Category Archives: Society

Crippling the Priesthood

Here is another, long term strategy for the Trumpenkrieg.

The right has two main enemies: the press and academia, together with the bureaucracy they form what we call the Cathedral. Academia creates liberal doctrine and indoctrinates the young into it. The press promulgates doctrine. The bureaucracy implements it. The bureaucracy, while a problem, follows the lead of the press and the academy.

The press is immolating itself. It is being outflanked by non-traditional media enabled by modern technologies and is squandering what’s left of its legitimacy rapidly. We should help it along its course, but its self-destruction is nigh inevitable. The main question is rebuilding something favourable to western civilization in its place.

On the other hand the academy is going strong and continually grows stronger. It’s primary strength is that a diploma is necessary for a “good” job. The destruction of the traditional economy is leaving many in a situation of Yale or jail. For ever-more Americans the choice is increasingly either college or destitution. So most young Americans choose to load themselves in debt for their anti-poverty paper.

I’ve stated before, we should end federal student loans, and I stand by that, but that is a minor measure that still leaves the system intact. Another measure to strike against the university is to end disparate impact. Sailer has been writing about how disparate impact prevents direct meritocratic hiring, forcing employers to rely on indirect signals, such as a degree, for years now. Ending disparate impact would alleviate some of the economic necessity of a college degree.

But, I’m going to present a strategy even more direct. One that would almost immediately cripple the academy’s stranglehold over meritocratic signalling. I will say beforehand, that this would require significant resources and extensive coordination. Ideally, this could function as a start-up if someone had enough access to VC and could get buy-in from at least one industry to start, but realistically, this would probably have to be a government project (so if any of you have a line to Bannon or someone else who might be interested, send this idea along; take credit if you want, the idea is simple and not particularly novel, its implementation would be the heavy work).

The idea is simply a Knowledge and Skills Signaling Organization or KASSO for short. Essentially, the KASSO would be a single window supplier of certifications for occupational knowledge and skills.

KASSO would work with various industrial and occupational organizations to develop a battery of certification tests, both academic and practical, for each industry/occupation, the completion of which would demonstrate a certain level of competence in the tested competency. Upon successful completion of certification tests, the testee would be given a certificate of competence, which would he could present to employers.

For an example of how this would work, let’s look at programming. Programming already has a large spread of certifications, but KASSO would centralize and standardize these certifications. It would start by consulting with major Silicon Valley firms and other firms with large programming departments, about what particular skills requirements they would require for their various programming occupations. It may also talk to other industry players, such as programming languages organizations, language developers, or conferences, but it would primarily be aimed at what the employers wanted.

Working with these groups, it would develop a series of tests that would show competence, in these. For example, you could have a C++ 1, C++ 2, and C++ 3 for basic C++ knowledge for grunt-work programmers, mid-level programmers, and expert programmers, respectively. Each test would be a rigourous, complete and supervised. The C++ 1 test could, for example, be a combination of developing a few simple programs or routines, doing some basic debugging, and answering some basic theoretical questions. While the C++ 3 certification could be developing a complex program from scratch and a difficult debugging problem based on a real-life example.

The length and involvement of these tests would depend on the requirements thereof. The C++ 1, may only be a 3-hour test, while the C++ 3, may be three 8-hour days or even a 24-hour marathon.

Upon successful completion of the C++ 1 test, the testee would then be provided with his C++ 1 certificate, which he could present to his employer who would know that this testee was qualified for C++ work and to what degree he was qualified. What competences and what level of competence each degree represented would be easily available and clearly explained on KASSO’ website.

Of course, adding more gradations of skills would also be a possibility. You could have, for example, C++ 1 – Standard, Silver and Gold, depending on the level of competency shown.

Cheating would be possibility, so the strictest anti-cheating measures would be put in place to ensure the integrity of the process. Each testing class would be kept small, say a half-dozen testees. Each test would be monitored by two KASSO testers at all times. To prevent memorization, each test would actually be one of a half-dozen similar and equally challenging, but different, tests administered in a quasi-random order. There would also be a cool-down period for unsuccessful testees; say 4 months before they could attempt the test again. Insofar as possible, the tests would be as practical as possible so that cheating required as much competence in the subject matter as successful completion.

KASSO would pay for itself, or even be a for-profit organization. If each student had to pay, say $500 per a test, they could take a half-dozen different certifications for a fraction of a years worth of tuition, yet KASSO would still be raking in cash. Or, more likely, different tests would have different costs: C++ 1 may only cost $100, while C++ 3 may cost $2000. For those taking multiple related certification, there could be a discount program. Say, $5000 for testing in C++ 3, VB 3, and Java 3.

This same thing would be done for each in-demand language. There might be a set of certifications for those showing competence in language independent parts of programming. Whatever industry expresses a desire for. There might be a broader Programmer certification for those who’ve been certified in a certain range of programming languages and theory.

For each skill domain, industry, and/or occupational group there’d a similar set of tests and certifications, drawn from the needs of the various industries and organizations hiring people with those skills.

