Fake Nerds

When I was a boy I had a thing for taking stuff apart. I was curious about how things worked. For instance, I once took the TV apart when my parents were away. Thinking back it is amazing that I did not electrocute myself. It’s also amazing that there was a time when parents thought it was fine to leave an eight year old home alone. It was a different country back then. Kids in my underclass neighborhood were home alone all summer with little to no supervision.

Anyway, my thing for taking stuff apart became a problem so my poor parents bought me some nerd toys to keep me busy. I got a toy like this to learn how electricity worked. I got a chemistry set which I wound up using to kill the fish with by accident. The theory behind the toys was to encourage the smarter boys to use their brain, instead of playing sports all the time. In the 1970’s, it was still assumed that boys played sports, got in fights, rough housed outside and so forth.

I may be mistaken, but the “nerd” was a term people used. Being bookish was a thing and it was like being gay in the working class. Kids with brains and curiosity therefore were guided into manly ways to use your head. My chemistry set, for example, had a recipe for gun powder. Imagine something like that today. The shrieking from the usual suspects would be deafening. The electricity set had plans for building radios, just like they used in the army. It was a way to make being smart have utility.

Even way back in those olden times, people were starting to sense that having brains was going to be more useful for boys than being tough. The technological revolution was just starting to have a practical impact on the average people. My father, a steamfitter, got a calculator, which cost a bundle, from his employer to do layout work. My mother, a secretary, had to learn how to use a word processor. My first typewriter, in 1980, had an LCD screen to preview what I typed before committing it to paper.

It was already clear that the world was entering a fork in the road. Down one path the smart people would go and down the other the not so smart.  Parents, even old school working class types, saw the writing on the wall and started to encourage their kids to become nerds. My father thought it was fascinating that I had a head for numbers. He would quiz me all the time. When I took up chess, my grandfather would always want to play, as he loved the game of chess.

Here we are four decades later and the nerds run the world – sort of. The political class is still the same sort. Few have any math or science. The financial class, the folks really in charge, rely heavily on a technological elite, as well as people from the STEM fields. The rise of the quant, that guy who started out in physics, but ended up creating investment models, is proof the nerds run the world. Money men ar still portrayed as alpha males, but the alpha male on Wall Street is now a Korean or a Jewish nerd.

Nerds have certainly become a dominant force in modern societies. They have supplanted the “working man” in the popular culture. You just don’t see too many TV shows, for example, where the main character is a blue collar guy. When you do see blue collar guy in popular culture, he is either a  clownish exaggeration intended to make sport of the working man or a modern of the noble savage that is supposed to validate the prevailing assumptions about society, culture and politics.

Instead, the popular shows have snarky, high IQ nerds as stars. Big Bang Theory is a great example of this taken to the absurd. Anyone familiar with people in fields like theoretical physics knows they are not living in a hip apartment doing fun and interesting things. But, that’s TV. it is all fake, even the nerds. Cop shows now feature girls using technology to outwit the offish white criminals. Criminals on TV, of course, are nothing like reality, as far as complexion and competence.

That’s the other thing we have now – fake nerds. It makes sense. If the archetypal hero is a nerd, the beautiful people will imitate him. The fashionable Left has latched onto this with a death grip. I regularly see my lefty friends linking to stuff like this. None of them can add past ten without help. They majored in soft subjects like art of sociology in college and struggle with basic technology. It is really important to them, however, to be pro-science.

That means memorizing the latest from the Climate Change Cult (CCC), berating Christians for creationism and talking about their favorite science shows. The parents always swear their kids mastered the iPad (Apple being another pseudo-nerd symbol) at birth. That’s always amusing. Every Progressive mediocrity swears their kid is exceptional, which violates a basic rule of biological science. We now live in a world where every kids is above average.

Another manifestation of the fake nerd is the stat geek. ESPN has a fellow named Pablo Torre, who ticks a number of boxes. They have him on to perform the role of the young, hip math savvy sports analyst. I looked him up and found he was a sociology major at Harvard. The fact that he went to a swank prep school and Harvard suggests he is of above average IQ, but his last name suggests he could have gamed the system so it is hard to know. Still, he has no math or science.

Now, he is pitched by ESPN and he plays along, as a stat geek. He’s the nerd with the numbers, juxtaposed with the dumb guys in the sports department. In reality he reads FanGraphs, gleans a few statistics that sound cool and then spouts opinions on TV and the internet. Nothing wrong with it, but it is clearly an act, no different than someone playing a doctor in a drama. That’s TV, but TV shapes and reflects the greater culture.

The new cool is pretending to be someone who had a pocket liner as a kid and still pines for his slide rule. Just as the 70’s hipsters were products of squaresville, today’s nerds are most likely liberal arts majors that cannot figure out how to change the time on their car’s radio. That’s not what matters though. What matters is everyone knows how much you freaking love science. To say otherwise is to risk heresy.

The most ridiculous manifestation of this is the “policy wonk”,  who plays the role of expert on government and social policy. Like the fake nerds in sports, these nerds majored in journalism or public policy, maybe took a basic stats class. Otherwise they have no math or science. Their “wonkery” is nothing more than memorizing the policy positions of their party and then reciting them in clever ways on TV or print. The clever part is key. “Snark” is the call of the fake nerd, no matter the field.

Snark is an ironic disdain for convention that is really just a signaling mechanism. The snarky fake nerd makes some comment about Southerners, for example,  rejecting evolution as a way to publicly identify himself as an inside the set of right opinions. His coevals will respond with something similar, thus establishing that they too are members of the proper set. The person who takes issue with the comment is then identified as the outsider. Snark and irony are just public displays of membership in a group.

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John Hinds
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No surprise that today’s Phd given a high school test from the 19th century fails miserably. And, on a philosophical note, I agree with R. G. Collingwood, though he stated it more elegantly, that Science is a bastard child of Religion. (Religion, in turn, is a bastard child of Art.) Looking at it from the viewpoint that these are “Stages on Life’s Way”.