does not respect 20 years old programmers. At 40-40 they do – they realize how much they need them.

    Second, Taleb is too confident for that. He does not give out the escapist, fantasy oriented vibes. He is a respect-commaning type.

    No, Taleb is more scholar than nerd.

  74. Another corner case – Woody Allen? Not a STEM type, doesn ot have the productive aspects of it, but is an excellent example of the negative aspects of it.

    BTW why is nerdishness the “jewish illness” ? Including myself, everybody I know who has the negative aspects of it is at least half-jewish. I cannot only be the IQ. I think it is the bookwormish upbringing / culture that does not send boys out to engage in brawling, courage tests, horseplay, sports, these kinds of T-increasing stuff.

    • >BTW why is nerdishness the “jewish illness” ? Including myself, everybody I know who has the negative aspects of it is at least half-jewish.

      One the one hand, I’m all gentile. On the other hand, given the standard-deviation mean IQ advantage of Ashkenazic Jews, any phenomenon that coorrelates with or is partly driven by IQ is going to concentrate them.

  75. @Jeremy:

    I’m curious what Patrick Maupin’s other criteria are for identifying posers, or if that alone flags me as one in his opinion.

    As esr points out, it doesn’t have to be zero drinking, and as you and others have pointed out, it certainly varies a bit by culture.

    @Jon Brase:

    I don’t think anyone got completely plastered,

    This. I think the straight-edge observation is rooted in the practicality that if you show up to work drunk and/or hung-over on a regular basis, you’re probably not going to excel at the sort of thing hackers pride themselves on.

    @Shenpen:

    But I don’t understand the hate for Excel.

    When the Macintosh first came out, most of the programs for it were surprisingly good. IIRC, a fairly common consensus was that the programming environment was simultaneously so foreign and so unforgiving that you had to be good just to get something to work at all.

    Excel is the opposite of this. Anybody can do anything with it, just not very well. And most of them don’t understand what they have done. And it used to be an impenetrable binary format, and is now a very fragile XML format. It tries hard not to play nicely with other tools.

    The reason is that the recipients want to WORK with them,

    Which is awesome. Until they start to think that their own spreadsheet is some sort of master document and they are master programmers. Which is when this sort of thing happens:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2014/10/16/spreadsheet-mistake-costs-tibco-shareholders-100-million/

    @David Michael Barr:

    assume that engineers are a reasonable proxy for nerd/geek

    Doesn’t seem to be that reasonable of a proxy from where I sit. Yeah, engineer can be a good career choice for a nerd, and marketing or sales, maybe not so much. But it’s certainly not necessary to be a nerd to have a successful engineering career.

    @Greg:

    Yes, caffeine is a very important part of my daily life. But I think that’s true even for a lot of people who don’t have ADHD.

    @JWW:

    Asperger’s is real, but so is nerds claiming they have it.

    I think that people with what is commonly thought of as Asperger’s will almost always be nerds, simply because — what else could someone who is perceived to be a high-functioning autistic be?

    But I also think you are right that this doesn’t mean that most nerds have Asperger’s. Nonetheless, for many of them, claiming Asperger’s may be useful, in that it gives them a pass for some of their more awkward moments.

    @Jay Maynard:

    What’s interesting to me is that they label this [DiSC test] pattern as Creative.

    I’d never heard of this test, but it makes sense to me that this pattern is creative. Not in the sense that if you have the pattern you are necessarily creative, but in the sense that it’s hard to be creative if you’re spending all your time worrying about what others think.

    OTOH, how many nerds would have done that, instead of either paying someone to do the job or else junking the car?

    I’m not really into cars, but it seems like a nerdy thing to do. I do the same thing on, e.g. electrical work on my house. I had to replace the breaker box, and it took a lot longer but looks a lot tidier than if I had hired someone else to do it.

    @Justin Andrusk:

    Maybe it’s because I usually tend to trust machines more than people.

    This brings up something I often wonder about.

    @Eugene Nier:

    Your idea of a nerd seems 180 degrees out from mine. The people I consider nerds are out of the mainstream precisely because they do question things.

    @Jessica Boxer:

    Not that I’ve paid attention, but when I was younger, I always thought geek was worse than nerd. Not sure why.

    • >Not that I’ve paid attention, but when I was younger, I always thought geek was worse than nerd. Not sure why.

      If you’re near the same age I am (and I think you are) “geek” was the worse term when we were children. The semantic fields of both have shifted significantly over the last several decades.

  76. Shenpen:
    > In the countries influenced by German culture (so roughly between the Rhine and
    > Ukraine), geekdom mostly comes from the “humanist” intellectualism that considers
    > itself “above” bodily activities,

    The US is *dramatically* influenced by German Culture.

    Must not be a history Geek :)

  77. @Patrick Maupin

    >In point of fact, most non-straightedge folks I know who self-identify as nerds/geeks, aren’t — at least in my opinion

    I would argue this depends on your background. In the ‘non-straightedge’ group there are many more non-nerds than nerds. The nerd/geek label is also popular, so there are a lot of posers. However, there is still a drug/alcohol-using minority in the nerd community. Arguing that there isn’t comes down to what things qualify a person of the label. I would argue some traits are more critical (and more people agree on them) – being a pot smoker, for example, doesn’t invalidate doing good work. The best programmer I know (responsibly) does this all the time. I myself code this way occasionally, however poorly (though I use very sparsely). IMO the desire for knowledge and to solve problems is more central to being a nerd/geek than anything.

    @esr
    >Interesting. You imply that this is a fairly reliable way to spot posers. That seems plausible to me

    Sure. Depends on relative frequencies in the population – nerds is low, drugs is much higher. A given non-straightedge person probably does have a lower likelihood of being a nerd/geek – but the same can be said of any two groups with differing number of elements – such as muscular nerds, or assertive ones, or non-socially awkward ones

  78. @Jay

    I found myself in a similar situation last spring, when my VW Golf TDI blew it’s turbocharger and bent a connecting rod when the engine ingested its own oil. The main reason I ended up selling off the car was a lack of resources. Had I a place to work on the car and the money to get the parts needed, I absolutely would have worked on fixing it myself. Unfortunately, as much as I would have loved to fix it myself, getting working transportation as immediately as possible had to take greater priority. So I sold it to someone who did have the space, time and money to get it running again, and spent the money on getting a new TDI.

    Though perhaps not a stereotypical nerd activity, I *like* doing my own mechanic work. Taking apart a complex machine like an engine or transmission is fun. Looking inside the magic black box to observe its inner workings, and how they all work in concert to produce the device’s intended effect is fascinating. And if I can make some small tweak or change to make it work more to my satisfaction, awesome.

    This attitude tends to generalize to whatever catches my fancy.. When I bought my AR-15, before even firing it, I took it apart and went ‘Oh! So *that’s* how a rotating bolt and direct gas impingement work!’. I do my own wiring on my electric guitars, and use aftermarket pickups that I’ve modified myself. Not satisfied with the sound out of one of my guitar amplifiers, I found a schematic, and spent several weeks studying it. Running simulations of various parts of the circuit, I found the exact change needed to cure the ‘muddiness’ that the amplifier was known for.: a single capacitor hanging off the end of the effects loop’s return stage. You get the idea.

  79. > Or you might be a natural sigma/alpha type who knows what the other monkeys are thinking but has little need to interact with them on other than his own terms…

    In his Conflict Communications seminars, Rory Miller uses the Triune Brain model (lizard, monkey, human). He points out that many of the interactions for which we are usually use our “monkey brains” have scripts that go with them–particularly when we’re dealing with conflict. I suspect that some nerds ignore or break the scripts because they are unaware they’re supposed to use them in the first place. Perhaps other nerds know there’s a script and manipulate it to their advantage.

  80. @ ESR and lgz22
    Thanks for your encouragement. :-) Coming from intelligent people, I deeply appreciate it.

    @ ESR
    Since you’ve mentioned your wife in the context of “nerdity”: ISTR she once called Dune “a masterpiece”, here in A&D; but I can’t find the comment. Is it plausible that she said that? It may be silly, but I’d like to know; I trust her judgment as much as I trust yours.

    • >Since you’ve mentioned your wife in the context of “nerdity”: ISTR she once called Dune “a masterpiece”, here in A&D; but I can’t find the comment. Is it plausible that she said that?

      Extremely. I believe her opinion of the book matches mine; a masterpiece, though in important respects a flawed one.

  81. To what extent does the muscular nerd interact with the sheepdog/omnicompetant aspects of personalities oft encountered on this blog.

    • >To what extent does the muscular nerd interact with the sheepdog/omnicompetant aspects of personalities oft encountered on this blog.

      Good question! But I don’t have a generative answer I can give with any confidence.

      Some things are descriptively obvious. The standard-profile nerd is not psychologically well-equipped for sheepdogging; the intersection of those sets will be small. The muscular alpha nerd is, comparatively speaking, well equipped; you correctly note that my commenters include several members of that intersection set.

      I think early exposure to Heinlein by an alpha or sigma nerd type predicts eventual sheepdoggery pretty well.

      Beyond that I don’t think I know enough to make generalizations.

  82. @Patrick Maupin

    Oh, the nerds I describe are perfectly willing to question things, rather they question everying besides an ideology they’ve fixated on and even interpretations of the ideology that don’t agree with theirs.

  83. “So there’s this expensive clothing store that markets to young women who have pretensions of Continental culture…”

    Oh, you didn’t mean “narrative Anthropologie“? Sorry.

    (And I can’t believe nobody else made an off-topic wordplay joke like that already.

    You people call yourself nerds/geeks?

    Well, to be fair, I don’t normally call myself a geek.)

  84. @ESR

    But that is the point, you and most gentile geeks don’t seem to exhibit the negative aspects of nerdhood, and those aspects are probably not IQ-determined.

    If you look at the difference between yourself and Woody Allen, you get it. I don’t know what exactly made the Woody Allens of the world what they are, I know it made me halfway there, and I know I always disliked being so. And it seems to be a very jewish or half-jewish problem. My hypothesis is that it comes from self-loathing, due to bullying and similar experiences, and the nerdy hobbies are a form of escapism from that.

    The issue is that these are really multiple and maybe not so much related groups. Back around 1990 when not everybody had a computer, having one (at 17, so not for working) was one of the signs of being a nerd. But some folks were simply interested in it, and some other folks were more like fleeing from their lives into computers. And only the later are nerds in the sense I use the word.

    • >But that is the point, you and most gentile geeks don’t seem to exhibit the negative aspects of nerdhood,

      I wish that were true, but it’s not my experience. Difference in cultural context, maybe?

  85. @Jeremy:

    > When I bought my AR-15, before even firing it, I took it apart…

    That’s typical. Drives my (non-nerd) wife nuts.

    FWIW, I was thinking more about esr’s reference to posers and your follow-up question. I guess I didn’t consider the people I was referring to as posers, because there’s a difference between wrongly self-identifying with a group, and going out of your way to deceive people into thinking you’re part of a group. The Dunning-Krueger-challenged don’t bother with the latter because they’ve convinced themselves of the former.

    I can’t say I’ve seen the posers, but maybe I don’t pay enough attention or hang out at the right places. Have the social dynamics really shifted enough that it’s worthwhile for someone to pretend to be a nerd?

    Running simulations of various parts of the circuit, I found the exact change needed to cure the ‘muddiness’ that the amplifier was known for.: a single capacitor hanging off the end of the effects loop’s return stage.

    Anybody with the technical chops to run a signal through a spice simulator and tease out the cause of a subtle behavior like that is probably not suffering through the kind of Dunning-Kreuger problems that would lead him to mistakenly self-identify as a nerd.

    • >Anybody with the technical chops to run a signal through a spice simulator and tease out the cause of a subtle behavior like that is probably not suffering through the kind of Dunning-Kreuger problems that would lead him to mistakenly self-identify as a nerd.

      Agreed, except that recovering from SSC’s sloppy terminology I would say “geek”.

  86. @Eugene Nier:

    rather they question everying besides an ideology they’ve fixated on

    This is what I’m disputing. When a nerd gets an idea firmly in mind, it’s usually because all the good data he has points to that. In my experience, they are more willing than most to accept new data and change their mind accordingly.

    Now, it may seem that they are not doing this, because their lack of care for the social niceties will make their hostility to new data overt. What you are missing is that they were probably equally hostile to the original data that was used to establish their baseline viewpoint.

  87. @Eugine_Nier:
    > One property of nerds is that they’re more inclined to absorb information they’re taught without question and create complex systems to rationalize it all. This makes them good at learning math, physics, and computers. This also manifests as creating elaborate rationalizations for plotholes in their favorite fictional universes.

    This is the diametrical opposite of my experience: that nerds are more inclined to deeply examine the rules they are given—all three fields you mention are structured in a way that allows for quick identification of bad results. Furthermore, your example of “rationalizing plotholes” could be viewed as merely a distributed, social version of this behavior (as is this discussion thread).

  88. > Though martial arts seems to
    > be the same kind of exception

    Perhaps “nerds” are simply not interested in physical activity without a point to it.

    “Chase that ball!” vs. mastering new katas. If I had any athletic inclination, I know which one I’d be doing…

    • >Perhaps “nerds” are simply not interested in physical activity without a point to it.

      I know this is true of me. But I’m wary of generalizing my own preferences into “what nerds/geeks are like” without confirming evidence.

  89. >I believe her opinion of the book matches mine; a masterpiece, though in important respects a flawed one.

    Oh, well. I’ll add it to my low-priority wishlist.

    I want to ask two more questions:
    1. You’ve surely noticed my extreme sensitivity to cuteness, especially in animals. Is that normal among geeks/nerds?
    2. A radical departure from the previous question: what trend(s) have you observed among geeks/nerds regarding sexual orientation and/or any kind(s) of fetishism?

  90. >This attitude tends to generalize to whatever catches my fancy.. When I bought my AR-15, before even firing it, I took it apart and went ‘Oh! So *that’s* how a rotating bolt and direct gas impingement work!’.

    Detail stripping a Sig P-series is a lot of fun, and very relaxing. Simple and elegant. :)

  91. >Yes, caffeine is a very important part of my daily life. But I think that’s true even for a lot of people who don’t have ADHD.

    Very true. But different people get different things out of it- most people look at me like I’m joking when I say I drink coffee to relax.

  92. I thought this might be interesting to those of you who haven’t read it. It is a survey of the various biographical inclinations of a self chosen sample of Less Wrong readers. By no means are these people all nerds/geeks etc., but they are a reasonable approximation to it, I suspect. And so the information is interesting, but for entertainment only.

    The data point I found hardest was that only 10% were libertarians, which I find shocking for a group of intelligent people. But that probably reflects my biases that I can’t imagine a rational person not being a libertarian. (BTW, I don’t consider a “left libertarian” to be a libertarian at all.)

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/lhg/2014_survey_results/

  93. >>(1) Apparently ADHDers are good at losing their keys and wallets.
    >Used to happen to me when I was younger, doesn’t anymore. >Perhaps I now have unconscious coping habits that prevent this.

    If I recall correctly, you sometimes carry a concealed firearm.

    Such a thing tends to keep you aware of items on and about your person.

  94. My keys and wallet stay in my worn pants until the next day. Once I’ve moved my keys and wallet to the pants I’ve just put on, the dirty pair goes in the hamper. If I’m interrupted in this process I might leave part of my pocket contents at home. Yesterday I was interrupted for example, and I didn’t need my keys as I left with my girlfriend. I had my phone, wallet, and comb but went hours without my keys before I realized it.

    I find that the camera on my smart phone is one of my most valuable organization tools. It lets me capture information on a whiteboard, sign, hung to a refrigerator with a magnet, or in a book quickly to be transcribed later into textual format. Then I can copy/paste into contact software, todo lists, alarms, and GPS software. A nearly perfect OCR would help even further.

    In primary school the advice to write down lessons in a notebook never helped. I’d be distracted by something else when trying to write it all down, or I’d forget the notebook. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice there was an assignment, or I’d remember the assignment once I was home but without the proper textbook. A pre-printed syllabus or e-textbooks would have been a boon. The ability to carry all of those heavy books around everywhere on one Kindle-like device would have helped so much, actually. A camera might have helped then, too.

    When I’m in the flow on a topic that is currently of interest, though, I can hold lots of state in my head. I can remember impactful facts and even whole snippets of important conversations in my memory for a long time. I was never a star athlete but I held my own in school sports. I eventually gave up team sports to focus on computers, marching band, dating, and quiz bowl. It’s not that I couldn’t be a mediocre to above-average high school athlete; it’s that there were only so many hours in a week and I felt more reward for my efforts from more intellectual tasks.

    Yes, I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. OTOH, I’ve later been told ADHD was a misdiagnosis.

  95. WRT athletics, I think that also boils down to the disregard/dislike for monkey politics: Geeks IME tend to like _individual_ athletics: martial arts, fencing, juggling, etc. Team sports (football, soccer, basketball, baseball) involve too much status-seeking/jockeying for the ‘best’ position for their taste. Ultimate frisbee may be an exception to this; I think because it’s an explicitly friendly game.

    One confounding issue any research will have to figure out how to account for is the geek tendency to shore up the lacks (social, athletic, etc) they have earlier in life. I believe this explains the muscular nerd (were they always muscular or did they start later in life to ‘make up’ for this perceived self-lack?) and maybe also the extroverted-tending geek (did they consciously learn these skills for self-improvement?).

    Another common geek characteristic is neophilia – liking to try new things, from foreign food to exotic beer/wine to foreign languages and cultures. Like as not the geek will have expert-level preferences (even if they are not, in fact, an expert) because they’ve spent a lot of time sampling the field far outside normal limits.