In addition, to such specialized certificates, such as programming, KASSO would offer more generalized certifications. A small battery of tests, similar to a GED, similar to a high school certification. Another, more larger and more difficult general test, that would be generally equivalent to the knowledge gained from a generalized humanities bachelor. A series of general tests could be equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, with a minor in Political Science. A series of tests could be the equivalent of a business degree. And so forth.

You could even apply tests to softer skills. Although, these tests may be harder to plan and implement, you could have certifications in salesmanship or public speaking.

These were all general examples, the details would have to be developed by experts, but the essential idea of KASSO is to create a self-funding organization providing a set of well-known, broadly-accepted, reliable certifications. Employers would know exactly what certified students had demonstrated competence in, while (future) employees would know which certifications would be needed to get the job they wanted.

There are a number of potential pitfalls. The main problem would be starting this up and getting buy-in from employers. Now, for the federal government a solution might be converting the useless education department to developing KASSO.

Another problem that would come from a government implementation of KASSO is political considerations intervening in what should be an impersonal and objective certification program. To combat this, the government should make it an independent, arms-length institution mostly outside the the ability for politicians or bureaucrats to interfere. Possibly even privatize it after it gets off the ground.

Anybody implementing KASSO may also have to be wary of disparate impact, but with enough will this could be worked around.

But beyond these pitfalls, KASSO would have numerous benefits. First, it would allow another route to competence signaling beyond college or even beyond high school. It would allow the self-taught, the self-motivated, and prodigies to receive certification without having to rely on formal schooling. It would reduce tuition debt slavery, as people could get certification relatively inexpensively through KASSO. It would reduce certification time as people taught themselves on their own schedule, so young people could enter the workforce earlier. Once heavily adopted, it would provide a standard set of certifications for human resources departments to look for and for (future) employees to pursue. It would help poor people lift themselves from poverty; they could get “better” jobs by studying on their own schedule and getting certifications. It would break the back of academia. It would prevent the waste of time and resources of dropouts, as it’s a lot easier to waste a day and $500 failing a test than a year and $10,000 failing your first year at university.

* All numbers and examples are rather arbitrary and undeveloped. They are there for illustrations sake; this is a broad outline, the experts would have to develop the real details.

On Cost Disease

SSC has written on cost disease. Essentially, a lot of important goods and services (health care, education, infrastructure, and housing) have increased by up to 10x their cost with no improvements in service for no discernible reason. He gave some though to it, and a number of others provided explanations.

The explanation that immediately sticks out of course is government over-regulation and over-involvement, as those industries listed are some of the more heavily regulated industries in the US. I’ve written of factors effecting housing costs a few times before.

I think those have a decent amount to do with it, but I think there are two fundamental problems that no one in those posts mentioned. They relate to two principles you’ve probably heard before: the Pareto principle and the iron law of bureaucracy.

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Pareto Principle

The PP, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a basic rule of thumb essentially stating that 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. Ex: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workers. Following from this rule, you can also mathematically determine other rules. 20% of the 20% is going to cause 80% of the 80%; in other words, 64% of the outcome will come from 4% of the cause. This can then be extended to 51% of the outcome will be caused by 1%, and so on down the line. The rule’s not perfect and shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but it’s a nice rule of thumb.

In this particular case of cost disease, we’ll apply the PP to costs. By the PP, 20% of the population causes 80% of the costs. Or stated elsewise, the 20% uses 4x as much resources as the 80%.

So what happens when you add a new 20%?

For example, health care. I, like most people reading this, cost the health care system very little. I’ve been to the emergency room twice in in my adult life, and I go to a walk-in doctor about once every 2 years when I have a particularly vicious or inexplicable pain or cough. The 80% of the people like us can be treated relatively low cost; we get an occasional check-up and the rare emergency.

On the other hand, there are those with chronic illness or other conditions who use more health care in a month or two than I’ve used in the last decade. 20% of the people cost 80% of the health care resources. That’s not an indictment on the 20% (if I got hit by a bus on the way home today, I’d probably be in that 20%), but it’s undeniable that if us 80% simply stopped caring about the 20% and just let them suffer and die, health care costs would be 20% of what they are now.

Over time we’ve been going increasingly towards being able to treat more health problems and keep the nearly dead alive longer. Take AIDS: in the 80’s someone with AIDS was dead in a months. Now, he can be kept alive for decades using expensive drug cocktails.

So, let’s put some very rough numbers to it.* Let’s say 20% of that 20% (4%) used to just die quickly, because we couldn’t treat them. So, we have the 80%, the 16%, and the 4%. The 80% still can be treated; we cost stay the same. The 16% still use 4x the amount of resources the 80% use; a broken pelvis doesn’t treat itself. But now the 4% of AIDS patients and the like can be kept alive through expensive new technologies. This 4% is now 64% of the budget, which the budget has grown to accommodate. Keeping 4% people alive has well over doubled the costs of health care.

