Monday, December 12, 2011

OK geeks, stop it.

Something I’ve seen a lot of from geeks recently is this sentiment:

It’s often more aggressive than that, and used to bring adult non-geeks down rather than lift teen geeks up. I'd like to use all of my internet geek community clout (currently measured at 0.3 microwheatons) to stop this. When you see someone who was mean to you at school and now isn't doing so well, just wish them good luck and be on your way.

The attitude is based on the belief that there are two fundamental kinds of people: geeks and non-geeks. In this model of society, geeks are smart, compassionate, funny, have diverse interests, are a bit physically weedy, and just want to be friends with everyone; non-geeks are dumb, tough, only interested in sports and cigarettes, and bully the geeks mercilessly because we're different. The non-geeks made school miserable for the geeks, but due to their superior brains, the geeks have had success in college and the workplace, leading to money and power. This gives them confidence, which is all they need to make lots of friends, some of whom they may get to see naked. The non-geeks, on the other hand, are relegated to manual labor, or even selling organs. They have fewer friends, and only get to see the less attractive ones naked. Eventually, the geeks will die happy on a pile of Nobel prizes at 90, while the non-geeks perish under a pile of rubble when the shacks they live in collapse.

When I exaggerate it, it's clearly ridiculous, but the core belief that geeks lost at high school but are righteously winning at adulthood is held fairly broadly. And it's wrong. Here's why:

  • Geeks aren't uniformly smarter than non-geeks. We like to tell ourselves that we are, because it makes us feel better. But it's not true. Want some evidence? Think of a geeky subject, find a web forum on it, and observe the idiocy of geeks.
  • Geeks don't necessarily have better jobs than non-geeks. Sure, the unemployment rate is much lower for people with college degrees than it is for those who only graduated high school. But the majority of people who go to college aren't geeks - there just aren't enough geeks for that. The ratio's a bit more tilted than high school, but not a whole lot. It only feels like there are more geeks because you're not being bullied anymore. But then... 
  • Unless you went to a really small school, chances are most of the kids didn't actively bully you there either. A handful of them did, but most of the population had no idea who you were. This isn't because they considered geeks unworthy of their attention, it's just that most people don't really know anyone outside of their immediate circle. They might be able to put a name to a face, maybe they know that you're co-Treasurer of the Action Figure Collecting Club, but they don't really know anything about you. And it's not personal. So when you say things like "haha, now I lay off people like you for fun," you're stepping on a lot of folks who did NOTHING to you. [Disclaimer: I'm not saying that bullying is OK. What I am saying is that as a teenager, a dozen bullies can feel like hundreds. And that in hindsight, we should be able to recognize that.]
  • Geeks aren't as compassionate as we like to think we are. I can only speak for myself, but I've been thinking back to my school days and I wasn't always as pleasant and charming as I am now. I was frequently oblivious to the people around me, which led to about 90% of the grief I got from my classmates. I wasn't any worse than most of them, but I wasn't much better either. [There's a 30 Rock clip where Liz goes to her high school reunion, and discovers that while she saw her snark as a defense against bullies, the rest of the school were terrified of her saying mean things to them. I would link it but I can't find it anywhere.]

And even when you're talking to someone who really did bully you throughout high school and is now in hard times, while you're much more successful - that should be its own reward, and if you can't be happy without rubbing their noses in it, maybe you haven't come as far since high school as you thought.

So then what do you say to despondent teen geeks? Just tell them how good your adult geek life is, without bringing up anyone else. If they ask, you tell them that when you're happy with your own life, what happens to someone else doesn't matter.

1 comment:

  1. Does this mean you are planning to go to a school reunion?