I muse very often about the past over my role within humanity. For all the intelligence and bravado we’re given, it doesn’t seem to really explain how one person can manipulate the forces of linear space and time alongside many billions more. Indeed, each time you watch the news and see people killed in attacks, died of cancer, or just expired of their own accord, you wonder why you’re even on this dust ball of a planet in the first place. Folks of religious persuasion will tell you that The All Mighty God put you here for a reason, but was that reason really to get hit by a drunk driver? Fall off a balcony? Accidentally eat Cheerios instead of Lucky Charms? Either God has the highest APM of all time, or he (or she, or it?) really trusts the autonomous nature of humanity to do right by itself and each other.
It’s for these reasons above that I am heavily interested in the human condition, the response, the decision, and the observation. Politics, culture, art, entertainment, these are the things that shape people who know they have a finite amount of time in this universe and want to make things interesting for those around them. Concepts like power, wealth, or control, are natural by-products expected of a species that does not need a system to survive. This isn’t to say that humans should live alone, or that we’d never have advanced this far if we didn’t form groups and adopt standards to progress, but what separates man from machine is that the machine can only do what it is told to do. The nightmare scenario of autonomous, artificial intelligence, is that if you give a machine the ability to think for itself and make its own decisions like a human, you turn it in to a human, and consequently it will cease doing what you want it to do, and do what it wants to do, which could be killing you. Ironically, for all the science fiction and fantasy written and produced on this topic, humanity is still largely ignorant of the concept of individuality or freedom of choice. Even the most oppressed, chained down people somewhere have a choice. They can die. A truly enslaved person would be shackled to their plight for all eternity. True fear will be when we figure out how to turn people into robots, and chain them to real oppression forever.
I imagine that was quite a long prologue to actually shift this piece towards the tenants laid out by this article from last year on “The Left’s” war on nerds. But I felt it was worth understanding what drives these sorts of discussions, these dialogues over political and social differences. I am a nerd, I’ve been one all my life, but I’ve never tried to re-define myself in any other way. I accepted my social lot in life, and I assumed others thought the same. But reading this dredged up a lot of feelings about things that, upon reflection, I found steered my life in a direction I might’ve not thought of. The two quotes I found most interesting were towards the bottom, by Scott Aaronson, and Maddox, who has been one of the longest-standing internet “shock-jock like” critics of social issues since the beginning.
Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not ‘entitled,’ not ‘privileged,’ but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that ‘might be’ sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.[…]
Because of my fears—my fears of being ‘outed’ as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: ‘I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics.’
I had no idea what feminism was in the 1990’s. I didn’t need to know, frankly. Children really do not need to understand anything beyond a surface level of the kind of complex social and political issues adults face in the world, and I feel that is partly because as a child, your primary functions are to learn and have fun, not worry about your perceived gender, or making sure all the white kids treat the Asian student well. As a child, you only see boundaries when you’re told to see boundaries. As an adult, you see boundaries regardless of if someone else told you to see them or not, and it’s within your power not to. Growing up, I saw no boundaries. I played with whomever entertained me, and I talked to everyone. Some of my best friends, who I still interact with online today, were black, brown, tan, and female. But if you had to ask me why I think this today, I’d tell you because I did not grow up in the intolerant, judgmental northeastern United States. For all the bullshit northeasters throw at folks from the midwest, I felt like everyone was far more tolerant and accepting. But things could be different, people could be different. I haven’t lived there in seventeen years, maybe the climate has changed. My parents worked pretty hard to put us in the financial strata we took for granted, and they taught us not to be racist, or sexist, or have no respect for anyone and anything. As far as I am concerned, that’s good enough for at least the first ten or so years of a child’s life. I know, they know a lot of things even as young as two, but most of the time that is overwritten with Disney programming or playing with toys. I didn’t become interested in learning history and social studies really until I was in sixth or seventh grade. In fact, history was the only subject I ever did well in school, because learning about what people did before my existence was an interesting thing for me.
But when I reached my teenage years, arriving with interests in technology, video games, and other nerd hobbies, I quickly found myself ostracized from the social fabric I once enjoyed. People I tried to talk to would mock me, make fun of me. Girls would snicker at me and tell me I am “gross” or “creepy”. I used to be a straight-A student, always diligent, always forthcoming, and then it just began to erode. I stopped caring about how I dressed, how I looked, sometimes not even bothering to shower so I could sleep another twenty minutes. I stopped interacting with anyone that wasn’t a friend of mine. But worse, I stopped bothering with school. I barely graduated high school with the rest of my class, and it’s not something I am particularly proud of, especially today. I would have dropped out of high school entirely had it not been for a counselor who recommended I join the Audio Visual department, and the people I met there gave me a renewed sense of confidence in myself, enough to join other clubs, talk to other people, talk to girls, and eventually date some. I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but there were times when I wanted to just close myself off to everyone in the physical world and just reveal in video games and the internet forever. And I don’t need to tell you why that is bad.