    Finally, I don’t believe I’ve seen a remark on what Steven Levy called “The Hands-On Imperative” and I personally dub the “builder jones” – that unshakable impulse to _build something_ that takes hold if I spend too long not doing so.

  96. Sigivald: I doubt any of us care very much at all about expensive clothing stores, and so we wouldn’t have the reference ready to hand.

  97. Ms. Boxer:
    But that probably reflects my biases that I can’t imagine a rational person not being a libertarian. (BTW, I don’t consider a “left libertarian” to be a libertarian at all.)

    A lot of people have trouble understanding why otherwise intelligent people disagree with us when it comes to how the government should work :)

    One problem intelligent people have is that they don’t understand that human intelligence has limits. They think that if they just get *enough* of the right people in charge then they can fix things, because *of course* if you’re smart you recognize @facts and have @values just like me, and if you disagree on $fact[1] then you’re stupid and if it’s $value[1] you’re evil.

    BTW, this isn’t limited to the left side of the spectrum. I could pull an example from here over the last 3 weeks, but don’t want to start that shit-fight.

  98. Sigivald on 2015-01-06 at 15:20:11 said:

    “So there’s this expensive clothing store that markets to young women who have pretensions of Continental culture…”

    Oh, you didn’t mean “narrative Anthropologie“? Sorry.

    Are they expensive? I thought it was more shabby-chic hippy shit.

    (And I can’t believe nobody else made an off-topic wordplay joke like that already.

    http://0-esr.ibiblio.org.librus.hccs.edu/?p=6617&cpage=1#comment-1384121

  99. >>Sigivald: I doubt any of us care very much at all about expensive clothing stores, and so we wouldn’t have the reference ready to hand.

    G. Harry Stein on engineer dress standards from Analog years (lots of them) ago.

    Clothing should cover mammaries and genitals.
    You should neither be shivering nor sweating.
    Clothing should provide appropriate protection from the environment of the day.
    At the beginning of the day clothing should have no noticeable odor.
    At the beginning of the day, dirt/grease/etc should not rub off when you touch/sit.

    If the above is true, what’s your problem?

    Jim

  100. @Patrick Maupin

    FWIW, I was thinking more about esr’s reference to posers and your follow-up question. I guess I didn’t consider the people I was referring to as posers, because there’s a difference between wrongly self-identifying with a group, and going out of your way to deceive people into thinking you’re part of a group. The Dunning-Krueger-challenged don’t bother with the latter because they’ve convinced themselves of the former.

    I can’t say I’ve seen the posers, but maybe I don’t pay enough attention or hang out at the right places. Have the social dynamics really shifted enough that it’s worthwhile for someone to pretend to be a nerd?

    I haven’t noticed posers myself, but I haven’t really been looking either. My social life is mild, and is mostly limited to groups with interests like my own, e.g. my local hackerspace. However, regarding Dunning-Krueger or deliberate deception, I think the most likely scenario is the former being accused of the latter. My thoughts go to stories I recall reading of girls at conventions being accused of being fake geek girls. Apparently one must know on what page in which issue Batman drop-kicked The Joker in the nuts or some other such silliness in order to be a true geek.

    As I write this, it occurs to me that it’s possible that someone has tried to pretend to be a nerd in an attempt to have sex with that hot chick who thinks smart is sexy. But again, I haven’t personally observed such.

  101. > What you are missing is that they were probably equally hostile to the original data that was used to establish their baseline viewpoint.

    Except their baseline viewpoint was fequently not established from data per se, so much as imported directly from a physics textbook or computer manual (or religious holy book).

    > This is the diametrical opposite of my experience: that nerds are more inclined to deeply examine the rules they are given

    Examining is not the same as questioning. They’ll take the rules they are given at face value and examine their implications, if they encounter inconsistencies this way they’ll try to resolve them, if there is a mentor or teacher around they’ll ask the teacher for help and possibly get extremely frustrated if the teacher can’t follow their trains of logic and possibly convince the nerds that the teacher is an idiot. However, if the mentor is also a nerd the result can be an elaborate system, e.g., the Talmud.

  102. @ esr > Narrative ethnography still has its place.

    Sure, when we are dealing with systems that are too complex for numerical analysis or when we do not know very much about them, narrative or descriptive science / observation / hypothesis generation make sense.

    We are WAY past that in this case. When you are dealing with populations of ANYTHING that present putative normal distributions, you need to deal with numeric analysis, replicated random samples and stats. In this case you would do well to proceed according to those recommendations if you want to be taken seriously…

    Otherwise, you are just a dilettante. Come over to the dark side, esr, LOL. This is the stuff of science and I know you could do it; indeed it would be worth doing.

  103. @Jeremy:

    it’s possible that someone has tried to pretend to be a nerd in an attempt to have sex with that hot chick who thinks smart is sexy.

    It’s possible, but seems unlikely to work if the girl is smart. A smart suitor would be better of being himself, and a stupid suitor won’t get very far.

    OTOH, if the girl is as dumb as a bag of rocks, then the poser could be the very first “nerd” to show continuing interest after she opens her mouth. A match made in heaven, I say.

  104. @esr
    > >Perhaps “nerds” are simply not interested in physical activity without a point to it.
    > I know this is true of me.

    That is a curious response. “without a point” is a remarkably subjective standard. You, Eric, after all, spend a great deal of time practicing martial arts that are unlikely to be of any use outside of the closeted world of that art. I’m sure your swordplay is excellent, but I doubt you anticipate whipping out your blade in a street fight. But obviously you see a point to it (no pun intended.)

    For some things the point is the doing of thing itself, and for some things the point is the consequential benefit. For example, what is the point of running on a treadmill? On one hand it doesn’t have a point, on the other it has the point of improving cardiovascular health. What is the point of playing football? On the one hand, in the global scheme of things it is entirely meaningless, but it obviously does have some important points about camaraderie, fitness, recreation and the intrinsic benefits of competitively overcoming a challenge. These things are not pointless.

    So perhaps “nerds are not interested in physical activity” because the point of that activity does not align well with their goals. I think the explanation is more complicated (and more of a spectrum) than that, but pointlessness is a very subjective measure.

    • >“without a point” is a remarkably subjective standard. You, Eric, after all, spend a great deal of time practicing martial arts that are unlikely to be of any use outside of the closeted world of that art. I’m sure your swordplay is excellent, but I doubt you anticipate whipping out your blade in a street fight. But obviously you see a point to it (no pun intended.)

      It’s trickier than that, but not necessarily in the direction you’re expecting.

      Empty-hand fighting is practical. Knife fighting is practical. Sword training makes you better at knifework, and prepares you for fighting with improvised weapons – an umbrella, a broomstick, a branch. So there is objective practicality to it.

      Beyond that, I think weapons training gets a motivating point for me simply because I’m honing a skill in a way that (say) doing jumping jacks does not. There are some very silly and impractical-seeming martial-arts weapons like the Japanese manrikigusari or South-Indian/Ceylonese urumi that I would cheerfully attempt because, hey, it’s a skill. And I might find out I’m wrong about the silly.

  105. Eugene Nier:

    However, if the mentor is also a nerd the result can be an elaborate system, e.g., the Talmud.

    Were you there when the Talmud was constructed?

  106. There’s a common point among comments (and non-stop Dunning-Kreuger based explanations) here that suggests people believe there’s an ability or talent or IQ requirement for being a nerd / geek. The requirement seems to vary from ‘generally smart’ to ‘If I think you’re smart enough to be in the club, you’re in the club’, but to me they sound mostly like people trying to strengthen their own feeling of belonging by exclusion.

    What a person can do and what they are interested in are different things. It’s easier to have set membership based on interests than on ability – way easier to agree on the former than the latter.

    I realize that some judgement must go into such a discussion – re-hashing what the group on average accepts or rejects is part of the process of maintaining the group. But I don’t think there are so many people pretending to be geeks that we need physical/mental benchmarks for admission to the group. Why is self-identification not enough for membership? I’ve been on both sides of the fence – self identified and proud and identified by others as a nerd and feeling put down (a while ago, in school). If someone really thinks they’re a geek and they differ from the cookie-cutter archetype, I say expand the archetype.

    The obvious objection is that after a while the label will change what it refers to. But this happens regardless, because as time passes the people in the group change.

  107. @Igz22:

    If the commonly accepted definition changes, so be it. But it’s not a club — it’s a label that has a current meaning. That meaning may be amorphous and may vary from observer to observer, but OTOH you might as well say “If someone really thinks they’re a jock and they differ from the cookie-cutter archetype, I say expand the archetype. ”

    Bully for you and good luck with that.

    • >But it’s not a club — it’s a label that has a current meaning.

      Indeed. I didn’t write the OP to exclude anyone – I was pointing out that the standard nerd profile is not inclusive enough to cover the set of people socially defined as nerds.

  108. @Patrick Maupin

    I agree that the definition of the label should be stable. I just wanted to see how people think about ability in terms of membership or some sense of kinship – if someone is much better than you it is easy to welcome them as one of your own – what about the other way around?

    • >if someone is much better than you it is easy to welcome them as one of your own – what about the other way around?

      Well, that’s when you start looking at investment. Suppose I see two people contributing to open-source projects, neither very skilled. One of them is haphazard at it, the other is investing a lot of effort in getting better. It’s not hard to predict which I would be more willing to call a novice hacker.

  109. @esr
    “the standard nerd profile is not inclusive enough to cover the set of people socially defined as
    nerds”

    I agree with that, which is probably why I jumped in to the comments on this one (been reading the blog for a while). The question is, how can it be improved?

  110. @Igzz22:

    > I agree that the definition of the label should be stable.

    Umm, where did I state or imply that?

    > I just wanted to see how people think about ability in terms of membership or some sense of kinship

    Again, it’s a descriptive label. I have some very nerdy friends, and some that aren’t at all — one of my very best friends never touches computers. And he had typing in high school and everything. He just isn’t wired that way.

    > if someone is much better than you it is easy to welcome them as one of your own – what about the other way around?

    For one thing, I’ve seen plenty of instances of “normal” (e.g. non-nerd) people get insanely jealous of people they perceive as better, so I’m not actually sure that’s a universal. But you are mistaking the map for the territory. To the extent that the nerds I know hang together, it’s not because they self-identify as nerds, although it may be because of shared interests that are typical of nerds. And, as has been discussed ad nauseum, there are certainly several subgroups, the members of which might not hang together or feel all that much kinship in any case.

    Most nerds I know are happy as clams when they are either informally learning or teaching (or preferably, both simultaneously). If there were a nerd poser, and a nerd didn’t want to hang out with him, it wouldn’t be because the nerd thought the guy was a poser — it would be either because the shared interest wasn’t there, or because the poser couldn’t back up his interest with any intelligence. Now maybe the nerd and the poser could have a relationship based on other interests, but it’s doubtful that the nerd would ever consider the poser to be a nerd. Not out of meanness, just because the poser doesn’t match the template.

  111. but to me they sound mostly like people trying to strengthen their own feeling of belonging by exclusion.

    In the end, we are just another bunch of monkeys. Heredity is a bitch.

  112. @shenpen:
    >BTW why is nerdishness the “jewish illness” ? Including myself, everybody I know who has the negative aspects of it is at least half-jewish. I cannot only be the IQ.

    Perhaps it’s just because, being Jewish, you’re exposed to more Jews? I’m fully gentile, and have many of the negative aspects of nerdishness, and I believe that many of those same negative aspects of nerdishness were responsible for a former friend’s divorce (he is also fully gentile).

  113. @esr:

    > Both report that the sexual-isolation thing reverses for women.

    > I admit that I’m less clear where the nerdgirls fit in this model. We have a few among the blog regulars; perhaps they’ll chime in.

    FWIW, here’s a self-proclaimed nerd girl, whose mileage apparently doesn’t match your regulars at all…

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120653/nerd-entitlement-lets-men-ignore-racism-and-sexism

    Following links from there, the dust-up over Scott Aronson’s posts sadly reinforces a lot of stupidly drawn battle lines.

    It’s pretty typically brutal what some women are saying around Scott

    • >FWIW, here’s a self-proclaimed nerd girl, whose mileage apparently doesn’t match your regulars at all…

      Well, of course. What even remotely sane man would want to sleep with a woman projecting the attitude she has?

  114. My mother says I was the only child she knew of that disassembled my toys. I had this photo of me in diapers with a hammer in one hand, and the “put the shapes in the matching shaped hole” toy in the other. I remember alternating playing with arithematic in my head (i.e. analytical) and doing telepathy with UFOs (i.e. imagination and creativity) while laying down in bed for the evening. Yet I was also getting bloody noses daily from playing tackle football from age 5. I was so dexterious I could rarely be tackled. I remember entertaining random adults in conversation in the park or other public venues from this age. I remember a photo me dancing and singing with great enthusiam and apparently talent. For example, I could emulate the jazz instuments faithfully with my mouth. I remember during Mardi Gras I could sprint through the crowds at full speed dodging everyone and being quicker in scrappling the black kids for doubloons. In high school I was top athlete in Cross Country and Track & Field, winning for example junior varsity league champion in 10th grade with a time of 16:40 for 3 miles, which was only my first year to take up long distance running. I am undersized at 5’7″ and 49 years old. I remember at age 5 helping my father design the construction of a wooden platform for the bed he put in the back of his VW bus (which he built to leave us and go live in Belize). Even while I was coding million user software, I would alternate with athletics and extrovert activities. I was also a natural leader in both the work place and athletics.

    I found that when I followed my mental curiousity I would get totally consumed in it and lose awareness and concern for the outside world. I spent an entire summer in the basement building an elaborate train world. I lost my high school girl friend in the summer after graduation, because my friend had an Apple II and I discovered programming for the first time. Lately I bathe bimonthly, yet this doesn’t seem to affect the attraction women have for me.

    I think people maximize the talents they have. Some nerds may be deficient in either sociably appreciated talents and or lacking the confidence that they have such talents, and thus they may become consumed by the mental talents which they have. For example I am not nearly as confortable with written expression as I am with verbal or physical activity. Yet my reading comprehension is very high, and my programming is accurate and debugged. I briefly flirted with spelling bees in early elementary and did well afair, but I seemed to lose interest in it as I prioritized my analytical, abstractions, and athletics talents. Also I loathe memorizing pedantic details, thus I am less erudite than others. I prefer to load up the details for something that is interesting to me at the moment and analyze it. Then I tend to forget all but the most generative essence.

  115. Oh I recognized early on that other kids in the neighborhood were better at Rubik’s cube, board games, and even memorizing sequence tones (sequential patterns) than I am. It seems I want to parallelize my thought processes, even my patience or attention to detail in writing suffers because I tend to write the end of the sentence at the same time as I write the start. I prefer verbal because I can hear what I am thinking instantly versus this slow process of typing out what I am thinking. I think this is why I like programming, because most of the effort is thinking out the relationships then the coding is very succinct.

  116. “What even remotely sane man would want to sleep with a woman projecting the attitude she has?”

    Don’t you know you’re not supposed to ask that question, you eeeeevil minion of the patriarchy?

  117. Going by the definition of “geek” as “obsessive consumer of some culture” and “nerd” as “high intelligence and reduced interest in status games”, I know many “geek girls” and very few “nerd girls”. But one of them had to say:

    I think some degree of increased social awareness comes from the fact that its difficult not to notice the fact that we are most of the time in the minority. So awareness of status just gets lumped in with all other social things we kinda manage.

    Since the stereotypical nerd is male, guys who fit that label are more comfortable not caring about social status even if they are aware of it (and I think most are). Since most women, with that in mind, have more trouble applying the entirety of the label to themselves, they don’t feel they have an excuse to let the social awareness go entirely.

  118. > What even remotely sane man would want to sleep with a woman projecting the attitude she has?

    Seems she harbors resentment that guys were “too proud to be seen with us in public were happy to fuck us in private”. Occassionally I was one of those guys. Perhaps if she hadn’t been too proud to try it, reality would not be so foreign to her life experiences.

  119. @esr
    “What even remotely sane man would want to sleep with a woman projecting the attitude she has?”

    On broadcast TV, some interviewer was asking girls on the street how they got a man to sleep with them. The best answer was: “I simply ask him”

    [SARCASM]
    I think the whole “problem” with male nerds and girls can be traced to the girls not asking. (asking as in “using a clear verbal message”)
    [/SARCASM]

    My take on “nerds”?
    People, mostly male, who are (much) more interested in things than in people. Due to congenital or other causes, and lack of practice, this preference is strengthened by a problematic insensitivity to other people’s intentions and opinions (theory of mind).

    I expect that the underuse of the neural circuitry normally geared to social interactions frees up a lot of neural real-estate for handling the much simpler non-human world.

  120. > I’m honing a skill in a way that (say) doing jumping jacks does not

    Probably you don’t prefer jumping jacks because they are not matched to your physical talents and weaknesses as I’ve read you describe them in the past. Jumping jacks can hone the skills of balance, timing, concentration, creativity (how many ways can you think to vary the routine…add music and rhythm), endurance, explosive energy, … I really enjoy the mental, energy, and physical challenge of a rapid fire barbell and callisthenics cross-trained workout, but as contrasted with my assumption of your preference to be strategically engaged, for me that is release from complex mental activity and to train the single-minded focus mental modes. My experience for example is to achieve maximum explosive energy requires focus that can’t be attained when the mind is also consumed by engrossed thoughts. However when I play basketball, I mix the modes, e.g. think strategically then single-minded focus to drive with explosion to the basket combined with reactionary skills.