Now wait an unspecified amount of time for expensive new technologies and drugs that can treat a new 20% of the 4%who couldn’t previously be treated. Costs double again. Then another unspecified time later they double again and so on.

But that’s not including the new costs you impose. We 80% used to go to the ER once a decade and the doctor once a year, then die in our sleep from a heart attack at 70. But now, instead of dying at home in bed, new technologies and new detection we are able to detect and prevent that heart attack, so now we are heroically rescued by new medical technology, so we can die a decade or two later from a different age related condition. Then when our alloted time is over, instead of just giving up the ghost, we keep ourselves alive at great cost for a few extra months. We are now the 20%, maybe even the 4%.

This is not just hyperbole: 30% of Medicare spending goes to just 5% of people who will die within the year. 10% of Medicare goes to those people’s last month of life. Those extra few months are costly.

For education, we get the same thing. Look at this chart:

In 1973, 30% of people dropped out in high school. It’s safe to assume these are mostly the hardest and most expensive to educate 30%, they’re probably mostly handicapped, persistent trouble-makers, class clowns, generally stupid, or future ex-cons. In 2018, only 10% dropped out. So, rounding the PP off widely for ease, 70% of the students using 20% of the resources, 20% of the students using 80%, with 10% still dropped out. So you’ve added 20 percentage points of troublesome and costly students which have increased the amount of resources used by 4x.

The 10% left are the real costly troublemakers, these are the ones that are dumb as bricks, violent offenders, hate school with a passion, have hourly seizures, or whatever. So, if we start to include these very troublesome students, the will be the new 4%, and increase costs even more. The more stupid and disruptive the people we try to force to stay in school, and the longer we force them to stay there, the more costs per pupil inflate. If the education for everyone doesn’t stop, eventually, we’ll be spending half the education budget keeping 100 psychotic mass-murdering teenagers and low-functioning autists who enjoy biting teachers in a Supermax high school from killing each other and trying to learn their times tables.

College is no different. I’ve looked at the tuition bubble before, but let’s briefly go over it again. Look at that chart again: in 1973 only 28% of people had a degree, there were statistically no college dropouts. in 2018, 45% will have a degree and 17% will dropout. The college keeps adding new 20%’s. The 28% getting degrees in 1973 were, likely, the top 30% of the population in terms of intelligence and/or work ethic. They didn’t require much resources to teach themselves. Now 60% of people are going to college. People with below average intelligence and work ethic are having to be accommodated. A new 20% has been at least 3 times since 1973. Using the PP we can estimate costs would have risen by over 50x. Now, this is not entirely accurate, there are likely costs savings due to scale and at the most expensive of those waves mostly drops out, but you get the point.

Let’s look at infrastructure. Here’s a story I randomly saw from Toronto. Sidewalk spaces are being expanded to 2.1m at the costs of restaurant patios to accommodate the disabled. On the TV report I saw, they said it was because 2.1 meters allowed two motorized wheelchairs to pass each other. Again, the PP. It costs a lot for infrastructure to service the small fraction of people who are handicapped. It costs even more to service the rare event of two handicapped trying to pass each other at the same time (I can’t ever remember seeing two motorized wheelchairs at the same time in the wild). And one councilor is demanding even wider sidewalks for more accommodation. That’s a lot of extra cost for both the city for such a rare event.

Apply this one minor story more broadly. Beyond, the disabled, there’s the environmentalists, special interest groups, NIMBY, safety. You have to accommodate more and more people and more and more exceptions.

Now, almost everybody is and always has been housed, so PP doesn’t really apply there. Cost increases are more likely related to the factors I linked to earlier. You’ll also notice that housing costs did not grow at as high a pace as other costs in Scott’s post.

Over time these major services have gotten more inclusive. These new people being included cost significantly more resources than the people who were already included. By the 80/20 rule, ever new 20% we add quadruples costs. Every new 4% we add, almost doubles costs.

For the large majority of people, services haven’t improved at all, even though costs have skyrocketed, because these costs are being eaten by the inclusion of ever smaller but ever-more resource-consuming minorities.

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Iron Law of Bureaucracy

One commenter linked to the following graph:

The ILB states that there are two types of people in every organization: the first is devoted to the organization’s goals, while the second is devoted to the organization itself. The second will always end up controlling the organization and it resources.

Look at the chart, it is clear the administrators control the organization and hiring and are hiring more of their own. It’s the ILB in action: the teachers directly contribute to the organizational goal of teaching, but the administrators are the one’s profiting themselves.

The ILB is what is a major part of cost disease. Over time any organization becomes more about expanding the organization than about completing its goals. The free market to some degree mitigates this, as organizations suffering too heavily under the iron law are forced to either reform or die out. But the organizations controlling education, health care, and infrastructure are not traditional free market organizations. They are either government organizations or heavily regulated, government-financed organizations.

Unless an organization dies or is forced to reform, it will inevitably become controlled by those devoted to enriching the organization and themselves, rather than to completing its goals.

