Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Since everyone else has posted on nerd, I'll follow suit as usual.

When I first started seeing the best conservative bloggers writing about nerds, the topic seemed innovative and unpretentious.  Take seriously an adolescent term for a moment, consider the group it applies to, and philosophize about their roles and the implications of their existence.  So far, so good.

Then I noticed that, as with terms like "alpha" and "beta", "nerd" seems to mean whatever it mean at the writer's junior high school.  Some say nerds are near-autistic or aspergian, always saying exactly what is on their minds and damn the consequences.  Some say nerds are pandering, cowardly hypocrites who engage in nothing but groupthink.  Some say they are womanish; some say they are hypermale.  Some say they should be shamed into becoming hermits or completely altering their personae; some say they should be encouraged to come out of the shadows and fulfill their potential as real (conservative) men.

This isn't a debate.  It is quibbling about semantics, and that is inevitable as long as the discussion has its roots in a schoolyard put-down.  "Nerd" is an interesting term because it has a slightly more precise definition that "butthead" or "asshat".  Over time I am learning how limited "nerd" is as a term - ultra-serious systems administrators who tend to step on the toes of the less-technically savvy are a distinct group.  Girlish emokids who play lots of computer games and watch anime have little in common with this group beyond a college course or two.  And of course hackers are their own deal.

The upshot: I want the sysadmins and a few of the hackers at least on my team.  The PC emo crowd I can do without, tech skills or not.


Jehu said...

I beat the hell out of someone back in high school for calling me a nerd once. Basically an immediate surprise escalation to brute force, which I had available in spades since I had most of my final stature available to me by then. His statement was perfectly true by any common definition of the time, but I parsed it as---I wish to lower your status and make you vulnerable to the more predatory elements of your high school--so I responded with immediate extreme violence. I still haven't been able to embrace the notion of terms like nerd or geek as positive (when did that really start, in the 90s during the dot com bubble?).

B Lode said...

I can't remember when nerd became a neutral or positive term. My friends and I had used it as a backhanded compliment for a few years. At grad school another guy and I called ourselves "war nerds" and talked about weapons until the women got bored (2-3 minutes, usually).

You may well have parsed the term 100% correctly. One thing I can't stand about institutions with an amorphous goal (like "learning" or "socializing") is that people can't raise their own status by doing anything really productive, so they have to climb other people to get up. Ugh.