    I guess I am tying this into my point that we maximize the talents we are best at. And hoping this leads me to some testable hypothesis about nerds. So far, all I can come up with is that nerds seem to have a talent for STEM fields, and those fields consume a person and make it challenging to balance social activities. I don’t know why others don’t even attempt to maintain the balance. I doubt that it is they have no social abilities, rather I suspect they deprioritize for some reason. It could be discouragement, fear, lack of confidence, but I rather suspect it is because STEM fields are very addictive and compulsive. I have to drag myself away sometimes. I remember someone gave me two dozen volumes of the Hardy Boys series and I guess I read all of them with a week or so. What seems to be my balancing factor is I am addicted to sports too. I get an endorphin high from the endurance sports, and I get some kind of high from the explosive energy sports too. And basketball is fun. I still admire Michael Jordan’s moves and his will power to win so much so that he played a game with a stomach virus and his famous commercial, “… Or maybe, you’re just making excuses.”.

    Is it just testosterone?

  121. > Or you might be a natural sigma/alpha type who knows what the other monkeys are thinking but has little need to interact with them on other than his own terms (the muscular nerd)

    The irony is that during high school I had at times a simultaneous inferiority complex to the nerds who didn’t do sports and to the athletes who only did sports, because I wanted to be at the top of both. I am not contented so far.

    Hope this anecdotal data helps your analysis.

  122. Loner by choice much of the time, but often with one really close friend.

    In school, I loved to show off, partly a love of knowledge and my mind, partly… uh.. I liked to be seen as different in relation to what mattered to me, even when I knew showing off was not going to improve my already poor relationship with the rest of the class.

    Chemistry as a kid, burned a hole in the kitchen table with gunpowder.

    Electronics in Junior High, where I used my slide rule (in the ’70s) when the other kids couldn’t use calculators. Got my ham radio license and then did nothing much with it because I realized that I loved the tech but had no interest in communicating with other hams.

    High school changed my life when I discovered the computer club – BASIC and FORTRAN via time donated by the local tech college. HP-21 calculator on my belt (of course Galculator on my Desktop is doing RPN).

    I dabbled in the martial arts, off and on, and then basically off until I discovered Wing Chun, my second great talent. Only got to level 5, due to laziness and an increasingly deteriorating spine.

    Perhaps a common geek trait: If I don’t understand it, I can’t learn it. In school, if I didn’t understand an equation, I couldn’t learn it.

  123. @Jessica Boxer
    “But that probably reflects my biases that I can’t imagine a rational person not being a libertarian.”

    That is indeed a bias. I know a lot of rational people who have the complete opposite bias (leaving aside my own rationality). Maybe it has to do with how view human nature?

  124. @Jessica

    >The data point I found hardest was that only 10% were libertarians, which I find shocking for a group of intelligent people. But that probably reflects my biases that I can’t imagine a rational person not being a libertarian.

    I am not that surprised. My current (always changing) opinion is that the ideal political position for an intelligent person is: none. Libertarianism is good as an abstract theory, but the point is that it is highly abstract. It does not really give pragmatic hands-on advice on how a political candidate should suggest his voters how he will solve one particular issue. He can promise to overally work on reducing government and that should overally make things work better, but it is entirely different from offering a pragmatic solution to one urgent problem. In others words, libertarianism is more meta-political than political, it addresses how the whole system should be set up, not how to act on one urgent problem in isolation from everything else. Like all other meta-political theories, it suffers from the “you can’t change anything until you changed everything” problem. Or to put it differently: it requires a revolution and a new start.

    For this reason, the pragmatic political candidate – and his supporters – should use libertarianism roughly how ESR uses Buddhism: it is not something to follow day to day but something to have “in your bones”, as a deep understanding, but kept a bit apart from your daily consciousness. He would, generally, support more decentralized set-ups than more centralized ones. But will gladly set the principles aside if e.g. stopping EBOLA requires coordinated national or global action.

    A good example for the attitude I describe is Taleb’s Anti-Fragile, his preference for robust decentralized systems over fragile centralizes systems shows clearly how he has libertarianism in his bones, but he does not use it so direclty.

    What I would expect the intelligent candidate and his supporters to do in pragmatic politics is 1) evidence-based politics, highly empirical, compare the results of tried solutions to specific problems, and this is actually what seems to fit the LessWrong attitude 2) Singapore-style politics: assign a team of people who went to the best universities of the world and try to solve problems by throwing brainproblem on them.

  125. >The irony is that during high school I had at times a simultaneous inferiority complex to the nerds who didn’t do sports and to the athletes who only did sports, because I wanted to be at the top of both. I am not contented so far.

    I believe the ancient Greeks would have considered you healthier than either the no-sports or sports-only crowds. You can console yourself with that, with being a more full and more fully balanced human. That’s what I aim for.

    (I’m reluctant to use the word ‘specialization’ and summon Roger. Hehehe.)

  126. “assign a team of people who went to the best universities of the world and try to solve problems by throwing brainproblem on them.”

    This is the fatal conceit of leftism: that we can be ruled by the intellectual elites. The problem is that said elites are just that, and have little concern for other than reinforcing their elite status as out protectors and guardians.

  127. Cultural evolution occurs within a stew of social mutation and produces many types of behaviors; some of which resonate and grow large enough to be noted as distinct groups.

    Here is a fun exercise. Walk through a indoor shopping mall on a weekend afternoon and note how many cliques (or social types) you can observe among the people of all ages. Note style of speech, group identifier words and gestures, stye of dress, posture, makeup and jewelery, facial expressions, and movement patterns. Not many nerds/geeks to be found there, but you will get a sense that tribalism is alive and thriving as much today as in the early ancestral environment.

    It’s human nature to play to your strengths. Nerds innately nurture their strongest attributes. Outsiders note these differences as peculiarities. And everyone does this.

  128. @Jay

    1) I am not lefitst 2) you managed to totally miss the point my comment. Who does how much rulership is meta-politics, not politics. Your problem is that you focus on meta-politics, and your meta-politics is actually correct, but you confuse it with politics. This is meta-politics, is the kind of thing that changed by revolutions, not elections. Actual politics, the kind that is decided with elections and plebistices, works WITHIN the rules of the current meta-political system. Meta-politically, the current system one of political elitism and centralization, that much is clear. Politics can work only inside this.

    So while meta-politically you can work on unbuilding the centralization and the elitism (although not sure how), politically you have to work inside it, and e.g. the Singaporean model I mentioned is to try to recruit top scientists instead of politicians into the elite.

    You are a good example why too much exposure to libertarianism can be harmful – at some point you forget the difference between meta-politics and politics, or in other words, within changing system, and working inside system. In meta-politics, libertarianism is correct, in the sense of system-changing. But you cannot work politically inside a non-libertarian meta-political system, and this is what too much exposure to libertarian meta-politics tends to make one to forget.

    Examples:

    Metapolitics: monarchy, politics: who should be king and what should he do
    Metapolitics: democracy, politics: who should be the president and what should he do
    Metapolitics: libertarianism, politics: what common good should our club here voluntarily donate to and should we fire club members who don’t want to donate or not.

  129. Shenpen, just as you are not a leftist, I am not a libertarian. (Just ask Eric.) I did not say you were, either. I only said that you were repeating a common leftist fallacy, that the intellectuals could rule us wisely. That is false no matter what political system we are under. Top scientists are no better at governing than anyone else, and often worse: they only see parts of the big picture, not the whole thing. For an excellent example of this, look at the execrable Paul Krugman: Nobel laureate in economics, and yet full goose loony leftist moonbat who would destroy our economy with his prescriptions.

  130. @esr
    > It’s trickier than that, but not necessarily in the direction you’re expecting.

    Interesting that you are sticking with this. For sure when I get a bunch of teenage boys coming into my Karate class they are thinking they are going to be Bruce Lee in some dark alley. But the reality is that most martial artists never use their fighting skills in a practical scenario. Part of that is because one thing a martial artist gains is a certain poise and confidence that makes fighting less necessary, and also perhaps an awareness that allows the best type of fight — the one that never happens.

    If you really are learning martial arts for fighting you need to do Krav Maga, that is for scary dudes. You sure don’t choose to learn the form of the praying mantis to win a bar fight.

    • >But the reality is that most martial artists never use their fighting skills in a practical scenario.

      That is true. But it does not imply that there is no such thing as a practical style.

  131. @Shenpen
    > Libertarianism is good as an abstract theory, but the point is that it is highly abstract. It does not really give pragmatic hands-on advice on how a political candidate should suggest his voters how he will solve one particular issue.

    That is like saying “the problem with weight watchers is that it is too abstract, it doesn’t tell me clearly whether to have a dozen donuts or a deep fried chocolate croissant for breakfast.”

  132. @Jessica Boxer
    > If you really are learning martial arts for fighting you need to do Krav Maga, that is for scary dudes. You sure don’t choose to learn the form of the praying mantis to win a bar fight.

    Just to be clear, I am not saying that training has no benefit in a fight. Obviously being able to punch, kick, block, dodge, balance, move, take a hit and so forth are all beneficial in a fight. However, there is a LOT of other stuff that martial artists learn that is of limited utility.

  133. @Shenpen:

    My opinion is that precisely this, the British upper class model of the boxing intellectual, is what could put an end to the recurring curse of nerddom (in the negative sense) and save this kind of suffering for the future generation of boys. I think boxing and similar things generate that kind of manly self-confidence that prevents the bullying and disrespect that creates that kind of self-loathing that is characteristic of nerddom

    Greg:

    Not a bad idea, but you’re forgetting the Germans and their swords (and facial scars). And yes, American nerds have martial arts and guns. Lots of guns.

    The British and Germans (of the time) have something that American Nerds lack in the modern Martial Arts && Guns.

    Getting punched in the face.

    http://takimag.com/article/never_trust_anyone_who_hasnt_been_punched_in_the_face/print#axzz3OA6EwOGu

    I think there is a certain worldview that comes from violent experience. It’s something like…manhood. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest badass to be a man, but you have to be willing to throw down when the time is right.

    A man who has been in a fight or played violent sports has experienced more of life and manhood than a man who hasn’t. Fisticuffs, wrestling matches, knife fights, violent sport, duels with baseball bats, facing down guns, or getting crushed in the football field—men who have had these experiences are different from men who have not. Men who have trained for or experienced such encounters know about bravery and mental fortitude from firsthand experience. Men who have been tested physically know that inequality is a physical fact. Men who know how to deal out violence know that radical feminism’s tenets—that women and men are equal—are a lie. We know that women are not the same as men: not physically, mentally, or in terms of moral character.

    I think that this is what Shenpen is working towards. Not the utter violence of a brutal street brawl, but know that you *can* take a punch and keep going as well as understanding at gut level that while you *can*, it sucks and there are people out there who can eat you for a light afternoon snack. Knowing both things is a bit liberating.

  134. @William O. B’Livion
    >We know that women are not the same as men: not physically, mentally, or in terms of moral character.

    Anyone who thinks that women are these weak pathetic things, unable to countenance the prospect of a little physical pain and discomfort are evidently unfamiliar with the process of giving birth. It is ironic, in a sense, that the word “pussy” is a synonym for “coward”. In truth, if you think about what they go through, pussy should really be synonymous with “tough, brave, and able to endure though unbearable pain.”

  135. ESR:
    > There are some very silly and impractical-seeming martial-arts weapons like the
    > Japanese manrikigusari

    Ah. A big dog collar with a wad of keys on both ends. SRSLY, knew a guy who wanders around SF like that. And yes, he trains with it. And no, it’s not impractical.

  136. ESR:
    > Well, of course. What even remotely sane man would want to sleep with a woman
    > projecting the attitude she has?

    I would have as long as she didn’t outweigh me by too much.

    Hell, given some of my “girlfriends” BITD, I might *have*. Being crazy shouldn’t disqualify you from the wonderful experience of being w/me :)

  137. @William O. B’Livion:

    > I would have as long as she didn’t outweigh me by too much.

    If you have the energy, go for it!

    Personally, I don’t think I could deal.

  138. @ Shenpen – ” politically you have to work inside it”

    One of the seminal questions of social evolution is . . . are you helping or hurting by helping? When is it best to put your effort into fixing the current system versus starting the next revolution? Are we just driving into the ditch more slowly or would we be better off with a quick crash and recovery? Is the system rotten or are we just in a bad spell of crappy leadership?

    In good times, propping up the status quo is a herd imperative. But do the highly intelligent run in herds?

  139. “Might be nice if we could optimize these people – help them be happier and more productive.”

    It is necessary to explain to them that sports and other physical activities that they are not good at (for whatever reason) are the balancing factor in their life that will allow them to be “happier and more productive.”

    They should be encouraged to do these things because they (1) actually optimize their cognitive abilities and (2) provide the psychic balance easily lost by overconcentrating on mental activities. They should be taught to do them regardless whether they are good at them or not.

    Eric, this is straight out of Carl Jung. Individuation involves integrating the inferior function.

  140. Ms. Boxer:
    Stop reading what you want into it.

    Scott L. is not saying that women can’t handle pain, and aren’t physically tough, but that they are different. One of Scott’s best (female) friends was a M240 gunner in Iraq, and he is well aware of just how tough women are. He is also aware that all but the weakest men can flat out *STOMP* all but the strongest women, with or without training, and when you train those men (all but the physically handicapped) those strongest women have even less of a chance.

    Yeah, birth is a painful and physically taxing event. I watched my wife go through it.

    October 17, 2005, Samarra, Iraq: An IED exploded under a Bradley Fighting Vehicle designated Alpha 13, igniting its fuel cell, throwing fuel onto the uniforms and bodies of men inside. Sergeant 1st Class Alwyn “Al” Cashe from Sanford, Florida, was in the gunner’s hatch. Leader of the men in the Bradley, he managed to escape; then, while under enemy fire, he made three trips back into the burning BFV to pull six soldiers and an interpreter out. His own fuel-soaked uniform burned away, leaving only his helmet, body armor and boots. Covered with severe burns over as much as 90% of his body, he refused to be evacuated until all of his men had been medevaced. He died November 8, 2005, at San Antonio Military Hospital in Texas. – See more at: http://www.historynet.com/a-medal-of-honor-for-sfc-alwyn-cashe.htm#sthash.aE4UzHLN.dpuf

    Go find a list of Medal of Honor, various service Cross awards and Silver Star awardees, it reads like that *over and over*.

    Almost all of them men. There is *one* woman on the list of Medal of Honor awardees, it dates from the Civil war, and isn’t the sort of thing a man would usually get an award for (if the citation is complete–they had different standards back then).

    Child birth is part of “natural” life.

    Charging a *building* full of enemy (https://patriotpost.us/pages/103), oddly enough, probably is too. But one is “women’s work” (men flat out *cannot* bear children), and the other is almost exclusively *mens* work because testosterone builds the sort of muscles that allows you to do it successfully. Well, some of the time.

    This isn’t to denigrate women, I’ve served with (allowing for the disparity in participation) as many good women soldiers[1] as good male soldiers.

    This is the distinction Locklin is making, that women are tough and strong, and brave, but it’s *men* who run back into the fire to save strangers and the children of strangers. Women care for their fellow men, but *men* kick in doors and risk gunfire to save them. It’s men that, in the middle of a winter storm, put on their coats and go climb poles in the dead of night to get the power back on.

    Men have *different* moral character than women, and that has to be developed.

    [1] Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen.

    • >This is the distinction Locklin is making, that women are tough and strong, and brave, but it’s *men* who run back into the fire to save strangers and the children of strangers.

      Women will, and should, run into the fire to save their children if there are no men to do it. The difference, which I have written about before, is that men are outer guard and women are inner guard – female reproductive capacity is scarcer so women are not to be risked except in the utmost extreme. Tribes and civilizations that forget this rule (if that is possible) simply die.

  141. @Jessica Boxer

    As useful hypothesis is that there is active courage (act when you would feel like freezing from fear) and passive courage (endure passively something horrible). Fighting is more like the former, and childbirth is more like the later. And you could perhaps say the first is more masculine and the second is more femine

    Although I as a straight man too have more passive courage than active. It is always more easier for me to just put on a stiff upper lip and put up with pain while not doing much, than to act decisively in scary situations.

    Parallel, and probably an meaningful one: hunting = active courage = act decisively when you are a facing a bear. Gathering = passive courage = your lower back hurts like fuck and you still go on bending down a thousand times gathering food.

  142. @William

    This is a useful model on so many levels:

    1) People who disrespect soldiers do so because their job is to kill. People who respect soldiers do so because their job is to risk the chance of getting killed. (The second type of people have it right, needless to say.)

    2) Boxing is educative not because it teaches you to punch and “teaches violence is a good way to solve problems”, as its detractors say. It is educative because it teaches you to _face_ violence and not shit your pants.

    3) The reason Social Justice Warrior is generally a negative term that SJWs use aggressive language, yet they don’t really put themselves into dangerous situations for their causes. The essence of a warrior is not to fight and use violence, a warrior can be peaceful. The essence of a warrior is to face violence, to face danger, even if he decides to largely not to respond to it with violence (the Gandhi-MLK axis of peaceful warriors). SJWs are disrespected largely because they are unwilling to put themselves into danger, yet their language is martial.

    4) Manhood, masculinity, as such, is not about solving problems with violence, it is about having the courage to face peopl who solve problems with violence. Usually, but not necessarily and not essentially, the response will have to be violence too, but it is not the central part of it. This is what boxing teaches. Punching a bag teaches nothing. Facing punches of the other teaches everything.

    (A bit of a correction: the facial-scar aspect of German fencing culture was limited to specific university bunds, who were seen by every other intelllectual as crazy drunken louts. Source, amongst others: Stephan Zweig’s The World Of Yesterday. Outside this, the upper class intellectual culture was nowhere even nearly as masculine as the British one. It was too humanist for that.)