Infrastructure provides a nice example. Look at the Big Inch pipeline built in 1944 and extending from Texas to New Jersey. At that time, government infrastructure programs were controlled by people dedicated to providing infrastructure. It took 3 years from planning to completion, because they wanted it up.

Comapre to the Keystone XL, controlled by our new iron-lawed infrastructure regulators dedicated to expanding their organization. It was proposed in 2008 and after 7 years in bureaucratic hell, was rejected by Obama. Then was allowed to start again under Trump a couple weeks ago. It has become more about increasing the power of hanger-on organizations than actually getting things done. Placating environmentalists, native activists, NIMBYists, labour organizations, etc. and making sure each gets their turn at looting is more important than actually creating infrastructure.

I don’t really think I have to explain this too deeply, anyone who’s ever worked in a large organization can easily see there is a small minority of people actually physically accomplishing the organization’s goals, then there are hoards of people having meetings, making mission statements, discussing work-life balance, running committees, making HR rules, doing busywork, playing corporate politics, doing pointless revisions to act like their contributing, and otherwise not actually accomplishing anything real, or sometimes even actively preventing the accomplishment of goals.

As people dedicated to expanding the organizations (and their own personal power bases) become more powerful, it becomes more costly to do the same amount of work. All those extra people don’t pay themselves.

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* I know there’s mathematical and logical flaws and over-simplifications throughout these examples, but they’re just quick calculations for illustrative purposes. I’m dealing with a rule of thumb, not a mathematically precise model. Don’t get lost in the numbers, get the general jist of the message.

Legitimacy, Power, and Culture

We’ve heard it said, culture is downstream of power, or is power downstream of culture? Which controls the levers to the other?

As I’ve said before, power (the ability to force your will) comes from authority (the ability to command), which comes from legitimacy (people’s beliefs in your right to command).

The power/culture discussion is always off because it misses the underlying link between the two: legitimacy.

Power can do whatever it wants within its dominion. That’s the inherent nature of power. If you can not do what you want, you, definitionally, do not have power. The limits of power exist where you can no longer accomplish your will.

Someone with power over culture can change the culture to be whatever he desires. If multiple people have power over culture, the culture will be changed to wherever the limits of their power meet. Power creates, destroys, and changes culture.

Note: Culture is always, to at least some degree, organic, so power over culture is always widely distributed. No one ever has absolute power over culture.

But, power creates culture only insofar at it has authority. Culture is organic and of men. If men do not obey, there is no power and culture can not created, destroyed, or changed. Culture is only changed insofar as men allow it to be changed.

Men only allow culture to be changed, in so far as they think the change and the power causing the change are legitimate.

This is where culture influences power. Legitimacy comes from culture. If the culture holds to the Divine Right determines power men will obey power with Divine Right. If culture holds to patriarchy determines power, men will obey fathers. If the culture holds to popular will, they will obey democratically elected politicians.

Power is downstream of legitimacy, which is downstream of culture, which is downstream of power.

By changing culture, power can change what men view as legitimate, changing legitimacy, authority, and, ultimately, where power lays.

This is how power destroys itself. It changes the culture that made itself legitimate, which then changes what legitimizes power, changing the basis of authority, changing the power itself. Power changing culture undermines itself.

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Culture change is slow and difficult, so changing the method of legitimacy is slow and difficult. It is easier to destroy legitimacy than to create. Culture change is also unpredictable. When you destroy culture, what replaces it may not always be what you expected or hoped.

This is why revolutions are so turbulent and unstable and often end in a strong man: one can destroy the legitimacy of the present order, but creating a new order viewed as legitimate is time-consuming and difficult. When you destroy a culture and legitimacy, it is hard to predict what form legitimacy will take, hence revolutions often destroying their instigators.

In a legitimacy vacuum, the simplest form of legitimacy to create is martial: men naturally respect strength and strength is relatively simple to demostrate. A strong-man short-circuits the legitimacy-creation process by focusing the creation of legitimacy among a group of armed men through his strength. Once he obtains enough power through this specific legitimacy, he kills those who oppose him until they obey. He is then free to influence culture until another strong-man overthrows him or until he creates a more sustainable legitimacy.

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Power flows from legitimacy. Culture creates legitimacy. Power influences culture.

In a stable system culture will reinforce legitimacy which will reinforce power, which will in turn reinforce the culture. For example, the church supports supports divine right, which legitimizes the monarch, who in turn supports the church.

In an unstable system, power destroys culture (or its own legitimacy) and/or culture undermines power’s legitimacy. For example, enlightnment ideas and culture undercut divine right, the monarch mismanages power squandering legitimacy, and then revolution occurs.

Black Enlightenment: Jim Crow

Jim Crow was ended in the mid-1960s with the CRA (1964), the VRA (1965), and the FHA (1968). At the same time LBJ began the War on Poverty. The crack epidemic exploded from 1984-86. The ADAA was enacted in 1986, ramping up the War on Drugs (which, though started in the 1960’s, had been minimal up until this point).