Now consider Maddox’s piece:
If you have to tell people you’re a nerd, chances are you’re not. Nerds don’t have to advertise their status. We know. Being a nerd is a byproduct of losing yourself in what you do, often at the expense of friends, family and hygiene. Until or unless you’ve paid your dues, you haven’t earned the right—or reason—to call yourself a nerd. Being a nerd isn’t graceful or glorious. It’s a life born out of obsessive dedication to a craft, discipline or collecting some stupid shit that only you care about.
If you think geeks are so sexy or cool, bang one. Go to any university and find a computer or physics lab at 2AM and take your pick. Until then, go commit cultural fraud someplace else, and take your phony ‘I f–king love science’ group with you.
I know I’ve committed the act of reinforcing my stereotype many times, but if you and I were to meet on the street, or inside a grocery store, you’d just assume I am another person. I actually go to some lengths to conserve my power level among certain people simply because I am used to being looked at like a creepy psychopath because I like anime girls. In other places, I don’t conserve my power level, either because I feel comfortable, or I feel I know everyone well enough that I don’t give a shit. Work is a good example, and it was interesting that a discussion was brought up yesterday about “your moment of zen” or the things you do to put yourself in a more relaxed state. The thing is, for most people, that state is getting away from people, electronics, the internet, and so on. I am the opposite. I feel at peace when I am doing what I want, and it can be with people around, like my wife, or no one around. Right now, I am typing this on a couch with four dogs sleeping next to me. I feel nothing at all, besides what is going in to this piece.
I warned my wife many times that I wasn’t going to be an easy person to deal with. I have a mountain of emotional insecurities, I was not very assertive, barely masculine, not handy in the slightest, and broken from a previous relationship I never fully reconciled. She, like many women, thought she could change me early on by insisting I conform to things that challenged my weaknesses. The end result was near-fatal to the relationship, there were a number of points where we almost went our separate ways because both of us are stubborn as mules. But rather than change our core principles, we figured out ways to work around each other, to adapt our ways of dealing with life, and the end result is while I still have issues, I’ve slowly changed for the better over the last few years.
I feel that matters to this entire topic because when it comes to dealing with other people, we’re quick to judge each other on various preconceived notions without ever stopping and learning something about them. Part of my political, social, and religious agnostic principles I’ve tried to lay down for myself is to not be so quick to polarize myself to a particular group and instead come at it more abstractly. I try to consider multiple viewpoints, and consider other people’s feelings on the matter. Ultimately, however, I’ve found some people glom on to a fanatical point-of-view, and nothing will move them from that position. This disinterests me from engaging them any further. I believe that wasting time on something known to be unproductive is truly a waste of time, and unnecessary. I tend to only engage someone when I feel whatever they or I have to say, will be interesting and thoughtful. The fact I do not engage in “small talk” is why people find me off-putting and boring at parties, where the people who talk to me about politics, video games, auto racing, why cats are jerks, and other topics of interest, will say I am a funny guy.
Ultimately, I tire of having the explain the nerd condition, the introvert condition, and any other condition that defines me. I feel that for all the effort I put into observing others and trying to connect with them on their level, some amount of consideration can be paid back to me. All too often, I find people try to communicate with me in a series of tropes, or SEO algorithms, like I am a search engine tailored to respond to them. OH HE LIKES THOSE FUNNY PICTURE CAPTIONS HE’LL LOVE THIS or HAHA YOU HATE PRINTERS AMIRITE? My favorite one of course is YOU LIKE THOSE ANIMES RIGHT? DOES THIS MEAN YOU LIKE TERIYAKI CHICKEN? When you personality is reduced to a handful of tropes, you tend to become very disinterested in a society that is unable to see anything without a clear label on it. Everything around us is is a formula, from ABC’s racial-flavor-of-the-month family comedies, to Hollywood’s obsession with superhero, fantasy, and reboot movies. Maybe this is a consequence of today’s BIG DATA internet age, where people have been reduced to databases.
For as infinite and complex as our brains are, you’d have thought by now that we’d understand each other enough to be a better society. But then you realize that all that infinite and complexity to our brains actually translates to something far more interesting, but far more sinister. Because that open canvas is yours, but someone else can throw their paint all over it.