  143. @Jessica Boxer,Shenpen, William O’Blivion:

    Are you exactly sure what each other’s arguments are? A common failure mode of discussion on gender, among other things is that ‘there exists at least one woman displaying $MANLY_ATTRIBUTE’ and ‘$MANLY_ATTRIBUTE is equally common in men & women’ are not equivalent. If one really wanted to, one could look at this as a double motte $ bailey/ strawman.

  144. William: Ah, I missed that pun; very good.

    (Though I was thinking, at the time I questioned the lack of wordplay, of plays on “anthropology”.

    And I’m not sure there’s a lot available except the clothing store.

    Which I know about from seeing the internet, and the occasional amusing thing someone sees on their store and shares [in the accessories or home section] and the fact that it’s almost exactly the sort of thing the girlfriend likes, when she’s not perusing ModCloth.)

  145. >I think that this is what Shenpen is working towards. Not the utter violence of a brutal street brawl, but know that you *can* take a punch and keep going as well as understanding at gut level that while you *can*, it sucks and there are people out there who can eat you for a light afternoon snack. Knowing both things is a bit liberating.

    Yes, I gathered that. The practice of dueling with live blades with the at least partially intentional side effect of gathering facial scars probably qualifies. ;)

    And yes, I agree with most of that. Not especially a brawler here, but I have been kicked in the face, hit in the face with a baseball bat (those were accidents) and punched in the head by someone wearing large rings (that was a fight I was losing, was lucky someone broke it up). I’ve also won a couple of fights. And some other stuff. They are educational experiences.

    You shouldn’t automatically assume people not having experience with the physical aspect of life.

    And yes, I do believe American nerds actually having access to tools of lethal force, and having a good chance of being raised in a culture that understands and appreciates them, is also important. Educational. Even liberating. I think you shouldn’t underestimate the value of the American gun culture, and the aspects of the mindset that contribute to it. (Countries that don’t have it, or that suppressed it, have definitely lost something.)

  146. “This isn’t to denigrate women, I’ve served with (allowing for the disparity in participation) as many good women soldiers[1] as good male soldiers.”

    And certainly it was true when I was in the auxiliary police. Our women members were every it as good as the men as far as that work was concerned. (Better, in the case of the mounted unit – women are generally better riders than men are.)

    “This is the distinction Locklin is making, that women are tough and strong, and brave, but it’s *men* who run back into the fire to save strangers and the children of strangers. Women care for their fellow men, but *men* kick in doors and risk gunfire to save them. It’s men that, in the middle of a winter storm, put on their coats and go climb poles in the dead of night to get the power back on.”

    “Women will, and should, run into the fire to save their children if there are no men to do it. The difference, which I have written about before, is that men are outer guard and women are inner guard – female reproductive capacity is scarcer so women are not to be risked except in the utmost extreme. Tribes and civilizations that forget this rule (if that is possible) simply die.”

    Yes. The over-riding rule is, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!!!. ALWAYS!!! There’s always plenty of sperm to go around. Raising children takes decades.

  147. Speaking as an INFJ severely deaf Mensan nerd, in my experience it takes a while, but the sticky information (and acquired social skills) which you eventually produce eventually produce welcome dividends.

  148. Somewhat off-topic, but “geeks and nerds matter. Modern civilization couldn’t function without them” brings to mind my favorite poem, Kipling’s Sons of Martha. It neatly captures the dependence of the modern world on the sons (and nowadays daughters) of Martha, who keeps things running behind the scenes.

    http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/920/

  149. The one phrase of Eric’s which caught my eye about which there has been little discussion is:

    >Might be nice if we could optimize these people – help them be happier and more productive.

    I would *love* to see where this could lead.

  150. Okay – this is one for the moderation queue…

    A lot more weed is smoked by geeks than is apparent from what people will say on the ‘net. Weed can be wonderful for cognitive disinhibition – generating ideas. Of course most of the ideas will be silly, but it’s like gold panning in rich ground – the nuggets are worth it.

    I have read that the early days of Apple involved a great deal weed. I mentioned before that in the mid-’80s I read an article in Datamation (a magazine for IT managers) in which Steve Jobs described his first experience on acid (or as the kids say, lysergic acid diethylamide).

    I am retired due to a degenerative spine problem and have recently become a medical marijuana user. Being retired, I will also go so far as to say that I started smoking weed the same year I became a professional programmer.

    I first got interested in recreational drugs in grade 5, when I was part of a group that (with parental permission) spent about 6 months learning about the different recreational drugs. It was, amazingly, very good; the idea being that actual information is better than what we would eventually pick up on the street. They never quite said

    You got alcohol and you got marijuana. Only one has a death toll.

    (There is no known case in history (which for weed, goes back about 5,000 years) where a person could say, “If he hadn’t been stoned on pot, he wouldn’t have died.” We all know which drug causes the most deaths and wrecks the most families.)

    Anyway,… Other than a bit of dabbling 30 years ago, I have never been into any illegal drug other than weed. Nevertheless, drugs have been an ongoing interest of mine.

    Let me introduce you to Mr. Indole, who plays a staring role in LSD/shrooms/mescaline/DMT/etc., as well as the neurotransmitter serotonin – a benzine ring sharing a side with a five-sided ring that includes one nitrogen like this…

        C==C
       /    \
      C      C--N
       \\   //   \
         C--C     C
              \  //
                C
    

    (If this looks like crap, it’s because the <pre> tag isn’t supported.)

    The LSD class of drugs are all very similar, extremely powerful psychologically, safe physically, but known to uncover latent psychological problems in a small proportion of users.

  151. @Brian Marshall:

    Although the jury is still out on all the health effects of marijuana (mostly because it’s hard to do controlled studies with illegal drugs), no drug is without side-effects. Smoking it can certainly increase your risk of some cancers, including testicular cancer.

    And eating is not always so great either:

    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25488963/marijuana-edibles-spotlight-colorado-after-students-death

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the kernel of truth behind “Reefer Madness” came from cases of oral ingestion.

  152. “A lot more weed is smoked by geeks than is apparent from what people will say on the ‘net. Weed can be wonderful for cognitive disinhibition – generating ideas. Of course most of the ideas will be silly, but it’s like gold panning in rich ground – the nuggets are worth it.”

    Aha! So that explains the mass quantities of Jolt Cola, chips and twinkies consumed during those marathon coding sessions….

  153. @ Patrick

    Marijuana edibles are a serious problem because it can take anywhere from half an hour to three hours to take effect. A person has to know what they are doing; it is pretty much impossible to judge whether they should eat more. Sometimes the effect is so spread out that there appears to be little affect at all, usually because of what is already in their stomach. It is best to do a known amount on an empty stomach. “meant to be nibbled over time”, as your linked article suggests, is NOT a substitute for knowing how much THC/etc one is consuming. Making laws regarding potency won’t help; it could make it worse – it is so easy to just eat one more.

    Very large doses of marijuana can have effects similar to a quite low dose of LSD, say 150 ug. This can uncover psychosis and other mental problems that a user may not know they have.

    The linked article says:

    Levy Thamba, 19, became agitated after eating marijuana-infused cookies and then leapt to his death from a hotel balcony, according to a coroner’s report released this week. His death was classified as an accident.

    It remains unclear how much Thamba ate or how long elapsed before his death.

    From Wikipedia – Misconceptions_about_drugs – thought they could fly

    There are rare cases of people falling to their death while tripping on LSD; however, these incidents were likely either suicides or accidents caused by disorientation or misjudgement of distance, rather than attempts to “fly.” This myth may have started from the highly publicized 1969 death of Diane Linkletter, now thought to be a suicide unrelated to LSD.[citation needed]

    From Wikipedia – Misconceptions_about_drugs – thought they could fly

    There are rare cases of people falling to their death while tripping on LSD; however, these incidents were likely either suicides or accidents caused by disorientation or misjudgement of distance, rather than attempts to “fly.” This myth may have started from the highly publicized 1969 death of Diane Linkletter, now thought to be a suicide unrelated to LSD.[citation needed]

    It is all but certain that he did not think he could fly. So why did he leap to his death? No one knows. It looks like the marijuana was a contributing factor, but the article linked in the article you linked says that he had

    7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. In impaired driving cases, state law sets a standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter at which juries can presume impairment.

    7.2 ng/ml is not very much at all – there must have been other factors.

    The words “leapt” and “accident” in the coroner’s report is sort of an odd combination.

  154. @LS
    > Yes. The over-riding rule is, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!!!. ALWAYS!!! There’s always plenty of sperm to go around. Raising children takes decades.

    I don’t want to get drawn into another one of the anti-feminist wars that go on here, they rarely turn out pretty, especially for me. However, maybe I move in the wrong circles but there isn’t too much “women an children first” around here.

    And this trope of “there is plenty of sperm to go round” is all very well for Cro-Magnons, but the reality is that many of America’s problems today can be traced to the lack of fathers in the post sperm sense of the word. As you might be aware we are not short of babies having babies, and in our world of plenty and modernity the human race is in no danger of extinction from a lack of women.

    The truth is that at the heart of many problems in society today is neither a lack of sperm or a lack of uteruses, rather it is a lack of men willing to do a decent job raising their babies. Perhaps a little less running into burning buildings, and a little more lighting a fire in the heart of a child, is what is needed more of men.

    I’m not claiming women are saintly, of course they aren’t, I’m not advocating more of the abuse that men often take in divorce and child support cases, it is often quite unjust. But it would be nice if we could continue down the path of moving away from views of masculinity that are rooted in liefstyles long gone, and rather more and more align them with today’s realities.

  155. @ Jessica

    The primary side-effect of the liberal welfare state has been to systemically replace fathers with government paternalism. This insures that future generations will be financially dependent upon the state and thereby a dependable voting block for liberal politicians promising evermore booty. There is no honor in men allowing this travesty to continue either, and those that succumb pay a very dear price in lost integrity. I call this effect “cultural anti-evolution.”

  156. I strongly suspect that Robert Heinlein first tried, and liked, marijuana between 1963 and 1964.

    I was reading my collection of Heinlein books in chronological order a year or so ago.

    In Glory Road (I think), published in 1963, there is a reference to “the deadly drug, hashish” or something like that.

    In Farnham’s Freehold, published in 1964, the viewpoint character uses, in moderation, a drug that everyone uses in the place where he is more or less imprisoned. After he first tried it…

    Hugh felt drunk but not unsteady – it was just that the floor was so far away. … He still had no idea what was in Happiness drinks. Alcohol? Maybe. Betel nut? Mushrooms>? Probably. Marijuana? It seemed certain.

  157. @Brian in the Extendend Universee RAH explained that the 1960’s were merely a reinvention of the 1920’s when he went to college to NY and every soft and hard stuff was available within a few city blocks of the college. And he did not seem to be very upset of the fact.

  158. @TomA this kinds of concepts are better to be approached through empirical numbers, while the logic is clear, and it COULD happen, but if this really happens and that way depends on always the question of “how much?” How much is single-mother welfare in the US and what quality of living would that provide? Austria has one of the highest per capita social spending in the world yet according to my calculations as jobless single mom with two kids could not really afford a normal lower-middle-class living, which I calculate roughly as €600 rent and utilities for a 60 m2 apartment in an average area (i.e. some but not all neighbors wear tracksuits), around €300 food and €150 for public transportation (no car), phone, internet, TV, entertainment, and €100 for saving up for clothes for the kids etc. longer term consumables. This would not be covered by the state, not even 70% of it, so the income of a husband is still very much welcome. Are the numbers more generous in the US or the costs of living lower?

    While I agree with the general idea, I think the devil is always in the details, the numbers. My guesstimate is that in most countries this kind of replace the dad with government would only work for people who have really, REALLY low level of expectations of their standards of living, like, mom and two kids live in 1 room apartment, wear crappy clothes from salvation army, can never afford to eat out etc.

    I think the dad still means the difference between kids having a kid room (let alone their individual rooms) and brand new clothes or not, unless some states are really crazy generous.

  159. @Jessica Boxer

    >But it would be nice if we could continue down the path of moving away from views of masculinity that are rooted in liefstyles long gone, and rather more and more align them with today’s realities.

    Sorry, this had set all my alarms ringing. No, we don’t need to do that, because giving up the warrior ideal in age where it is less useful leads to low-T men who are 1) depressed (more and more research suggests it) 2) are unattractive to women and women end up unsatisfied.

    Rather, what we need to do is to delegeate the manly stuff from the worktime to the pastime. Masculinity becomes a hobby, to be used in the boxing gym and similar pastime activities, while not much used, becasue not much needed, at the job or even at the family life. That kind of compromise is workable.

    Nota bene, something similar is happening to women. As women earn more money, the art of feminine seduction (which was practiced through millenia to catch high-status men) and through that the feeling of really, really feeling feminine is slowly getting lost the same way as warrior-king masculinity is getting lost – and again the solution that it is to delegate it to the pastime, to a hobby. Over here belly-dancing courses are spreading like wildfire – that activity is a good example of how women can feel really, really feminine for an hour in the afternoon. Belly-dancing is typically a kind of dancing that was used to please emirs and suchlike. It triggers all the submissive-feminine buttons in a safe and fun way. Similar examples can be probably found.

    • >Rather, what we need to do is to delegeate the manly stuff from the worktime to the pastime. Masculinity becomes a hobby, to be used in the boxing gym and similar pastime activities, while not much used, becasue not much needed, at the job or even at the family life. That kind of compromise is workable.

      I just posted a link on my G+ feed to an article about some French researchers who claim to have found that eating spicy food raises male testosterone levels.

      It’s no surprise when an adrenaline-junkie type like me enjoys spicy food. But I’ve noticed that standard-profile geeks who are otherwise physically unadventurous and risk-averse are also very prone to enjoy spicy food. Perhaps SSC is right about that group being low-testosterone and they are self-medicating?

      More generally, I think your proposal that masculinity is becoming a pastime might explain the sharply increased popularity of hot peppers over the last couple of decades in the U.S. and the way it is behaviorally marked as a guy thing.

  160. @Shenpen
    “Sorry, this had set all my alarms ringing. No, we don’t need to do that, because giving up the warrior ideal in age where it is less useful leads to low-T men who are 1) depressed (more and more research suggests it) 2) are unattractive to women and women end up unsatisfied.”

    This sounds very USA-like macho style. I would like to see some citations this holds in other parts of the world. Personally, I doubt it.

  161. @ Patrick

    Although the jury is still out on all the health effects of marijuana (mostly because it’s hard to do controlled studies with illegal drugs), no drug is without side-effects. Smoking it can certainly increase your risk of some cancers, including testicular cancer.

    It is a rich field for research. Marijuana has many side effects we know about and presumably many more that we don’t. It contains hundreds of potentially psychoactive chemicals and some effect how others work. Ex. CBD (cannabidiol) reduces the “high” and usually how well it works for pain but generally increases the anti-inflammatory effect. Every strain feels different, and different people react differently to them. How it consumed affects this.

    I am using a vaporizer (“vaping”), which vaporizes everything up to a certain temperature (THC boils at 315 deg F). This eliminates a lot of crap that you get with any kind of plant smoke, and the and the vapor temperature is lower than smoke from a simple pipe or joint. It usually reduces the head-buzz and thought-tumbling, increases the body feel (body stone) and preserves (most?) medical benefits (for normal pain, neuropathic pain, nausea, spasms, anxiety, etc.).

    Anecdotal evidence is always suspect, but it is reassuring, to some extent, that people have been smoking weed and hash for thousands of years.

  162. > minion of the patriarchy?

    Gray beard… suspenders… bifocals… thousand-yard stare… I *am* the patriarchy!

  163. @ Shenpen

    I think that what you’re trying to say is that it’s a bad idea for young mothers to trade in their husbands for a welfare check. Yes, that is absolutely correct. We have evolved as a family structure, which means that it “works” in the evolutionary sense.

    It’s also a bad idea to become a crack addict, and yet addictions continue in societies all over the planet. People make bad choices (and are lured down bad paths) for many reasons, and sometimes these reasons are instigated by misguided government incentives.

    When the US instituted it’s Great Society welfare programs in the 1960s, the putative rationale was compassion for the poor. Yet these programs only paid out if the man was out of the house. Poor black mothers were given a Hobson’s Choice. If you want a steady income in order to feed your kids, then get rid of the dad first. And thus been the cycle of family destruction, loss of personal integrity, children abandonment, and despair.

    The truly sad part is that these programs have been growing in scope and destruction for three generations now.

  164. Adding my own anecdotal data point to the anecdotal pile:

    Math and science: Check. I’m an engineer studying EP/plasma physics, but I have an interest in learning just about everything I can. I once told someone that my goal was to be able to take the entire universe apart in my mind and see how it all worked. To understand the whole thing, top to bottom, inside/out. It’s impossible, but it’s still what I would like to do if I had enough time. Barring that, helping develop technology to get mankind off this rock would be nice.

    Straightedge: Check. 1. While I am curious about the future potential of things like nootropics and drugs that actually enhance the way the brain works, I wouldn’t take any risks on things that are only supported by internet rumor. Most current illegal drugs BSOD the brain, and the clear functioning of my mind, to the extent I can maintain that these days, is what enables me to live/makes life interesting. 2. I have enough trouble with migraines and associated fogheadedness to add things like hangovers to the problems I deal with.

    Low T/High T: No idea?

    Athleticism: I’ve gotten into the habit of running to keep my endurance up. Other than that, working out is a bit of a chore, like flossing or cleaning the shower. Before serving in the AF, I was unathletic, anemic, asthmatic, etc. I would be the kid the ancient Greeks would have killed to make room for the healthy children. Since serving in the military, my health/constitution is far closer to normal, but not exceptional.

    Monkey status games: Early in life, I had no chance. Later in life, I have no interest.

    Introversion: Check.

    Programming: I’m not a programming specialist/professional, but programming has been a rewarding hobby of mine since before grade school.