Crime

Homicides of black men exploded in the 1960’s, slowly dropped in the 1970-80’s, and plummeted in the 1990’s, after the US started throwing them in jail en masse. (The top line is black men, the middle is black women, the two grey lines are whites). (I couldn’t find comparable data on violent crime in general, everything I found only went back to the 70’s).

The black incarceration rates began to grow among younger black men in the 1960’s and among all black by the late 1970’s. The black prison admission rate (different from the incarceration rates) was in a slight but steady decline from 1945 to about 1970. It exploded in the late 1970s (prior to the ADAA).

Economics

Poverty rates for blacks (Figure 1.2) declined from ~67% in 1947 to ~35% in 1969ish. At about 1970, they leveled off until the early 90’s, and dropped through the 1990’s (as welfare was reformed and more were imprisoned). They rose slightly through the 2000’s.

Labour force participation for black men declined by over 10 percentage points in the 1970’s. (Figure 5.3)

Black median family income rose steadily prior to 1970: doubling from 1950 to 1970. From 1970 until the 1990’s black family incomes remained steady and did not grow.

Black business districts thrived under Jim Crow restrictions which prevented competition from whites. During and after desegregation, black business districts declined as competition opened up and young middle-class blacks left for greener pastures.

Family

Prior to 1970, both black men and women were more likely to be married than their white counterparts. Following this, marriage rates dropped.

The black illegitimacy rate exploded starting in the mid-1960’s until the mid-1950’s, where it evened out. One major cause has been the decline (from 30-40% to prior to 1965 to < 10% since 1980) of shotgun weddings (Figure 2). The percentage of premarital birhts has doubled since the early 1960’s (Table 1: 36.1 to 76.9). The percentage of black children in single-parent households has doubled since 1960 (although, this trend is universal). Family intactness has plummeted since 1950, far mree than among whites.

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During segregation, blacks had relatively intact families, relatively functional and safe communities, and were seeing strong economic growth. Following desegregation (and the War on Poverty), crime and the resultant incarceration, exploded, the black family collapsed, and economic growth stalled. This collapse was only halted after the welfare reforms and mass incarceration of blacks of the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Middle-class blacks abandoned traditionally black neighbourhoods, while lower-class blacks stayed behind, while the War on Poverty incentivized vice. The minority of middle-class blacks have generally benefited from greater opportunity but the stats above speak about happened to blacks and black communities on the whole.

I wonder: if you asked blacks if they’d be willing to live in neighbourhoods and socialize apart from whites in exchange for lower crime, less imprisonment, better economic prospects, and stronger families, how they respond?

Diverse GenCon

GenCon, the biggest board game convention in North America, has a very diverse (read: non-white male) line-up for its Insider Featured Presenters this year, including a female majority. I’ll let a celebrator explain (H/T: VD):

That’s right, folks. There are 13 female IIFPs and only 12 men. This means there are MORE WOMEN THAN MEN, and that is a HUGE FUCKING DEAL, because that is a HUGE amount of change in a really short period of time.

So, how did GenCon attain this goal of diversity:

And importantly, this lineup is much more reflective of the diversity of activity within the gaming industry as a whole. In years past, in order to get selected you pretty much had to be a cishet white dude working for a mainstream company on trad tabletop games. But this year’s lineup includes a wide swath of thought-leadership in the hobby, including tabletop publishers, LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, podcasters, academics, and community managers. Which is EXCITING!

Consider the nerd/geek distinction when reading the italicized list.

Here’s the list of people and their credits.

It has abandoned having presentations from people who create board games in companies that matter, in favour of people who like to talk about board games or have nothing to do with board games. Of course, our diversity celebrator thinks abandoning the raison d’etre of the convention is EXCITING!

Why is it that diversity is only ever achieved by allowing those who don’t make things, unimportant people, and those aren’t involved in the activity equal say to to key players who actually create things?

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Also, notice this: more women than men is a huge deal. The individuals and their worth aren’t even mentioned, just having women there is all that is celebrated. Yet it is evil to suggest that: “Indies chosen as IIFPs were selected because of pretentious identity politics and not merit.” It’s all identity politics all the time with them, yet pointing it out is just wrong.

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Contra Vox, I doubt this particular action will effect GenCon attendance over much. Of the many people I’ve known who’ve gone to GenCon not one has ever mentioned attending a panel. Most of the people I know who go, go to play as many games as possible and buy the newest games. I doubt a change in the industry panel line-up will even be noticed by the majority of attendees, let alone effect their attendance. (Although, it could be a first step to other measures).

The Geek/Nerd War

Recently, I’ve seen a few condemnations of nerds, such as from Esoteric Trad here, and some stuff from Twitter:

I’m a bit of a nerd myself, so, I’m going to talk about the nerd/geek culture war. I’ve written on Gamergate a few times before, and if you read my Lightning Rounds, you’ve seen my support for Rabid/Sad Puppies. The standard line is that these is SJW’s vs. anti-SJW’s, which is true, but not the entire story.

The roots of these conflicts go back a bit farther. You may have noticed a link I posted to a comment on SSC where a commenter links the culture wars to the Something Awful/4chan split. That may be part of it, but a larger part of it is the nerd/geek conflict within what we’ll call fandom for lack of a better word.

The terms are often used interchangeably by most, but the terms refer to different groups within fandom and each has there own distinct, if overlapping, culture. Or, perhaps more to the point, nerds have systems around which geeks build a culture.

One man did a statistical analysis of the usage of the words and how they correlate with other words. He defined them as such:

geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.

Others looking at this topic make a similar distinctions:

Nerd – intelligent, industrious, understands things

Geek – Interested in things that others are not interested in, know a lot about their interests, but usually do not understand underlying principles

The statistical analysis comes to this conclusion:

In broad strokes, it seems to me that geeky words are more about stuff (e.g., “#stuff”), while nerdy words are more about ideas (e.g., “hypothesis”). Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas. Of course, geeks can collect ideas and nerds play with stuff, too. Plus, they aren’t two distinct personalities as much as different aspects of personality. Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking.

Look at his chart:

Note what words are strongly geeky: culture, #shiny (a firefly reference), #stuff, #trendy, #technology, #etsy. Compare that to the strongly nerdy words, which are mostly science and studying. (Cellist was due to outside factors and the goths reference seems to be from making a distinction between high school cliques goths and nerds).

Nerd things are ideas and academics. They like understanding and mastering systems, accomplishing things, and playing with new ideas. On the other hand, geeky things are stuff and culture. Geeks like learning trivia, keeping up with a culture, collecting, and spending time with others doing these things.

On the other hand, there is a geek culture and a geek community. For geeks, the community, it’s culture, it’s status (#trendy), and its accoutrements (#shiny #Etsy #stuff) takes precedence over the thing, and are the focus. They are more into people, and less into systems.

Put simply, nerds are into things and ideas, geeks are into community. Now, these two aren’t mutually exclusive, there’s overlap, but they are still distinct ways of being part of fandom.

I use the word fandom because I can’t think of a better one, but it is misleading, fandom is itself an aspect of the geeks. There is not really nerd culture, there are simply gatherings of nerds. Nerds will enjoy something alone, when they gather, the focus is on enjoying the thing and mastering the system of the thing, not each other. They aren’t people persons, they’re thing and system persons. Nerds are semi-autistic spergs.

This recent Cracked article illustrates nicely. The authors are geeks:

And people need a sense of community to truly and meaningfully coexist with a thing that they love.

A geek needs a sense of community, because the community is what he’s there for. The nerd doesn’t. I’ve played video games my entier life, and have never had a ‘sense of community’. Other than some rare session of SSB with friends, 99% of my game-playing time has been alone. A nerd plays games because he enjoys games, a geek dose it because he wants community.

(Wolinsky then proceeds to punch down at the nerds and say why games need to be ruined because, like a lot of geeks, he enjoys using his meager social skill set to beat on nerds and try to destroy things they enjoy).

I’ve been a nerd my whole life, and was recently introduced to geek culture, in my late-20s. The idea confused me somewhat: why would you need a culture? Nerd stuff was stuff you did on your own or with a few friends and kept quiet about around normal people. Why would you need a culture to play video games or read SF?

Read this article on geek consumer culture and the first few comments. To them the hobby is all about consumption and status. As a nerd growing up poor, that wouldn’t have even occurred to me. I got SF book from the library because I enjoyed them and games with holiday and birthday money.Their being status or merch behind it, or that people would want the status of nerd or geek didn’t cross my mind.

The fake geek girls controversy illustrates this as well. Girl geeks get legitimately upset when people try to take their geek cred away from them and it seems to some men defending their geek cred is important to them. Both seem alien to me. Why would you care? Growing up, I just wanted to do the thing. I tried my hardest to convince my sisters (and the rest of my family) to play board games (sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, sorry Axis & Allies) because that meant I got to play more. I tried (and failed) to convince my sisters and brother not to play video games because that meant they would hog the system, at least until we got a N64, at which point I needed more Smash Bros partners. There were no thoughts of status. If others did the thing would I get to do more of it or would I get to do less of it?

Anyhow, back from personal digression, the tension between the nerds and geeks has been everpresent in fandom since it began in the way back when. It was a tense, but symbiotic relationship. The geeks needed the nerds in fandom because the nerds made and understood things. The nerds needed the geeks in fandom, at least if they cared at all about fandom, because they’re the ones who created fandom.

This mutual dependence and tension has always been around, but lately there’s been a shift. First, fandom activities have become increasingly accessible: the effort needed for creation or system mastery have lowered, so the geeks don’t need the nerds as much as they used to, if they need them at all. Power slowly shifted towards the geeks.

As well, when the Big Bang Theory came out and was followed by a slew of high-profile superhero and fantasy movies, fandom suddenly became hip. Normal people started wanting to do fandom things and the geeks started inviting them in. That’s not necessarily bad in itself (although, I don’t really see the point). The problem is when this occurred normies don’t have a nerd personality: geeks may be different but they’re still people-focused so normies can understand them. Nerds, though, are still those introverted, systems-focused weirdos. They joined the geeks in the internal culture war, and now they geek/normie alliance is trying to push the nerds out.

Wil Wheaton, is the ur-geek who exemplifies this trend. He’s a geek who outreaches to normies through stuff like Tabletop (not to mention he was in BBT) and is heavily involved in the geek community. He’s set up this dichotomy of what he calls “power gamers” (ie. nerds) who (evilly) like mastering systems and hurt the geek community with their focus on things and ideas over people, while the noble Wil Wheaton builds the geek community (even if he occasionally has to sacrifice rules accuracy or dumb things down a little, both of which nerds generally detest).

In, tabletop RPG’s there have been a number of different play styles. The oldest and, until recently, most common was the power gamer (nerd) playstyle: min/max a character to best master the game system, build a world, explore the world, destroy the baddies, loot the room, save the princess, and level up. It was focused on system mastery, world-building, and problem-solving. These gamers tend to use crunchy systems with lots of numbers (like Shadowrun or the Hero system).

A smaller strain was the Roleplayers (geeks). To this strain story-telling and character interaction was more important. RPG’s were more about collaborative story-telling/improv acting. Combat and dice rolls were minimized because they interrupted the story. NPC’s became fleshed out characters rather than amusing plot devices. And so on. They tend to focus on RPG systems with fewer numbers but (like Fate or Fiasco).

Neither is inherently better (I’ve enjoyed both Fate and Fiasco) and both can be accommodated by a decent GM, so neither is wrong, but recently, the geeks, using their increased influence have been pushing their role-playing style as the correct way to do things. It’s gotten to where the point where the “correct” opinion, the on pushed by Wheaton, is that the story is what matters, while “power gamers” and min/maxers are doing things wrong.

This geek/nerd conflict is what is playing in the Sad Puppies campaigns and GamerGate.

Science fiction has always had a divide (more a continuum, really) between hard and soft. Hard SF stories are geared towards nerds; the world and the ideas would the focus of the story, they were the main characters. The science was central to the story and the story existed to carry the ideas. Characters and their interactions were made to carry the ideas.  Asimov is a good example of his, his characters were almost always little more than plot devices to carry whatever idea he was exploring.

Soft SF, on the other hand was more about the characters than the ideas. They were space operas, where the science was meant to carry the story. Star Wars is the best example of this. The science was simply a plot device. You could easily change the setting to medieval Europe, replace X-wings with pegasi, photon torpedoes with arrows, and lightsabers with magic swords, and the story would not change in the least. Dr. Who is similar, the sonic screwdriver might as well be a magic wand.

Fantasy had a similar, less prounounced continuum. Was the focus on the characters, or the world and the ideas the world-conveyed? The divide was less pronounced because Tolkien, who created high fantasy, Lweis, and Howard who created swords & sorcery, focused on both and did both well. That and fantasy only has to be internally consistent, while SF has to be internally consistent and consistent with known science.

The puppies are nerds. They’re looking for old-school/hard SF/F based on systems-level thinking: world building, ideas-focus, and science. While the anti-puppies are geeks have been pushing for the softer stuff. Even beyond that they’re pushing romances in space, where the SF/F is barely a gloss. Normies who join, generally go towards the soft SF like Doctor Who and Star Wars.

Gamergate is similar. The GG folks are generally nerds, who just want to play games and master complex game systems. Meanwhile, the anti-gg force are all about creating an “inclusive” community (which is somehow needed to play games buy yourself on a screen) by kicking out all the icky gamers (ie. nerds) who are too focused on playing games rather than telling stories with games.

You can see this in anti-gg’s criticisms of games, such as in the Cracked article quoted above or in this piece I wrote on earlier. They want games to become art (ie. have status among the “right” people) and to become a form of interactive story-telling. Gamergate want games to be games so they can focus on mastering systems.

Neither side is particularly “right” in which way is the best to read, write, or play. The main problem, is the geeks are trying to drive the nerds out because those nerds are to focused on enjoying stuff, rather than making an “inclusive” community so that everyone can buy toys and get geek status.

It also the geeks that are forcing this stuff onto you normies. Blame them for perpetuating the culture you detest.  We nerds are fine without you and just want to be left alone.

Virtue Signalling

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Land linked to this tweet by Scalzi, where he shows he doesn’t understand the concept of virtue signalling.

Virtue signalling is a relatively new phrase, but the concept has been around forever; Jesus pointed it out.

Virtue signalling is not virtue, it is the pretense of virtue.  A virtuous person is virtuous because they act virtuously. A charitable man extends mercy to those around him, a generous man gives to those in need, a kind man treats his neighbours kindly, and so on.

Being virtuous generally, at least if the virtue is not one disdained by fallen culture, results in status. People look-up to virtuous people. But on the other hand virtue is hard and requires sacrifice and discipline. You are only as generous as the portion of your income you’re actually willing to give to others.

Some people try to acquire status the honest way, such as the pharisee above. They practice virtuous activities so they can show off their virtue to others. But this virtue is not real virtue.

A generous man gives to the poor because it’s the right thing to do or because he is compelled by compassion, duty, or guilt; he does so for some reason intrinsic to himself and his own character. He is generous because he is a generous person. The generous man who gives to the poor while telling those around him how generous he is, is not being virtuous. He is not displaying his own virtue, rather he is buying the status of being a generous person with his gifts.

These people status-signal by committing acts of virtue for unvirtuous reasons.

We can see this type of status-signalling clearly in corporate charity. A corporation will donate a significant sum to a charity and hold a press conference to get good PR for it, or they’ll create their own charity linking their brand to the charity and themselves to virtue.

Some status-seekers are not honest or virtuous enough to acquire virtue status the honest way. They seek the status without even committing the act that would indicate this status.

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
(Acts 4:34-37, 5:1-6 ESV)

Ananias saw that Barnabas received status by his generous gift to the early Christian community and desired that status for himself, but he suffered not just pride, but greed. He was too greedy a man to purchase fully the status he desired, so he lied before man and God about what he was giving the community. He received a just punishment for his deceitful status signalling.

Some status-seekers are too lazy or not deceitful enough to do deceitful status signalling, but are too lacking in virtue to honestly acquire status, so they go for the third form, hollow status signalling. In this form, you virtue signal by offering an easy gesture that you and everybody else knows will accomplish nothing.

****

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:1-6 ESV)

Ideally, people would practice virtue for virtue’s sake. This is true virtue. Sadly life doesn’t work that way. We are fallen and in love with the praise of man. Everybody wants status and everybody will signal.

Honest signalling is hypocritical but a minor amount is not particularly harmful. Note that Jesus said “they have received their reward”, not that they have committed wrong (the Priest’s folly seems to be pride, rather than signalling). Honest signalling is mostly harmless when done within reason.

On a personal level, you should probably repent impure motives if you catch yourself doing this. On a societal level this is generally harmless, possibly even beneficial, assuming the virtues being signaled are themselves good.  If people do good for bad reasons, they’re still doing good. Their soul is between them and God. As well, it is often difficult to tell if someone is being genuinely virtuous or being virtuous for praise.

Generally, people seem to be fairly tolerant of honest signalling as long as it doesn’t get obnoxiously over-the-top or goes too far in its hypocrisy, and that seems the right way to approach it to me.

Deceitful signalling is bald-faced lying. This should be, and as far as I can tell usually is, condemned outright when noticed.

A lot of hollow signalling is neutral or even good. Offering condolences or prayers (rather than just simply praying) after a tragedy, even one having nothing to do with you on the other side of the world is harmless, and in many cases just showing a little bit of support is a positive. Saying “it’s nice to do nice things” is empty signalling, but its harmless and reinforces the value of virtue. Traditionally, hollow virtue signalling has been a nice social lubricant.

The main problem with traditional hollow signalling was that it could be used as a replacement for doing nothing. But those who hollow signaled were likely going to do nothing anyway, and their hollow signalling was only really effecting their immediate social circles, where everybody would and could easily see what they were doing.

The problem is that social media has changed the game. Most people, a select few politicians, talking heads, celebrities, and corporations aside, were limited to hollow signalling to their own limited social circles, where it was usually harmless and often upheld the common values of those circles. Occasional holiness spirals would erupt

But social media has made it a lot easier to hollow signal and a lot more public. This has lead hollow signalling down a dark path.

The first, is that hollow signalling has combined with activism to become something called “raising awareness“. Raising awareness took hold a while back, but it was usually in support of something: a benefits concert, a charity run, a food drive, etc. The activism used to always be in addition to or in support of some form of honest signalling that at least tried to actually accomplish something, but somewhere along the line, when combined with social media, raising awareness became its own independent form of activism. Now raising awareness has infected everywhere and is often used instead of doing anything.

Hollow signalling, in the form of ‘raising awareness’, has to many become its own goal, replacing activism or other types of real action. People are deluding themselves into thinking signalling is a form of action, thinking they’re doing something when doing nothing. #Kony2012 is the ur-example of this.

The second problem is that public hollow signalling is becoming the default. Some forms of hollow signalling have always been expected by default (“my condolences on your loss”), but these have have been private. But now, ideological activists are trying to force it so that it expected that everybody, or at least everybody important/relevant, has to do some hollow signalling. The popular rainbow flags and Brett Favre were examples of this.

Finally, and relatedly, hollow signalling is being weaponized. Rather than being a social lubricant for your social circles, it is becoming politicized. There have always been holiness spirals, but those spirals usually required some action or effort and happened over periods constrained by time and distance. Now spirals are immediate and require no effort. Activists are using this to weaponize signalling, forcing people signal properly, often through the threat of job loss..

Going back to the beginning, the problem with people like Scalzi is that they have so bought into the weaponization of hollow signalling that they think that people who don’t agree with them or even point out that signalling is not action are are evil people engaging in the same type of signalling but for evil.

That’s virtue signalling in a nutshell.