    Military: Served four years.

    Academia: Currently working towards a PhD.

    Social Suaveness: My graduate advisor has requested that I attempt to be less nerdy. I am officially too nerdy for engineering grad school. :-P

  165. Before high-school, not before grade school. (I wasn’t that precocious! :-P) I started with an Apple IIe probably around 5thto 7th grade, and had an old internet incapable DOS computer in 8th-11th.

  166. @ Shenpen

    in the Extendend Universee RAH explained that the 1960’s were merely a reinvention of the 1920’s when he went to college to NY and every soft and hard stuff was available within a few city blocks of the college. And he did not seem to be very upset of the fact.

    Huh. I don’t have that book anymore. Learn something new every day.

  167. Do you think certain historical figures, such as Theodore Roosevelt. fit a consciously developed muscular nerd category better than a naturally/unconscious charismatic alpha male category?

  168. TL;DR: I mostly agree with what you’re saying–and it is a HUGE problem, but it’s not the Geek/Nerd Community that has a significant problem in this area.

    Jessica Boxer on 2015-01-07 at 23:16:10 said:

    @LS
    > Yes. The over-riding rule is, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!!!. ALWAYS!!! There’s always plenty of sperm to go around. Raising children takes decades.

    I don’t want to get drawn into another one of the anti-feminist wars that go on here, they rarely turn out pretty, especially for me. However, maybe I move in the wrong circles but there isn’t too much “women an children first” around here.

    If you’re not seeing evidence of “Women and Children First” in your circles, then either you need to look harder, or you need to switch circles.

    I run in very weird circles (19 1/2 years ago at my wedding I had 2 groomsmen. One went back in the army and went through Special Forces training and spent a long time killing terrorists (or trying to) and other because General Counsel for a semiconductor company.) and to be frank, it’s the mean old nasty gun loving christian conservatives I know who *more* put their family first.

    Hell, my instructor in Marine Corp boot camp said “If some pulls out in front of you, step on the gas and t-bone them. But not if there are children in the car recruits. NEVER kill children.” Of course, he was cheating on his wife (or claimed to be). Absolutely adored her and his kids, but wasn’t exactly willing to be faithful. Might have been an aspect of Latino culture I never got.

    … reality is that many of America’s problems today can be traced to the lack of fathers in the post sperm sense of the word. As you might be aware we are not short of babies having babies, and in our world of plenty and modernity the human race is in no danger of extinction from a lack of women.

    You are 100% correct.

    There are many aspects to “Manhood” beyond just the donation of a genetic sample, and the truth is that in the areas where the problems you mention are the worse, many of the male are willing to fight at the drop of the hat, but that gets right back to *moral character*. Some would claim that Martial Arts training includes a moral component. I’m not certain this is true, or if it is that it’s not just here in America.

    Walking away from your obligations isn’t being a man, it’s being a man-child, no matter how much the woman-child you’re dealing with drives you away.

    It is my contention that any two adults, willing to be adults. can live together for the time it takes to properly raise a child. But *both* need to be onboard with this or it’s a living hell.

    However in the communities (both black and white) where this is happening, we, as you note, have children raising children, we see other pathologies (drugs and alcohol). Hell, my brother in law is in this world–his “wife” has IIRC 5 kids by 5 different fathers and his is the *second* oldest.

    But Boys and Girls (the 90%+ who are “normal” in respect to gender) are different, and need to be raised differently, but both need moral education and the building of moral character. For men this is done, at least partially, through physical challenges. And yes, some men get by without it, but clearly from looking at society *not enough*.

    Although I’m willing to entertain the notion that it was *never* that many, just 60 years ago we didn’t see enough of the world at once to realize how many shitbums there were.

    The truth is that at the heart of many problems in society today is neither a lack of sperm or a lack of uteruses

    Well, in some ways it is.

    We would be a lot better off if the middle and upper classes had had more children in the 60s through the 80s. We would have needed to import a lot less labor and political balances would have shifted, but that’s not what you mean.

    And it may shock you to find out that here again, I agree with you.

    rather it is a lack of men willing to do a decent job raising their babies. Perhaps a little less running into burning buildings, and a little more lighting a fire in the heart of a child, is what is needed more of men.

    Two responses to this:

    One is that the population group we’re discussing in this post–Geeks, Nerds and Dweebs–may not be the best at “light a fire in the heart of a child”, but I’m willing to bet my next paycheck that they aren’t the ones begetting a child and then disclaiming responsibility. They will be the ones–maybe hiding in their basement “office”, or out in the garage, but in the home until driven out–who are pushing their kids to do well in school, to understand the world and to be responsible.

    They may go through divorces, but I’m betting their *generally* not the ones filing, or if they are it’s not because they are seeing greener pastures.

    So while I agree that America, and what I saw of Australia, would be better if the gene donors stuck around more to be *dads*, I suspect it’s not a problem in the cohort under discussion.

    That said, I have a buddy from the Marine Corps (25 years ago, more a FoaF) who is now a NYPD Detective. His kids are diagnosed autistic. He wants to get out of the cesspool that is NYC, but stays there, and stays on the job to make sure his daughters can get the care they need. He schedules his job, to the extent he can, around them. He is not divorced, he has not abandoned his kids.

    I would submit to you that the sorts of men who run into fires after someone *else’s* family are also the (generally) sort of men who go home after one of those fires and hug their child tight with tears in their eyes.

    The majority of the people my parents exposed me to, their friends, were *decades* long marriages with kids. Even friends of my fathers that were divorced and remarried (I can only think of 1) did not abandon their children.

    Now, I know you didn’t want to get into the feminist fight, and I’m not nearly J.A.D. (if you say his name three times, does he show up?) but the communities *most* effected (affected?) by this problem (lower class blacks, lower class whites) are essentially the opposite side of our culture from the cohort under discussion, but until the 1960s were doing *ok*.

    Then came The Pill, and Women’s Liberation. Not just “equal pay for equal work”, which almost everyone things is reasonable and far. Not just “look, a short skirt doesn’t excuse rape” and “rape is bad”, which most of us agree on–once we agree on a definition of rape.

    But the notion that “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, coupled with the Pill and legalized abortion, and “you” give a certain class of male a license to, if I may be so crude, “fire and forget”.

    By the mid-80s there were a significantly large cohort of women and young girls with this attitude that many of us thought that the old ways were wrong, and this new way was The Shit!

    We were wrong. Heinlein once said that “Geniuses and supergeniuses always make their own rules on sex as on everything else; they do not accept the monkey customs of their lessers.”, and we tried to apply these sorts of rules across the board. We failed because of the Russell Kirk quote below.

    This http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_3_black_family.html is very interesting, and if true *MASSIVELY* damning.

    Lemme quote just a bit:

    More than most social scientists, Moynihan, steeped in history and anthropology, understood what families do. They “shape their children’s character and ability,” he wrote. “By and large, adult conduct in society is learned as a child.” What children learned in the “disorganized home[s]” of the ghetto, as he described through his forest of graphs, was that adults do not finish school, get jobs, or, in the case of men, take care of their children or obey the law. Marriage, on the other hand, provides a “stable home” for children to learn common virtues. Implicit in Moynihan’s analysis was that marriage orients men and women toward the future, asking them not just to commit to each other but to plan, to earn, to save, and to devote themselves to advancing their children’s prospects. Single mothers in the ghetto, on the other hand, tended to drift into pregnancy, often more than once and by more than one man, and to float through the chaos around them. Such mothers are unlikely to “shape their children’s character and ability” in ways that lead to upward mobility. Single mothers in the ghetto, on the other hand, tended to drift into pregnancy, often more than once and by more than one man, and to float through the chaos around them. Such mothers are unlikely to “shape their children’s character and ability” in ways that lead to upward mobility.

    And:

    In fact, some scholars continued, maybe the nuclear family was really just a toxic white hang-up, anyway. No one asked what nuclear families did, or how they prepared children for a modern economy. The important point was simply that they were not black. “One must question the validity of the white middle-class lifestyle from its very foundation because it has already proven itself to be decadent and unworthy of emulation,” wrote Joyce Ladner (who later became the first female president of Howard University) in her 1972 book Tomorrow’s Tomorrow.

    In the mid-60s Monyhan complained that the out-of-wedlock births in the black community were near 25% (at the time whites were under 5% IIRC).

    Now, with over educated fucking morons like Joyce Ladner as “elites” participating in running the system we have out of wedlock births in the black community approaching 70%, and *white* out of wedlock births approaching 25%.

    But when us cultural conservatives try to reset the line, try to pull back we get poo thrown at us by the leftist monkey wimmen who claim we want y’all to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Which is a *lie*. Y’all look much better in high heels.[1]

    So yes, absent fathers is a serious problem in our society, but it’s not a choice between men with the sort of moral character to run into burning buildings and men who make good fathers, as those two can *easily* go together.

    I’m not claiming women are saintly, of course they aren’t, I’m not advocating more of the abuse that men often take in divorce and child support cases, it is often quite unjust. But it would be nice if we could continue down the path of moving away from views of masculinity that are rooted in liefstyles long gone, and rather more and more align them with today’s realities.

    Let me quote Russell Kirk here “First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”

    Today’s realities aren’t any different than 100 or 500 years ago. The world is a bit more complex, and a bit less dangerous IF YOU PAY ATTENTION (today almost no one dies from a toothache. 500 years ago no one died from airline accidents). Men are still men, Women are still women. We acknowledge that some small percentage answer that with “undecided, both, neither, green”, but again, that cohort is outside this discussion and sufficiently small as to be noise in the sample.

    Most of the men I know who’ve gotten divorced were Christians who did not want to. The two exceptions to that were one guy who wasn’t christian, and who’s wife was a nag and a scold (he was also a *terrible* little child), and one who had PTSD and went off his meds. Fortunately the police ended that one w/out killing him. And truthfully I don’t know if she divorced him, but after he held her hostage for 5 hours, who could have blamed her?

    [1] No, that’s a joke.

  169. I’m fairly sure I was a nerd in school, and probably count as a high-functioning nerd today.

    As for “straightedge” behavior: I don’t smoke, at first because I was taught it was unhealthy, and later because I don’t fully appreciate the pleasure of it and cringe at the expense of buying cigarettes, but I am very willing to drink socially, and at one point even tried deliberately to get myself drunk to see what that was like. (Answer: I get a headache, and later, I vomit. Multiple confirmations.) So, I still drink, often, but almost always socially, and not to excess (nausea) anymore. I suspect I know in what way this counts.

    Even today, though, I find interest in the effects of alcohol, including observing what different people do when they’re drunk. (I sometimes joke that you can tell when I’m drunk, because I start trying extra hard to prove I’m not – often by getting you to give me a math problem to solve.)

  170. Gender treatment: I sometimes observe nerdguys doing something peculiar around girls, especially nerdgirls, although this is very possibly selection bias (and maybe even some projection): they try conspicuously to treat the girl as a guy in a manner reminiscent of a scientist trying to manage a control case. For example, if they conclude it’s socially acceptable in some situation to punch a guy in the shoulder, they’ll pointedly punch the girl, too. It’s as if they want to ensure as completely as possible that the girl is not left out of the social group in any way. It’s also as if they want to ensure that if the girl is attracted to them, it’s genuine attraction and not just everyone playing to conventional gender roles.

  171. Shenpen: “I don’t think anyone around here could be bribed with less than a month’s income to type in one page of printed text into a text editor.” – If I’m a nerd, I’m a counterexample to this. I type 90-100 WPM and am proud of it. (And I’m even surprised transcribing repels you to the point that you would think to claim this.)

    In general, if nerds tend to be intelligent (probably true, and at the same time, I believe the converse does not hold), then this is going confound a lot of attempts at generalization. One common theme I noticed running through this entire discussion is earnest cites of counterexamples (including mine). In fact, any attempt at generalization made sufficiently known to nerds / geeks / whathaveyou will result in someone trying to defy it, because they realize Something Is Up.

    I wouldn’t put it past some cohort here to start an analysis of the experience of sleeping with left-libertarian SJWs and then running into a burning building with an AA badge in one hand and a spicy cigar in the other…

  172. Brian Marshall on 2015-01-07 at 21:22:14 said: There is no known case in history (which for weed, goes back about 5,000 years) where a person could say, “If he hadn’t been stoned on pot, he wouldn’t have died.”

    Does the word hashishin ring a bell with you?
    How about MIchael Brown?

    There is also the fact that marijuana suppresses nausea and vomiting, which makes it much easier to ingest a lethal amount of ethanol. The number of deaths by alcohol poisoning has increased substantially with the increased use of marijuana.

    Finally, there is marijuana’s long-term effect on the brain. Marijuana use is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of schizophrenia. But marijuana use, especially early and frequent use, correlates with schizophrenia, and the brain tissues of heavy marijuana users show changes similar to schizophrenics. There was a Swedish metastudy which concluded that marijuana use contributes about 14% to the incidence of schizophrenia.

  173. @ Rich Rostrom

    Does the word hashishin ring a bell with you?

    I am not claiming that no one has been rewarded with hash for killing someone. The idea that they killed because they had smoked hash, is nonsense. If you want violence, alcohol is the drug of choice. Actually, the Hells Angels’ combo of “reds, whites and beer” (barbituates to make you weird and mean, amphetamines to keep awake and, of course, alcohol) makes for some wild violence.

    How about MIchael Brown?

    Get real. Weed does not make people violent. Have you ever heard of a brawl between two pot-heads? ‘Course, that doesn’t mean that two violent people can’t fight after smoking weed. But that doesn’t make it the weed’s fault.

    There is also the fact that marijuana suppresses nausea and vomiting, which makes it much easier to ingest a lethal amount of ethanol.

    I had never thought (or heard) of that. In any case, the problem isn’t the weed, it is binge drinking – it is dangerous.

    Finally, there is marijuana’s long-term effect on the brain. Marijuana use is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of schizophrenia. But marijuana use, especially early and frequent use, correlates with schizophrenia…

    Right – correlation, not causation. Actually, deliberate or accidentally doing way too much, particularly repeatedly, particularly with a “binge drinking” approach, could uncover latent schizophrenia (I haven’t actually heard of it, but I haven’t looked into it) – I am granting the possibility. But this makes no difference at all to people that aren’t already prone to schizophrenia. I question the 14% figure, but it isn’t about the use of weed; it is about the prevalance of schizophrenia. There is selection bias going on here, as well. There are many people that have low motivation/ambition, people uncomfortable with what goes on in their head, and all manner other people that like marijuana. Correlation, not causation. Ditto for brain changes that look like schizophrenia.

    I may have made too strong a statement in a recent comment. The idea that there has never been a situation where “He wouldn’t be dead if he hadn’t been stoned on weed” may be overly broad when you start considering “contributing factors” – hell, a fight with the girl friend can be a contributing factor to someone doing something they shouldn’t.

    The idea that Marijuana has never caused a death has been around for decades in North America. If there are counter examples, we would have heard about it.

    One aspect is that, like LSD, it is pretty much impossible to die from an overdoes. From a High Times article

    Most researchers agree that marijuana users are not physically capable of consuming deadly amounts of the herb, which is the reason there have not been any reported marijuana deaths throughout history

    and

    “There’s been no history of any verified reports of a death from cannabis ever, in 5,000 years of history,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford in a recent interview with The Cannabist. “Cannabis can cause an increased heart rate, and there’s a possibility that it could cause a problem with someone with a pre-existing heart disease — for example, somebody with an elevated heart rate. But there’s no known dose of cannabis that could kill a human.”

    There is also “fucking fool selection bias”. I recently read a news story in which an ER doctor who was going on about how crazy it is to use marijuana – he just sees all kinds of messed up people coming into the ER, which, of course, is hardly a fair sample of marijuana users. He is apparently unaware of the many professional people that smoke weed.

  174. Yeahbut… Brian, how do you explain studies that show marijuana has effects on users for 48 hours after use? The study I’m thinking of showed that pilots had diminished abilities to control the aircraft and make decisions during that time.

  175. @ Jay

    I have heard about that study. There are also studies that show that, for experienced drivers that are experienced with marijuana, that it doesn’t make them poorer drivers. In some cases, some people actually became better drivers. This is mostly because weed tends to make people more cautious and concerned about risks; people that do way too much weed start feeling parinoid and uncomfortable. All pretty much the opposite of alcohol.

    One important thing to remember is that there are a zillion young people driving stoned, and they are generally driving as well as young people ever do. They aren’t dying all over the place.

  176. Oh yeah… How do I explain it? The pilot study was about pilots – people that are supposed to be straightedge people. Ida know… One major aspect is that weed affects everyone differently and different strains can have very different effects.

  177. Wait a minute…. I don’t know the details and I am way too tired to find out. But I bet they didn’t ask for pilots that were regular marijuana users. That matters. I will have to check out that study.

  178. @Brian Marshall:

    > Weed does not make people violent.

    Not normally, no. But it can make some people paranoid, and paranoia makes some people violent.

  179. I’ve been in the industry and before that the “scene” for decades and its clear to me that the nerd label is a hasty generalization at best. Maybe 25% of people I met were “pocket protector” types who could speak Klingon but couldn’t ask a girl on a date, which is significant but still a minority. The rest just run the usual gamut of middle class kids.

    My main sidekick in the day was a brown belt from Florida who rode a motorcycle and had his pick of women. He ended up as a collared shirt telecom infosec guy but he’ll still drop a rootkit in your system while you’re at the door paying for pizza just to amuse himself. My other buddy was a long haired tie dyed hippie with the biggest music collection I’d ever seen. He could score anything at a moments notice and could put together a house party with a few phone calls and would go to Vegas or Atlantic city on an hour’s notice. He was the first guy I knew who could make a long distance call for free anywhere at any time and the first guy I listened to a Bill Hicks album with. He went from startup to startup, brought his python toolkit with him, and worked really hard and really smart and got rich by normal people’s terms.

    I mention these people not because their outliers, but because they’re typical smart middle class “reality hacker” types – i.e. good at getting what they want – and over the years I’ve met more people who are like them than I have people who fit a “nerd” stereotype, although they each have a few markers I suppose – the first guy loves Star Trek and is a gamer and the second plays chess well and can still quote the AD&D Monster Manual, but that’s where it ends.

    Sometimes I think the media would rather portray hacker types as nerds because the alternative is actually more frightening – that relatively bright people who are pretty much normal in other ways can create and control stuff that you can’t understand.

  180. Re: the effects of MJ

    a) ” Every strain feels different, and different people react differently to them”

    and

    b) “Weed does not make people violent.”

    If a) is true, then you cannot be certain that b) is. In fact, if a) is true, b) is almost certainly false, since it claims all people react the same in one aspect.

  181. Delurk to hijack / ask a question: what if my “high intelligence” results in an _increased_ “interest in monkey politics and status games”? It’s one thing to hack hardware or software, but quite another to hack your fellow man. It’s the most dangerous game, after all. Could there be a “social interaction nerd” a la Robert Cialdini? Certainly an edge case, tho.

    • >Delurk to hijack / ask a question: what if my “high intelligence” results in an _increased_ “interest in monkey politics and status games”?

      I think this is possible, which is why you haven’t seen me agreeing with the people who think decreased interest in monkey politics is a consequence rather than a separate driver. The belief that high IQ necessarily implies decreasing interest in monkey politics is a sign of low interest in monkey politics. :-)

  182. Of course, I am not arguing that there are no negative aspects to weed.

    @ Jay

    But I bet they didn’t ask for pilots that were regular marijuana users.

    A pilot who is a regular marijuana user soon is no longer a pilot.

    My point was that the study likely didn’t include pilots that had used marijuana regularly since they had become pilots.

    Abstract of a paper from The American Journal of Psychiatry

    Ten experienced licensed private pilots were trained for 8 hours on a flight simulator landing task. They each smoked a cigarette containing 19 mg of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and 24 hours later their mean performance on the flight task showed trends toward impairment on all variables, with significant impairment in number and size of aileron changes, size of elevator changes, distance off center on landing, and vertical and lateral deviation on approach to landing. Despite these deficits, the pilots reported no awareness of impaired performance. These results may have implications for performance of complex tasks the day after smoking marijuana.

    The pilots were trained for 8 hours on one task (which presumably provided the baseline), smoked a joint containing 19 mg of THC (a reasonable amount if you want to get moderately to fairly stoned) and then late the next day they were tested. This is the other extreme in relation to a regular marijuana user that is an experienced driver. Plus, the pilots may not have been experienced with a flight simulator and (wild guessing here) may have partially reverted back to judging things based on the feel and geometry of their own planes. I realize that this is what placebo controls are for; I don’t know if they were used.

    Wikipedia – multi-day-impairment says…

    One possible origin of this idea is the fact that some (but not all) studies with airline pilots have shown a modest decrease in capabilities on a flight simulator up to 24 hours after use of one fairly strong marijuana cigarette. In two of the four studies (one of which was not placebo-controlled) the ability of the pilots to safely navigate a simulated aircraft was apparently compromised somewhat up to 24 hours later, while the other two did not show any impairment beyond 4–8 hours.[64] Despite the inconsistent replication, these studies have led some experts to recommend drug testing of people in safety-sensitive jobs (pilots, bus drivers, etc.).[65] In contrast, no driving studies have found any significant cannabis-related impairments lasting beyond 2–6 hours.[62][64]

    That 2-6 hours does not include edibles. Anyway… there is statistically significant evidence of impairment while stoned and, to some degree, impairment 24 hours later. How significant is this in relation to stoned drivers?

    How many stoner-driving-hours do you figure get driven in the US every day? It could be a million. Looking at US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2008, it looks to me like the US had 3.8 million people that used marijuana at least 300 days a year in 2008 and a lot of millions more that use it less frequently..

  183. (Besides, for a buncha people who claim a low interest in monkey politics, we sure seem to talk about it a lot…)

  184. @esr
    > I think this is possible,

    I think there is actually a very significant instance of this in the PUA community. It is a deliberate application of intelligence to a monkey game to achieve specific monkey goals. Really it needed the web to allow a forum for discussion of a subject that would not really be allowed or easy to facilitate outside of an open communication medium like the web, and probably email lists before it.

    I personally find it rather fascinating to watch from my point of view. I also find it even more fascinating to watch the opprobrium and disgust of all those un-self aware women who are appalled by those manipulative jerks. Appalled that is, until they manifest the veracity of the analysis by dropping their panties.

    It is also one of the reasons why I think that the advantage in the hetero dating game has moved very much to the side of males. That combined with web based dating sites have benefited everyone, but they have especially benefited the nerd/geek type, because it allows him to overcome some of the biggest challenges he has had in the past — namely larger sample sizes, and easier methods of approaching.

  185. @ Patrick

    Weed does not make people violent.

    Not normally, no. But it can make some people paranoid, and paranoia makes some people violent.

    When people say weed makes them paranoid, they mean they feel very uncomfortable and very worried that something bad is happening. They probably curl up on the couch and feel much better after a couple of hours (edibles can mean more “very” and more hours).

    This has nothing to do with paranoid schizophrenia or psychotic paranoia unless the user already has (possibly unknown) problems in these areas.

    I was engaging in hyperbole. There presumably are instances like you suggest, that don’t also involve alcohol, in people that never show any other signs of mental problems. They seem to be very rare.

    In any case, I am not saying that there are no problems with marijuana. More than 300 million people live in the US. Stuff happens. But of all the causes of violence, marijuana is way down the list.

  186. Brian…

    Let me put on my flight instructor hat for a moment.

    “significant impairment in number and size of aileron changes, size of elevator changes, distance off center on landing, and vertical and lateral deviation on approach to landing” is exactly what you would not expect to see from an experienced licensed private pilot after 8 hours of training on a particular task. Just for comparison, 8 hours is not an unreasonable amount of total time for an experienced pilot to fully transition into a new type of aircraft and master it to the same level of proficiency that he has on others. The kinds of things described are all what you would expect to see from an inexperienced pilot the first time he gets in a new aircraft type.

    Further, pilots are very good at knowing when they’re not flying well. That their evaluations of their own performance did not reveal any perceived impairment is especially damning. Judgment is an absolutely essential quality in a pilot, and having that judgment impaired makes them especially dangerous. There’s a reason there’s a whole part of the flight training curriculum known as “aeronautical decision making”.

    I would be interested to see just what the task was, but that result is enough to make me want a pilot who’s used marijuana in, at a bare minimum, the previous 48 hours nowhere near my airplane – and that means “in the same sky”. Aviation is not inherently dangerous, but it is unforgiving: you screw up enough, and you will pay a price.

    Now, how much that transfers to driving? Not what I’m concerned with. The point is that people are always saying just how harmless marijuana is, and I’m here to tell you that’s a flat out lie.

  187. @ JIm Richardson

    Re: the effects of MJ

    a) ” Every strain feels different, and different people react differently to them”

    and

    b) “Weed does not make people violent.”

    If a) is true, then you cannot be certain that b) is. In fact, if a) is true, b) is almost certainly false, since it claims all people react the same in one aspect.

    b) is hyperbole; I could say: “Weed almost never makes people violent. The hyperbole might be closer to the truth.

    But even as originally written, you are committing a logical fallacy. If every member of a large set of numbers is unique, that doesn’t mean that the set contains the number 4.

  188. Brian, did you not read my statement?

    “In fact, if a) is true, b) is almost certainly false, since it claims all people react the same in one aspect.”

    I explicitly did *not* say that b) *must* be false, only that the likely hood was very high.

  189. @ Jay

    The point is that people are always saying just how harmless marijuana is, and I’m here to tell you that’s a flat out lie.

    You are absolutely correct. I may be guilty of misleading hyperbole. You also clearly know much more about flying than I do.

    How ’bout we just say that regarding all the problems that drugs cause (that are not actually caused by prohibition), alcohol is very near the top and marijuana is way the hell down there, some specific situations excluded.

  190. The word buzzing around in my head when I read this is: Mastery. (In the sense of “skill”, not “domination”.) It’s obvious how a drive for mastery would relates to the math-physics-hardscience cluster that Slate Star Codex points to, where mastery is testable, teachable and comparable. Social status, on the other hand, a) is far more of a zero-sum game, which lacks the vision of raising up everyone and otherwise does not play well with a drive to mastery, and b) is often run by people demanding you assert some kind of falsehood or handicap yourself as a test of your ingroup membership.

    I speculate that the nerd cluster isn’t about high intelligence; it’s about the will to *apply* intelligence and other aspects of mental discipline. (Which is dominated in public view by the ones with high intelligence for obvious reasons, but I’m really not comfortable ruling out the occasional honest and persistent dimwit I’ve met from the “nerd” grouping.) The muscular nerd alphas and the disproportionately high interest in martial arts are expressing a form of bodily mastery, while the rest of nerds who didn’t focus on that specific aspect are usually physically unimposing because they don’t see physical violence as an acceptable way of solving things.

    Because breaking the other guy’s bicycle might win you a bicycle race, but wouldn’t demonstrate that you’re the better cyclist. Wanting to master a skill is distinct from wanting to win. Winning is a proxy measure of skill, but one that can be influenced by luck and by cheating, and “say I’m right or I punch you” is probably a form of cheating that a lot of nerds ran into at some young age and became repulsed by.

    Reduced interest in monkey politics, under this hypothesis I’m sketching, isn’t a driver, but a result of the fact that monkey politics for the most part isn’t a skill-friendly field (except in the very narrow, mostly verbally construct sense of “skill of winning at monkey politics”. See previous paragraph about winning again). The Party A representative can mop the floor with the Party B representative in a debate or contest of any sort, and then a bunch of the monkey tribes will vote >95% for Party B anyway because it’s “theirs”.

  191. I won’t disagree with that statement. I just think it’s irresponsible to paint marijuana as harmless.

    That does not mean I oppose its legalization; I consider that as having the same trajectory in our society as same-sex marriage, just delayed by a few years. I just think we should be honest with ourselves.

  192. I assume that you know this, Jay, but in case I am misleading anyone, “statistically significant” and “significant” as most people use the word, mean totally different things. The former means that it not likely a result of chance. The latter means that it matters.

  193. As in going on the space of a comparatively short time from “No way, never!” to a few trailblazers to the floodgates springing open to complete reversal of the former situation.

  194. @ JIm Richardson

    In fact, if a) is true, b) is almost certainly false, since it claims all people react the same in one aspect.

    Yeah, I screwed up – “almost certainly” doesn’t mean “definitely”. I am not sure if we have a fallacy. Even with an infinite number of pot-heads, there is infinite behavior available. I don’t know how to compare these infinites.

    Anyway, b) was hyperbole. As far as is known, marijuana almost never makes people violent. ‘Course, some violent people smoke marijuana.

  195. Hopefully pot legalization doesn’t end up with the same “I HAVE ALWAYS SUPPORTED EASTASIA!” doublethink that gay marriage has resulted in.

    Its so annoying that it almost makes me want to ally with the so-cons, bleh.

  196. @Brian Marshall:

    When people say weed makes them paranoid, they mean they feel very uncomfortable and very worried that something bad is happening. They probably curl up on the couch and feel much better after a couple of hours (edibles can mean more “very” and more hours).

    First-hand experience with a family member shows that it might, in fact, be a couple of weeks in a psychiatric facility. But YMMV.

    This has nothing to do with paranoid schizophrenia or psychotic paranoia unless the user already has (possibly unknown) problems in these areas.

    Even assuming, arguendo, that there was not currently a chicken and egg battle raging about marijuana and schizophrenia, the mere fact that you had to mention “possibly unknown” means that you agree that for some people, who won’t know before-hand that it’s them, marijuana use will, in fact, be a very bad experience.

  197. @ Patrick

    First-hand experience with a family member shows that it might, in fact, be a couple of weeks in a psychiatric facility. But YMMV.

    That is unfortunate.

    Even assuming, arguendo, that there was not currently a chicken and egg battle raging about marijuana and schizophrenia, the mere fact that you had to mention “possibly unknown” means that you agree that for some people, who won’t know before-hand that it’s them, marijuana use will, in fact, be a very bad experience.

    I do agree with that. We need to know more about this. It is clear that I have some catching up to do.

  198. @Foo Quuxman:

    This may actually be relevant to nerdity in a couple of ways. I know that, for one, I always had a better long-term memory than most of those around me.

    It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized that, in a lot of cases, people weren’t really out to fuck with me — they just managed to rearrange their memories so that things had always been that way. (Research shows that most human memories are extremely malleable. They are like ancient magnetic core memory, in that reading them out destroys them, and they are immediately written back, albeit with errors.)

    So, as a young nerd, I was constantly saying stuff that people thought was stupid, and then having them echo it back to me a few days later like they thought of it, and I would be really annoyed at feeling like I wasn’t getting the credit.

    As an old nerd, I am constantly saying stuff that people disagree with, but don’t actually say is stupid (at least to my face, because I’m experienced after all…) and then having them echo it back to me a few days later like they thought of it, and then I encourage them to go with “their” idea, because I just want to see the shit get done.

    Personally, I can remember thinking that contracts should suffice for gays, and then hearing and seeing evidence that, in real life, saying “I’m his husband” at the hospital works a lot quicker than saying “I’m his partner and I have a medical power-of-attorney.”

    For some reason, nobody asks to see a marriage certificate, but you can be damn sure they’ll want to see the POA, even if you’re 3000 miles from home. Then, of course, there is the federal tax treatment…

    These and similar little twists of logic showing that marriage really is a better solution than a domestic partnership has seeped into the consciousness of millions, in such a way that it has become “their” idea and lots of them can’t even imagine or remember a time before they held that idea. Which makes perfect sense to me, because it’s a much smaller twist than a lot of mental memory gymnastics I have seen performed in the past.

    So just smile and agree, and try to keep the extremists of all stripes from fucking it up for all of us.

  199. Re: Marijuana and Schizophrenia

    I have done a bit of poking about and read about two papers but can’t see them without paying and I think I got the gist. One was from Harvard Medical School in 2013 and the other was in Molecular Psychiatry published by nature in 2014. Good enough for a first approximation.

    There is definitely a link between using marijuana and developing schizophrenia. The question has been, does marijuana cause or uncover it. The latter seems likely because there has been a dramatic increase in use of marijuana since the 1960s with no corresponding increase in schizophrenia. However, that doesn’t completely rule out marijuana as a cause.

    The more recent twist described by the two papers is that there is good reason to believe that people with schizophrenia in the family are genetically predisposed to enjoy and use marijuana. They use it at a higher rate than the general population.

    It is a complex mess that will hopefully become clearer.

    And that’s it for me and drugs unless someone asks.

  200. @Brian:
    >The idea that Marijuana has never caused a death has been around for decades in North America.

    Not even from lung disease from smoking it for years on end?

  201. @Jon Brase

    The idea that Marijuana has never caused a death has been around for decades in North America.

    Not even from lung disease from smoking it for years on end?

    A small pipe produces hot smoke that is irritating and can cause bronchitis (inflammation of the air-ways). Any method that makes the lungs hurt, hurts the lungs. Pain limits the damage (to some extent) unless a person is really stupid. Using a water pipe (bong) or, much better, a vaporizer, makes a lot of difference.

    The normal smoking dangers are minor because compared to tobacco, because a much smaller amount is smoked in a day, even by heavy users.

    It is now common to hear “Marijuana is 20 to 30 times stronger than it was in the 1970s”. These numbers are nuts – 3 to 5 is more like it. But even this is wrong… Anyone remember “Thai Stick” from the ’70s? The IMPORTANT thing is that the more potent the dope, the less you have to smoke – a good thing.

    I have found that marijuana seems good for my lungs. I also smoke tobacco, and the marijuana is a fairly good bronchial dilator and a bit of an irritant – just the thing to help clear the lungs.

    I AM NOT A DOCTOR – BELIEVE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

  202. “In any case, healthy people don’t die from bronchitis.”

    You are, of course, correct…though they wish they did…

  203. I find it very reassuring that a whole lot of questions about marijuana and health can be approached from this direction: Millions of people in the US alone are enjoying marijuana as we speak.

    Something I should have made clear earlier…

    When I said there might be a million stoner-driving-hours per day in the US, I was not referring to driving by stoners; I was referring to driving while stoned. I find this very reassuring as well.

    I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT PEOPLE SHOULD DRIVE STONED, but I believe there is selection bias at work in many claims about how dangerous it is – numbers based on people that are in accidents with only vague information about how many people drive stoned everyday.

  204. This post summarizes and links several recent papers finding connections between marijuana and mental illness. Money grafs:

    Cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, consistent with a causal relation.

    cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of experiencing schizophrenia symptoms…

    On an individual level, cannabis use confers an overall twofold increase in the relative risk for later schizophrenia.

    Cannabis use is considered a contributory cause of schizophrenia and psychotic illness.

    Cross-sectional studies document an association between cannabis use and psychotic symptoms…

    While previous research failed to identify structural brain abnormalities in human cannabis users, more recent studies using high resolution imaging techniques combined with more robust delineations of specifi c brain regions in very heavy cannabis users have revealed evidence of dose-related alterations in regions implicated in schizophrenia.

    Pre-onset cannabis use may hasten the onset of psychotic as well as prodromal symptoms.

    Researchers found that changes in cannabis use at four follow-up points over the 10-year period were associated with similar direction changes in positive psychotic symptoms of delusions and hallucinations over time; if subjects stopped using cannabis, their symptoms decreased, and if they started or increased use, their symptoms increased.

  205. This discussion begs the question – what’s a “standard” nerd?

    Would such an individual be like a “standard” nurse? Soldier? Ballet dancer? Firefighter?

  206. @ Rich Rostrom

    Uh-huh. Most of the quotes approach but stop short of actually stating a causal connection.

    It seems fairly well established that if someone is going to get schizophrenia, marijuana can trigger it, and that marijuana makes existing schizophrenia symptoms worse.

    Beyond that, for now, at least, I am good with: It is Saturday night; there may be 10 million people in the US that are enjoying being on marijuana right now.

  207. @ Ed

    Is first-person-declarative moral preening indicative of this phenotype?

    If by “moral preening”, you mean enthusiastically advocating a (semi-)unpopular point of view, with a bit of showing off that is hopefully interesting/entertaining, then I say it is for a subset of outgoing nerds.

    I don’t know how common this is, but at work (before I retired) I would come across as extroverted (as most people think of it), but outside work, I am introverted in the sense that if I am going to unwind, I am going to do it alone or with one other person – certainly not in a large group. Although I have rarely done it, I enjoy speaking before a group of people.

    I think that, with less showing off and considerably more dignity, our host tends toward first-person-declarative enthusiastic advocacy.

  208. That last sentence should end, “… tends toward first-person-declarative enthusiastic advocacy at times.

    It wasn’t about esr’s famous open source advocacy; it was basically about this blog. When a geek has insights/ideas and becomes enthusiastic about it, first-person-declarative is just a natural result of the enthusiasm.

    It is so annoying when I enthusiastically declare something – just throwing an idea out – and I find out later that someone didn’t agree with the idea, but thought that if they said so, I would take offence. I want people to tell me if they think I am wrong.

  209. >“In any case, healthy people don’t die from bronchitis.”

    >You are, of course, correct…though they wish they did…

    It can also lead to things that can, in fact, kill you.

  210. It [bronchitis] can also lead to things that can, in fact, kill you.

    Right. So a person doing something that makes their lungs hurt should stop doing that. That is what pain is for, and in this context, it seems to be all that is generally required to avoid sore lungs and longer-term lung problems.

  211. Oh and one more point to add to the debate about whether or not geeks don’t care about ‘monkey politics’ or whether they’re just not good at them and it’s all justification from that point out. There was an article I read. I wish I could remember the title. I found it on the site of the author of one of the ‘real programmer’ works ESR links to in the Brief History of Hackerdom…

    Anyway, the author pretty much says. Of course geeks want to be cool. No one wants to get picked on and never get laid. But what noone wants to admit is that, at least during the formative teen years, being cool is difficult even for socially oriented people. Most teens spend nearly all their time planning it. For a nerd that’s just too much of a compromise when there are more important things to think about. It becomes easier in adulthood as people shift away from ‘monkey politics’ more into copmetence, but that still leaves a lot of nerds well behind the 8-ball from years of not trying.

  212. @Brian Marshall
    > I would come across as extroverted (as most people think of it), but outside work, I am introverted

    I actually think that mostly “extroverted” and “introverted” should not be defined by behavior. I think “extroverted” tends to be interpreted to mean “level of social engagement and energy, passionate to connect with people.” In a sense there is a common sense that “extrovert” means “socially advanced” whereas “introvert” means “socially handicapped.”

    I truth what I find with my small sample set of extroverts and introverts is actually quite different. It is an underlying thing. An extrovert is someone who is energized by such engagement, an introvert is someone drained by it. Or to reverse the perjoritivity, an extrovert is someone who needs the engagement and energy to be happy, whereas an introvert does not, they are sufficiently self sufficient for their own happiness. (Notwithstanding the social pressures that might make the later not true.)

    So I think of it s a polarity thing rather than a behavior thing. I also think that the degree to which someone is extrovert or introvert, while a broad tendency, also tends to be quite situationally dependent. And I think that it has little to do with social handicap.

  213. @ Jessica

    An extrovert is someone who is energized by such [social] engagement, an introvert is someone drained by it. Or to reverse the perjoritivity, an extrovert is someone who needs the engagement and energy to be happy, whereas an introvert does not, they are sufficiently self sufficient for their own happiness.

    That makes sense. I used to think of myself as an extrovert because when I am with other people, I am usually confidently, energetically enthusiastic. However, a number of years ago, I was in a corporate “different people are different” course, and the trainer said that extroverts like to unwind surrounded by other people, whereas introverts like to unwind alone. That sounds like an effect of the distinction drawn by your definitions.

    By the trainer’s definition or yours, I am definitely an introvert.

    • >By the trainer’s definition or yours, I am definitely an introvert.

      Interesting. I match that pattern too. I wonder if it’s more characteristic of “extroverted geeks” than normal introverson/extroversion.

  214. @ esr

    I wonder if it’s more characteristic of “extroverted geeks” than normal introverson/extroversion.

    I can’t tell what you mean. By “extroverted geeks”, do you mean geeks that are energetically enthusiastic, but introverted in the sense of not needing or wanting (lotsa) social interaction in groups?

    • >I can’t tell what you mean.

      I mean Jessica’s pattern of being confident and happily outward-facing in social settings, but preferring to unwind alone. As opposed to the vanilla extrovert who prefers to unwind in company. I’m considering that the former sort of pseudo-extroversion might be characteristic of the muscular nerd.

  215. That seems plausible.

    On a different topic, geeks, and particularly hackers, finding a calling in the work they love. This is also true of artists (almost by definition). I was thinking about musicians – in particular, successful rock bands that write, rehearse, record and tour. There is a sort of compulsion to pursue the art, in some cases, at least, in a field that requires long hours to be successful.

    Musicians are not normally considered to be geeks (with some exceptions), but there is some common ground. Is it interesting common ground?

  216. @esr:
    >Interesting. I match that pattern too. I wonder if it’s more characteristic of “extroverted geeks” than normal introverson/extroversion.

    Meanwhile, I’m a “standard nerd”, and anit-match the pattern: I energize off of social interaction, but have at least somewhat stunted social skills and very poor social confidence, (extravert with high activation energy?) plus a tendency to be energized enough by intellectual pursuits that hobby time at home can serve as a cheap substitute for social interaction (not a symptom of introversion as I’d rather have someone of similar interests to discuss my intellectual pursuits with, even though I generally do without).

    I’d be interested in knowing how many other “standard nerds” fit this profile.

  217. >but preferring to unwind alone

    This cannot be simply explained by intro-and extroversion, another hugely important aspect is whether as a child you were trained to behave all times “properly” in company, or you were allowed to behave in a relaxed and natural way in company.

    Example: do you eat different when alone and when in company? For me, eating in company is fairly stressful, I especially fear formal-ish business lunches, my mind goes to the childhood checklist like keep elbows tucked in while using utensils, keep the mouth closed while chewing, don’t gulp loud, use a napkin before drinking from a glass, don’t drink out of a bottle, etc. etc. etc. the whole etiquette deal. And I still get soup on my shirt. These kind of table-training memories, if you had them, cannot really be unwinding even when you are fairly extroverted. As a compensation, when I eat alone, I don’t even bother to set a table, just hunt random stuff out of the fridge standing. With wife/family, somewhere in between.

    Or maybe this kind if upbringing is _causing_ introversion: when you were trained that social events are not as much as to be enjoyed as exams to pass without bringing shame to mom. People who don’t go to a local college while living with parents but spend years in a dorm tend to un-train this, though.

  218. @Erik

    >I speculate that the nerd cluster isn’t about high intelligence; it’s about the will to *apply* intelligence and other aspects of mental discipline.

    The issue is, that entirely different people and groups of people get called nerds. It is confusing. You are not talking about the same people I do.

    The two groups, with a lot of overlap:

    – You and about 80% folks here are talking about the “productive” nerds, or more like geeks, who apply intelligence to STEM fields

    – I am mostly talking about the “nerdy hobbies” aspect like playing RPG, reading swords and sorcery fantasy novels, videogaming, and lately I think comics books fandom and cosplaying and even in the worst case bronies popped up.

    For the second group, it is not about applied intelligence, it is about a certain escapism from self-hatred, which is largely caused by social exclusion. Are you familiar with this? http://brunching.com/images/geekchartbig.gif

    Membership in the first group can be a badge of pride. Membership in the second group, is something like an illness you would like to get cured if you have it, because it causes a lot of suffering.

    Bronies are probably the worst off of the second group, probably literally bordering on mental illness like autism. Here is a good article: takimag.com/article/in_defense_of_bronies_gavin_mcinnes

    • >You are not talking about the same people I do.

      It could be that your hobby nerds are just like “productive” standard-profile nerds without the IQ and drive, though. You’ve done a good job of pointing out that the two groups tend to have different outcomes, but this doesn’t establish that they have extremely different personalities. We don’t know that – and because it’s comforting to think of ourselves as different from them we need to be extra skeptical.

      Also relevant is that this blog attracts (I think) the brightest of the standard-profile nerds and an exceptionally large contingent of alpha/sigma nerds . That means we need to be even more careful about generalizing from our experience.

  219. Shenpen, on this one, I gotta call bullshit:

    “Bronies are probably the worst off of the second group, probably literally bordering on mental illness like autism.”

    You have nothing at all on which to base that generalization. In particular, there is a LOT of overlap between bronies (and, before that, the ones whose place they took in the minds of the narrow-minded, furries) and the other nerds you seem to favor over them.

    Bronies are worse off only because it’s fashionable to hate on them. Frankly, I expected better of you.

  220. I’ve had it explained to me by people who study this sort of thing that an introvert or an extrovert in many cases can be indistinguishable from their outside behavior. The difference I’m told is that an extrovert gains emotional energy/strength by being outgoing and in a group. The extrovert is less comfortable being alone and spends emotional strength or energy doing solitary tasks. Meanwhile the introvert needs the time alone or in a very small, familiar group to regain the energy spent being with a large group or being outgoing.

  221. @ Christopher E. Stith

    an introvert or an extrovert in many cases can be indistinguishable from their outside behavior.

    I think this is true. The corporate trainer that made the unwind in groups or alone distinction said that he was the unwind-alone type, which surprised me at the time. He was a great trainer – very comfortable doing it.

  222. I believe my first comment got eaten by the admin approval process. Either that or ESR hates me. :p But I wanted to chime in on my formative experiences as a high-test nerd.

    My early childhood I exhibited fairly typical ADHD sort of behavior. I was generally smarter than the rest of my class and grew bored and restless as a result. Socially, I was rowdy and competitive with the rest of the boys.

    What caused me to fork down the nerd path was isolation and depression in the pre-teen years. My mother was poor, so I spent summers alone with no activities to pursue. My thoughts became existential, and I became very depressed. By the time I’d come out of that hole, I was 14 and while all the other kids had been transforming into teenagers, I hadn’t.

    I also hit puberty fairly late, so at that age I’d fallen both physically and socially behind. I was completely outcasted, often violently bullied, mocked when not. Same year, I got the first computer of my own, discovered internet culture, dived into it, and joined the nerd fold.

    But by 16, my puberty came and in abundance. All of a sudden I wasn’t just catching up physically, but I was really high up the bell curve in hip and core strength. I took up wrestling, found out I was pretty good at it.

    However, I was still very socially behind and angry at how I’d been treated. No asperburger’s tendencies, just desperately trying to catch up. At this point, I started getting in a lot of trouble at school for fighting and the like. I was suspended often, which just gave more time on the internet and nerd culture remained my home.

    By 18 I was fairly good at making male friends, but I couldn’t speak with females yet. I think my behavioral quirks rubbed women the wrong way more than men, and besides that, men were easier to figure out being one myself. But at least then I was old enough and cool enough to go to drinking parties, and in that social environment I was able to finally figure out the female equation as well as finding a context I could fit in socially.

    Anway, final outcome as a 25 year old male. I’m a science fiction reading history nerd of a low level IT worker that also competes in brazillian jiujitsu and powerlifting. I’m no social butterfly, but I have a core of close friends and can get along well with strangers. I’ve practiced serial monogomy for the last 5 years and will likely continue to. So I guess you could call me an introverted high test nerd with ADHD tendencies.

  223. Introvert versus extrovert

    Some people prefer to run with the herd and have a skill set that is well adapted for that purpose.

    Others have a preference for the lifestyle of the lone wolf and will always be perceived as a little bit off-putting by the herd (hence, some of the negative perception of nerdism).

    You are what you are.

  224. Possibly both the disdain for fakery and this are both rooted in something like a visceral dislike of suboptimality and deadweight losses.

    Surely the whole neurotypical weltanschauung is a veritable festival of suboptimality and deadweight losses, though I’m told they do well in sales and (monkey) politics, which is to say sales.

    I don’t really self-identify as a geek (Join a group? Meh.), but I have some geek interests like science and sci-fi, (hobby) coding and language.

    I saw that Laurie Penny article – I’m still not sure what she actually claims to be a geek *about*, it doesn’t appear to be tech. Feminist scholarship? Apparently she’s poly tho’, so you’d at least have something to talk about.

  225. @Jay – I am not hater, as I think bronies struggle with the same borderline mental illness problems as I do, what I wish is to help. But not recognizing a problem is no help, and MacInnes’ article points out nicely what the problem could be.

    (BTW the reason hating bronies is fashionable – most male nerds tend to like relatively masculine stuff from Jedis to Spider-Man comics. MLP is very clearly feminine, Barbie-type stuff, therefore, it tends to come accross as not simply gay stuff, but like a light-year gayer than Ricky Martin, really maxing out the gaiety potential as far as a media-driven fandom goes. And this drives the hate. However, my point is entirely tangential to this.)

  226. @Adrian Smith

    >Surely the whole neurotypical weltanschauung is a veritable festival of suboptimality and deadweight losses, though I’m told they do well in sales and (monkey) politics, which is to say sales.

    The neurotypical weltanschauung is not focused on maximizing the common utility or even that of yourselves alone, but on the joy and fun of competing with each other, even when it is negative sum. Like a brawl, where even the winner ends up with a few stitches, so the total outcome is negative utils – but he still feels good about it.

    Ultimately everybody maximizes feels, not utils, and there are radically different ways to do that. And their behavior is optimal for maximizing their feels, and the losses they suffer count less to them.

    To be honest, there is something non-neurotypical in the whole idea of utilitarianism. E.g. an utilitarian can never understand how romantic love can drive a man to murder a romantic competitor in jealousy and then spend a life in prison, never being with the loved woman, this just comes across as an incredibly bad miscalculation, yet throughout history neurotypicals did stuff like that all the time, their functions were not maximizing utils but, I guess, something like pride.

    • >an utilitarian can never understand how romantic love can drive a man to murder a romantic competitor in jealousy

      Oh, come on. That’s easy. It’s a development of mate-guarding instincts that are quite functional. A utilitarian who doesn’t understand this has failed to grasp that our instincts are not very good at util estimation in a modern environment.

      There’s also a kind of anti-bluff going on here. In socio-sexual competition, violence from bar fights up to murdering rivals is bad for your odds, but being perceived as the kind of person who fights or murders rivals is quite good for them. The optimal strategy would be to fake aggressiveness and extreme mate-guarding consistently, but that just fuels an arms race between fakers and fake detectors.

      Therefore the optimal strategy from the point of view of a germ line becomes being just enough actually more willing to accept lethal risk than the next guy that you don’t get fake-spotted, without being crazy stupid. This is a fine line to walk and some mens’ endocrine levels are going to put them in a bad place, especially if they have deficient impulse control.

  227. For the prototypical male who’s seen as crazy enough to be a badass that he never has to prove it, see Fonzie from Happy Days.

  228. Sorry, Shenpen, you’re still full of it. There’s no difference between bronies and anyother fandom. Either we’re all borderline mentally ill, or none of us are.

    • >There’s no difference between bronies and anyother fandom.

      I’m going to have to disagree on this one. I’ve knocked around in dozens of fandoms and subcultures of marginaux, and I too think there is something exceptionally warped and creepy about the Bronies. I neither have any power to suppress them nor desire it, but I’m staying well away from them.

  229. >…I too think there is something exceptionally warped and creepy about the Bronies. I neither have any power to suppress them nor desire it, but I’m staying well away from them.

    I understand. But if a grown man likes stuff like My Little Pony only moderately, do you still find it creepy?
    Disclosure (since I believe you have a right to know what kind of people comment on your blog): I’m not interested in the show, but I do find the ponies cute. I certainly wouldn’t want to hang out with grown men who like it to the point of fandom, though.
    That said, I enjoy watching Animal Planet’s Too Cute; but, in my defense, that show is about real young animals, and it’s even (mildly) educational.

  230. Contrary to the popular image, the field of private security also seems to have disproportionate amount of geeks, at least in Finland.

    I did software engineering for a decade before realizing I’m incompatible with office work. That’s somewhat uncommon, but the geek personality is surprisingly common. There are almost no nerds in the profession though, for obvious reasons.

    As a random data point, I recognize myself from the description of pseudo-extroversion, although I wasn’t such as a kid. The ability to play the game of monkey politics has come with age and experience, and required developing ability to model minds very much unlike my own. It’s a very interesting and enjoyable game to play, but not ultimately relaxing. Maybe ESR is on to something here.

  231. Therefore the optimal strategy from the point of view of a germ line becomes being just enough actually more willing to accept lethal risk than the next guy that you don’t get fake-spotted, without being crazy stupid. This is a fine line to walk and some mens’ endocrine levels are going to put them in a bad place, especially if they have deficient impulse control.

    Reminds me of Straffin’s discussion of evolutionary stable strategies in his book on game theory.

    Start with “hawks” and “doves”. Hawks always fight for a scarce resource; doves always posture without fighting, backing off when challenged. Hawks will therefore always beat doves; if likes face likes, the win is random, but hawks face a larger negative payoff for losing (from being injured) than doves will (for losing a little time). (A dove loses almost nothing vs. a hawk, because the conflict is settled quickly.) One could see a germ line adopting either strategy with similar results – a hawk line would show willingness to accept lethal risk; a dove line, the opposite.

    Then throw in “bullies” – germ lines that initially act as hawks, then continue to be hawks if the opponent appears to be a dove, or play the dove if a hawk is detected. (A bully line facing another bully will again win half the time.) A bully line would crowd out a dove line; eventually you’d just have hawks and bullies.

    Now add “retaliators” – a response to bully lines. They behave like doves at first, but will fight if fought. They’re hawks toward hawks and bullies, doves toward doves and retaliators. And they eventually dominate the population, even though it seems counterintuitive at first that they would. And they sound an awful lot like the functional representation of someone feeling so strongly for someone else that they would accept lethal risk in protecting that other.

  232. Sorry, Eric and Shenpen, but I think you’re both at least in part falling victim to the common wisdom about bronies. I see them as little different from the Animaniacs fandom of the 90s, of which I was a noted member. Surely you don’t think I am borderline mentally ill?

    If you put your prejudices aside and actually watch an episode or three of MLP:FIM, you’ll find it’s genuinely funny, with lots of the same getting-crap-past-the-radar sensibility that you find in the Warner Bros/ cartoons of the 90s.

  233. @Jay:
    >Surely you don’t think I am borderline mentally ill?

    Have you looked at your avatar recently? :-)

    More seriously, I don’t see much in the way of mental illness in either you or the one Brony I am closely acquainted with, for whom it seems to be part of a generally silly, troll the world type attitude (Being ridiculous is the spice of life. It is ridiculous, nay, preposterous, for a grown adult male to like MLP. Therefore, liking MLP is ***awesome***. And once you’ve commited to making an utter fool of yourself for teh lulz, you might as well actually watch the show and enjoy it). Said acquaintance is probably better adjusted mentally than me.

    That said, my personality is such that I would be mortally embarrassed, no matter how hard I tried not to be, to be seen in public with this acquaintance in full-on Brony mode, or with you in full-on Tron Guy mode. If we ever meet in person, I have now given you the ammunition to troll me mercilessly.

  234. “If we ever meet in person, I have now given you the ammunition to troll me mercilessly.”

    So, coming to Penguicon in April?

  235. If you put your prejudices aside and actually watch an episode or three of MLP:FIM, you’ll find it’s genuinely funny, with lots of the same getting-crap-past-the-radar sensibility that you find in the Warner Bros/ cartoons of the 90s.

    That’s what I read about it, sadly I was too busy with something else/insecure in my sexuality (can’t remember which) to watch the series I downloaded

  236. @ESR

    I am not sure I understand your argument. Isn’t utilitarianism all about what works NOW as opposed to what worked in the ancestral or early historical environment, therefore, suppressing evolved instincts by rational decision making? Isn’t that the whole point to replace instinct with calculation?

    • >I am not sure I understand your argument. Isn’t utilitarianism all about what works NOW as opposed to what worked in the ancestral or early historical environment, therefore, suppressing evolved instincts by rational decision making? Isn’t that the whole point to replace instinct with calculation?

      We don’t really have an argument. I thought you were using the term descriptively rather than normatively. I’m saying a (normative) utilitarian should not let his philosophy blind him to the way instinct actually works.

  237. >Isn’t that the whole point to replace instinct with calculation?

    Oh, and that is why I meant utlilitarianism isn’t very neurotypical…

  238. Is customizing the living bejeezus out of software you use is a nerd trait?

    Generally I don’t, I cannot stand the idea of sitting down to another computer and finding myself in an unfamiliar environment. I would make probably the worst EMACS user ever with that mentality, but I could never understand how people expect to rarely need to touch computers other than their own. I don’t even own a computer at the moment, my office issue laptop is good enough and my employer is OK with my installing anything incl. games as long as they are not pirated.

    How did the old Unix culture work back then? I mean, where does the culture of 2000 lines .emacs files come from, is it because it was based on multi-user computers which were used for a long time, and it did not matter at which terminal you sit, you always use the same computer? And changing it was a big enough deal that migrating these customizations was the smallest of the headaches?

    • >Is customizing the living bejeezus out of software you use is a nerd trait?

      Heh. Yes.

      >How did the old Unix culture work back then? I mean, where does the culture of 2000 lines .emacs files come from, is it because it was based on multi-user computers which were used for a long time, and it did not matter at which terminal you sit, you always use the same computer? And changing it was a big enough deal that migrating these customizations was the smallest of the headaches?

      Yes, basically. That’s a shrewd guess.

  239. @esr: “The degree to which I fear and hate paperwork is possibly the most ADHD thing about me”

    Me too. I really need there to be an officially recognised diagnosis for this so I can get out of filing my own tax returns, which I possibly hate even more than paying the tax in the first place.

  240. A few generational data points ….

    + My father was special forces in Vietnam. I can say unequivocally that he was a geek before geek was cool. Read LOTR in its first edition, graduated West Point, was a serious Military History genius, loved gaming, but was highly decorated in wartime and played minor league sports.
    + Grew up in a high IQ area of the country with a 3rd sigma population of aeronautical and electrical engineers married to a cross section of women, both nerdy and not. In that environment, women are hunter gatherers of social opportunity, and regularly cross the boundaries between geek and non-geek.
    + I am a high IQ programmer auto-didact with an undergraduate in physics who has had some success in sports, software dev, and business. Social Engineering is very much a skill that can be acquired.
    + I have worked with a lot of SF guys and military types. There is definitely an enormously competent technical component to that social group.
    + I am raising my children in the renaissance-man version of geek, with home schooling focusing on STEM, but with a lot of attention being paid to high-quality sports and games interactions.

    My point is that if you are going to define “geek” then it needs to be historically applicable and more or less universal. Case in point, so much of this debate and the boundaries that we “all seem to agree on” changes if you try to apply current definitions historically. Was John Quincy Adams a geek? Or George Patton? If you answer in the affirmative (and I think a strong case could be made in both cases), those are American counter-examples to an overly restrictive notion of nerd. In other words, a lot of the definitions that ESR starts with seem both American and generational, and not necessarily adequate or broad enough.

    When you include samples from Europe and the Pacific Rim, the socially averse nature of the geek or middle school outcast doesn’t seem to be universal. Maybe I am mistaken, but the social awkwardness seems to not be a primary characteristic where the barriers between sports, school, and where social circles are still more influenced by class boundaries rather than IQ.

    So, ESR’s initial definitions seem generational, American, and self-serving. In other words, if geeks are only geeks because of the presence of computers, then they aren’t geeks in any universally applicable sense. But the obverse seems important … that technology (in a universal sense) cannot be advanced or supported except by a “geeky” culture. Neal Stephenson seems to nod towards this version of “Morlock” versus “geek” in a lot of his books, where heroes are less Aspergers-lite and more “deeply competent in technical areas”, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with social status or universal awkwardness at all. There is more a lack of willingness to abide by social conventions that are unimportant or not based on reality. And since a lot of commentators aren’t in the Morlock camp, you probably get a fair amount of “They are socially awkward” as opposed to “unwilling to deal with my bullshit”.

    At any rate, the point is that if “geek is universal, then we need to be able to apply the term universally into different cultures, especially where technology was not necessarily a given.

    • >So, ESR’s initial definitions seem generational, American, and self-serving.

      In context of the OP they’re Slate Star Codex’s, not mine. I agree with you about the desirability of going beyond the experience of here and now in the U.S.; indeed, this is part of why I wrote the OP questioning the universality of the “standard profile”.

  241. >>In context of the OP they’re Slate Star Codex’s, not mine.

    Right … I wrote that hastily.

    >>part of why I wrote the OP questioning the universality

    It’s fairly clear that “nerd” / “geek” is not synonymous with either “smart” or “competent” (or “technical” or, to belabor the point, “socially awkward”). But all of those dimensions are in the mix.

    I wonder if coming at the problem the other way would be helpful. It seems to me that you could say that “Asperger’s-like symptoms can be observed in people who are discussing a field of expertise or a field of knowledge in which they are remarkably competent”? That makes the observed behavior have more of a dependency on the field and the depth of knowledge, and the person simply does / does not (or can / cannot) filter the information for his audience, causing the appearance of awkwardness.

  242. @Simon Jester Jr.

    >When you include samples from Europe and the Pacific Rim, the socially averse nature of the geek or middle school outcast doesn’t seem to be universal.

    No, in Central Europe it is very much the same, even worse. I grew up in Budapest and had the same or worse experience. I am not talking about anti-intellectualism or excluding boys who read books, that part, in itself, may be more American. But the aspect that boys who did not have physical courage, who did not fight well, who did not smack bullies in the mouth, got excluded, ridiculed, marginalized and tortured is very much the same or worse. These boys developed self-hatred, poor social skills, poor hygiene, autistic traits, and fled into math, science, computers, sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs like D&D, and videogames. It is not that everybody who is interested in STEM or high fantasy a marginalized nerd, but more like that nerds, who got marginalized for other reason (largely by being too cowardly to hit bullies back) fled into stuff like STEM or high fantasy. The problem was not with the hobbies itself, but with the kind of guys whom they tended to attract, or rather, with how those guys were treated formerly, and how that formed and shaped them.

    This was extremely painfully clear in RPGs like D&D. Most player characters I saw were a cry for help, much like “this is what missing from my life and hurts me”, there were four popular types:

    – muscular fighter who is liked by the girls (Caramon type)
    – charming bard who is liked by the girls
    – bitter mage who is weak and sickly but can burn bullies to death (Raistlin type, revenge fantasy)
    – “silent death” type, assassin/ninja, sneaky characters, which is another revenge fantasy: “you marginalized me, cast me out to the shadows… and from the shadows I attack”.

    Around 1990 this Hungarian nerd community loved the Dragonlance Chronicles to pieces. Reacted to it EXACTLY as American nerds did, namely, identifying with Raistling and making the books hugely popular. One guy translated the whole of it shortly before the official translation, just to make 30-40 copies for his friends, bound in expensive leather.

    So I would say it is far more universal than American culture. I think it is rooted in hormones. Boys who have high testosterone will always marginalize and ridicule boys who are afraid to fight or to climb trees and this is what drives nerdhood, as they seek escape from that.

    They only way for this to not happen is to control the shit of boys lives and load them with extremely lot of schoolwork – i.e. like in Korea, Japan etc. etc.

    If they have free time with not much supervision, this happens. The sports-cult of American high schools is not a necessary condition. That is merely a formal version of the more informal tree-climbing boy adventures or playground fights.

  243. @Simon Jester Jr.

    >especially where technology was not necessarily a given

    Back then the term was “bookworm”, and again the issue (at least over here) was not reading too much (maybe in anti-intellectual cultures and subcultures yes, but not in my case), but rather about NOT doing other stuff, like socializing or physical things, and ultimately it was about what kinds of folks got drawn in reading all the time, their lack of social and physical skills, which again comes from the same root of losing the male dominance contests & bravery tests in childhood.

    (I don’t really know much about female nerdhood or female bookwormhood, but my suspicion is something similar: losing the popularity/prettiness contests in childhood. Being called four-eyes must probably hurt for a girl more than for a boy, given how much of female self-esteem tends to be based on looks. Probably girls got away easier for lacking in courage, but any lack in looks was probably mercilessly mocked. This leads to a similar turning inwards, dropping out from society, and either focusing on solitary interests like science or escapist fantasy.)

    Do you want to go back to really, really non-technical ages? Pure speculation, but I think shamanhood (and its female counterpart, healing-witch type of stuff) was one avenue for the outcasts. Later on, priesthood, monks, Vesta virgins, nuns.

    Especially after reading Aaronson’s confession and SSC’s article about it, I see parallels between nerds and “witches” in the broadest sense (all kinds of socially outcast healers and diviners of the past), in the sense of how both groups of people share the characteristics of 1) social outcasts 2) work mainly through the mind, intellectually 3) they are at the same time needed and thus grudgingly tolerated, yet feared, because being not understood and unknown, and mysterious to others, knowing things they don’t, which can lead to the occasional panick and witch-hunt.

    This is an apt parallel, isn’t it? Imagine you are a “popular” guy with zero tech skills, and when your computer groans, a weird social outcast looking guy comes from Geek Squad and heals it by typing in weird magical incantations, you respect this ability at one hand, fear this knowledge on the other hand (what if he installed a keylogger), and want them to do the job, get paid and leave, because you are not very comfortable around them? Yes, I think the medieval peasant felt like that when his cow was ill and had to call a “witch” (in the broad sense) to fix it up.

  244. @shenpen
    > No, in Central Europe it is very much the same, even worse.

    You make your point.

    I worked internationally for a number of years, and one thing that I saw clearly was that a lot of very good devs were not shunted into the same categories that Americans try to use. For example, every Australian dev who I worked with (and there were several), were all crazy about sports, still played the odd pick up game, etc. By American parlance, I would have dubbed them engineers as opposed to geeks / nerds, but in many cases, they were blindingly competent and technically mature.

    BTST, a lot of Europeans who I have worked with exhibit the same characteristics. For example, there are several Finnish devs who I know who are in the “animal house” mode, even though they are very smart cookies. And the few German devs who I know are more German than dev.

    I guess my softer point would be that social awkwardness is not a measure of geek. And to that point, I think that ESR is onto something by trying to dig out the “non standard” characteristics of nerds, since I am not sure there are any as such.

    > identifying with Raistling and making the books hugely popular
    He was a great character, but I wouldn’t say that he defines “nerds” per se, so much as “vengeance-seeking semi-sociopath”.

    > Boys who have high testosterone will always marginalize and ridicule boys who are afraid to fight or to climb trees

    20 years ago I would have agreed with you. But now I would say this is an overly simplistic view of childhood.

    There are so many counter examples as to make this a dubious model. Case in point: there is a fair amount of geek bullying of the technically non-proficient. Or your case: witches. Simplistically, witches may simply have been female geeks who abused their idiot friends.

    The way I would put it more generally would be: kids are cruel absent any other social response. They will find a weakness and seek to exploit it. Only external rule systems keep it from spiraling out of control. And this is true regardless of IQ or interest; let 10 kids have a Marbles tournament and the loser is going to get their share of grief.

    And more to the point, there are a bunch of adequate ways to address this. When it’s your kid being picked on, you help them understand the correct response is 1) strength, 2) humor, and 3) confidence. In general, kids are accepted by their peers as long as they can demonstrate some combination of the above three traits at _something_ known to their social group. So it is not so simple as “the strong wreak havoc on the weak”; there is also a feedback mechanism, as well as generational signalling mechanisms, etc.

  245. @Simon just one remark, more later: I think Aussies may have inherited that aspect of British culture wher even Tolkien was a “fierce” rugby player, aristocratic-intellectual boys boxed (see also: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-09/06/tony-parsons-boxing-mike-tyson-carl-froch ), and it is normal for princesses to play hockey (Kate Middleton).

    I am not talking about the interest in sports a such, but the deeper attitude, that being intellectual, classy, and sophisticated does not contradict being also fit, couregous, and fierce, or in other words, educated people don’t consider “bodily” things inferior to “spiritual” thins. (“Bodily” is an awkward translation of German “körperlich” and “spiritual” or “mental” is an even more awkward translation of “geistlich”: because this is unfortunately quite common in Continental Europe: what is “bodily” gets looked down upon by intellectuals, who want to live a pure life of mind / Geist untainted by shit and blood and other body stuff.)

    This is really an excellent thing that Brits and Aussies can combine these two, and I wish it could be borrowed somehow.

  246. “The way I would put it more generally would be: kids are cruel absent any other social response. They will find a weakness and seek to exploit it. Only external rule systems keep it from spiraling out of control. And this is true regardless of IQ or interest; let 10 kids have a Marbles tournament and the loser is going to get their share of grief.”

    And I believe this is true because kids seek status within their peer groups, and status is a zero-sum game.

  247. > men are outer guard and women are inner guard – female reproductive capacity is scarcer so women are not to be risked except in the utmost extreme

    First time I read that, I thought you were implying the duration of each women’s reproductive period is shorter than a man’s. I came back to post the thought that one man could impregnate an entire tribe of women but not vice versa, which I realize on second reading could be your implied meaning.

  248. I came back to post the thought that one man could impregnate an entire tribe of women but not vice versa, which I realize on second reading could be your implied meaning.

    Given what I remember of ESR’s past writings, I’d say this is indeed his claim. I believe it’s actually a fairly wide claim, too – I’ve seen it in other places. (Stipulated: this would not be a normal nor ideal situation.)

  249. At some point in the ’60s to ’70s technical things became seriously uncool in the US popular culture. They still are. Why did technology become uncool? Not the toys, mind you, but the toymakers and toymaking. Is it a reaction to all the TV pictures of NASA Mission Control? Is it a lingering effect of Soviet meme warfare?
    My daughter in fourth grade made a point of telling me that she didn’t want to be an engineer, because “engineering is for nerds”. She didn’t want to be a nerd. Six years later she still says she doesn’t want to be an engineer. She does well in the STEM subjects, though. We tell her to keep her options open. She did enjoy upgrading our TiVo, and a bit of soldering.
    fyi, “Geek” is a technical term. It was originally somebody who worked in a carnival side show, biting off the heads of live chickens for the edification of the rubes. Now it refers to anybody embarrassing but useful. The psychological traits are associated with geekhood, not the other way around.

  250. Might be interesting to see what a survey around this would reveal for attendees at a Penguicon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *