What separates someone from a community?
An inability or refusal to adopt normative behaviors is one possible answer.
What started this experiment?
A post by a blogger Joe Peacock on the CNN “geek” column, led to an uproar in the self proclaimed “geek” community. I wasn’t concerned with the uproar in this particular case, but I was interested in the self identification as “geeks” vs. my own self identification as a nerd. My initial post on the whatever.scalzi.com web site was as follows:
From my personal perspective I refuse to accept the title “geek” because I’m enough of a nerd that I understand the original definition of the term (a carnival side show entertainer who bites the heads off of live chickens). I do accept the term nerd because it is an originally non-deragatory term created by nerds and adopted by nerds. I am also a fanboy and an otaku. I find the term “geek” to be as personally offensive as racially insensitive terms objected to by other groups. Certainly other groups do sometimes adopt and attempt to own derogatory terms for themselves, but I don’t feel a personal need to do so.
So if you want to adopt the term “geek” for yourself in an attempt to own a deragatory term, then you are free to do so. I personally will object to the usage in my case, and correct the mistaken person using the tem in relation to me. That is one element of my personal nerddom.
I was subsequently challenged because someone using the modern definition of “geek” as a fan of a particular topic/subject/media type was the same as the japanese term otaku. That lead to my reply:
In 19th century, in North-America, the term geek referred to a freak in circus side-shows (see also freak show). In some cases, its performance included biting the head off a live chicken. The 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary included only the definition regarding geek shows.
Otaku is derived from a Japanese term for another’s house or family otaku, which is also used as an honorific second-person pronoun. The modern slang form, which is distinguished from the older usage by being written only in hiragana or katakana, or rarely in rōmaji, appeared in the 1980s. In the anime Macross, first aired in 1982, the term was used by Lynn Minmay as an honorific term. It appears to have been coined by the humorist and essayist Akio Nakamori in his 1983 series An Investigation of “Otaku” “Otaku” no Kenkyū?, printed in the lolicon magazine Manga Burikko. Animators like Haruhiko Mikimoto and Shōji Kawamori used the term among themselves as an honorific second-person pronoun since the late 1970s.
In the first case Geek started as a deragatory term which a group adopted in defiance of its deragatory usage. In the second case Otaku started as an honorific term which another group later tried to turn into a deragatory usage, and the orginal Otaku fought to take the term back into the honorific usage. I’m a bit of a language nerd and this is why I am careful to understand the meaning and usages of terms (and their accuracy) before applying them to my own person. You are welcome to adopt a demeaning pejorative term as your own. I personally choose not to do so. I also choose not to allow people to change a non-pejorative term into one when I use it for myself.
Otaku in modern slang is much closer to fan (fanboy, fangirl) than it ever was to a sideshow freak which would bite the heads off from chickens. The deragatory nature was applied by “mainstream” culture which didn’t understand the cult like obsesion with certain off mainstream topics by fans. In the American usage of the term it is used to differentiate a fan of items frequently of interest to Japanese Otaku culture. Thus since I watch and read several japanese anime and manga the term is an accurate usage for me in this case.
I understand that geek in modern slang usage is also equavalent of fan (fanboy or fangirl) but the derivation from the original deragatory usage is why I object to it. I have never been someone who performs sick self debasing acts for the entertainment and thrill of “mainstream” society. You are welcome to call yourself a geek if you choose, and I will continue to call myself a nerd and object with lenghty clarifications about the differences between the two.
That was pretty much the end of my point, and it didn’t lead to any particular controversy on the comments page of the “whatever” site. Then the idea for the thought experiment began. What was the reason a more modern geek as an obsessed fan of a subject was linked in with the “historical” definition of the sideshow performer who fascinated and repulsed people at the same time?
Well the whole point of this orignal article on “whatever” was based on Joe Peacock writing something both insulting to women, and revealing his “geek” nature at the same time in his CNN column.
I then started to formulate how to best demonstrate the true nature of being a “geek” in a more classical sense vs. being the modern definition of someone who is a fan of a subject. Then I would test a community full of self identified “geeks” of the modern definition to see if they too would either accept a “geek” in the more classic sense of the term, or reject someone going against the normative behavior for their community.
The question became one of how to bite the heads off of metaphorical chickens on a web page comments section. In the classic sense a “geek” is unpopular not because of his interest in an off beat activity, but because that activity is considered breaking normative behavior in a repulsive manner. A person being a fan of watching a particular Sci-Fi program may be doing something which isn’t particularly normative, but most people in these days don’t consider it particularly repulsive. In some cases interests formerly considered not being normative have even become clearly mainstream and fully normative interests.
So what is unpopular within a web forum community? Some of the activities are as follows:
1) Trolling – also known as intentionally riling up negative emotions in other people for personal entertainment.
2) Picking a contrary point of view against the forum community norm. (Often considered a form of Trolling).
3) Taking other people’s statements out of context, and appying a derogatory interpretation to their remarks.
4) Attributing motives, thoughts, beliefs to someone they don’t actually have.
5) Inconsistency of position on a topic.
6) Claiming the moral high ground over another person’s point of view.
7) Defining yourself as holding a superior position intelectually over another person.
8) Refusing to acknowledge the points made by another person with a contrary point of view.
9) Using spurious logic to make inconsistent points.
10) Quitting the discussion at hand and running away while crying foul.
I had my “geek” behaviors lined up, but the question was how to take the next step and go from being merely unpopular to repulsive. I used Joe Peacock’s own “geek” behavior as my initial guidepost. Saying something unpopular was going to have to be part of the formula. Yet standing up for someone who had already repulsed the community was going to make the “geek” happen.
If anyone is particularly interested in the resulting trainwreck created, then they are welcome to go over the comments section on “whatever” and have fun identifying each of the places I applied one or more of the approaches above. What I found fairly interesting myself was the number of times the other members of the community responding to me used the some of the same approaches, and other approaches I didn’t attempt to use.
When someone comes into a community as an unpopular “outsider” who doesn’t follow their normative rules an interesting set of behaviors begin to manifest. The first is people generally ignoring the outsider until something “repulsive” is seen. In this case I barely caused a splash at all until I stepped into the community with a defense of Joe Peacock’s right to be unpopular with his point of view. My repulsive behavior in defending Joe Peacock’s right to be a “geek” in the more classical sense of the term caused a much greater reaction. It was pretty quickly “repulsive” by association.
It didn’t take long before people began to attribute Joe’s repulsive remarks (which I didn’t repeat or even attempt to justify) as part and parcel of my own position. I was categorized in with Joe repeadly as part of the outsider group. Then as more people began to establish themselves as parts of the normative portion of the group, the behaviors listed above actually became the more normative behaviors of those individuals beginning to address me. This was the fascinating portion of the thought experiment to me. That several parts of my chosen behavior set was adopted by the very people who were rejecting my inclusion in their community.
The next part is also quite fascinating. As more people came out to join the normative group in repudiating my stated position, others began to step away from commenting on the original controversy. Soon the primary controversy which had led to comment section had subsided beneath the new controversy I had created by taking an unpopular position on the issue.
Another point of observation was that the few people who early on were attempting to moderate the behavior of people against my point of view began to leave the discussion rather than risk being grouped into the repulsive category. Once it was clearly established I was the outsider, fewer people to eventually no people were willing to step up and risk getting grouped in as an outsider with me.
The Lesson Learned:
Even in groups which choose to self identify as “outsiders” to the broader mainstream community at large, a failure to follow normative behaviors, and an association with behaviors considered repulsive leads to rejection. This rejection even takes on the form of bully-like behaviors which are often the same behaviors the “geek” community complains about from the mainstream. The attacks against the outsider become more agressive and more numerous as a larger “alpha” group appears to dominate and ostracize the outsider.
p.s. people are welcome to comment here. All comments are moderated by me to determine whether the content is constructive before being presented on the page here. People are of course entitled to their freedom of speech. and I encourage them to set up a web site of their own to exercise it. I am not required to allow my web site to be the open pulpit for anyone to exercise of their freedom of speech.
As an administrator of a motorcycle forum, I often come across those who take a contrary position to accepted wisdom such as common sense safety practices. Many times this is done exclusively to illicit a negative response for the established membership (trolling), or as a justification for real-life behaviors.
It’s always interesting to watch the results.
With regards to your quibble about geek versus nerd: I don’t take any serious issue with that. Modern usage plays, in my opinion. But, Scrabble is a viciously debated game.
“Then the idea for the thought experiment began.”
Here’s the thing, when you use real live humans it isn’t a *thought* experiment anymore. You demonstrated 1) Trolling by saying:
“If you want to be a victim by allowing him to hurt your feelings, then you are welcome to make that choice for yourself and I will not stop you.”
In a conversation that about sexism. This an obvious example of victim blaming. And whether your intention was such or not, that’s what those words mean. They come with a tremendous amount of social baggage that you think you can just doff, but you can’t. This is not defensible. And if you really think that, you need to spend some reading up on what people are talking about when they say things like that.
As a result, 6, 7 and 8 are not inappropriate responses. You demonstrated an extreme lack of taste in making that argument. A comment which you clarified nicely with
“His remarks can only hurt you if you choose to be hurt.”
My position in opposition to that type of speech is defensibly morally superior. And I make no apology for poking you with a rhetorical stick about it.
If what you said was part of a thought experiment to check something out: You played a game with real people and said unacceptable things. I speak for no one but myself, but, not okay, man.
I’ve got a real beef with amateur sociology to prove the point that if you act like a jerk in a semi-public place, the regulars – who are having a conversation about sexism – will not respond with open arms and spoon filled hands.
“Another point of observation was that the few people who early on were attempting to moderate the behavior of people against my point of view began to leave the discussion rather than risk being grouped into the repulsive category.”
This is called derailing a conversation. Welcome to the internet, the year is now 2012. This is what happens when you stake out intractable positions that are (apparently deliberately) offensive to the members of the group and refuse to substantively engage in a conversation. That’s 8 again. There’s two types, a: Hi, I’m a spike covered jerk, give me hugs and b: Hey, you’re being a spike covered jerk and I will not give you a hug.
Closing point: You’ve correctly examined the results of your experiment and verified knowledge that is obvious, if not frequently so articulated. I am not the boss of you and neither Whatever nor Mythlogicpress are my spaces. However, I believe you owe an apology for conducting a thought experiment – with real people – while misrepresenting yourself as a well-meaning open minded individual. The conversation was about sexism (check out the other events of the week – for example with the reader con fallout – that wasn’t a thought bubble you were playing in), and whether you meant to or not you added to the overwhelming example of men who should not be trusted.
I will accept your statement that the experiment was an actual experiment vs. being a pure intelectual exercise. The question I attempted to answer was will people who identify with the modern definition of “geek” (and who claim all “geeks” should be accepted) broaden their definition to the classical definition of “geek” to extend acceptance. The intelectual portion of the exercise was to redefine a classical geek who is considered both repulsive and fascinating to mainstream societies by modern societies into modern terms – a “Troll” in modern internet parlance.
The concept was to demonstrate that people who claim that everyone should be accepted, are quite frequently able to quickly move to rejection of someone percieved as a repulsive “outsider” without seeing any contradition in their behaivor. That dichotomy is fascinating to me, and provided several examples of inconsistent statements people will make. Even when I introduced the same points made by some individuals earlier against me as part of the discussion, they still repudiated my entire position as being completely wrong, effectivly repudiating several of their own points made earlier.
As far as people being the subjects of an experiment without their knowlege of the terms or nature of the experiment, this happens quite frequently in experimentation to prevent the subjects from introducing bias into the observation. If a person is aware they are subject, they quite certainly may alter their behavior to present a more socially acceptable viewpoint as they are aware of being under analysis.
As far as requesting or desiring an appology from anyone, I do not ask, need, or require an appology when I was the one deliberatly acting in a repulsive manner. If anyone did have their feelings hurt by the approach I took to gather my observations, then I do indeed issue them an appology. I did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I did intend to see how people react to someone who is clearly and definitively a repulsive outsider.
I did not say any response was appropriate or inappropriate. All responses were considered to be the honest nature of the people issuing them. I do not require anyone to be dishonest about their nature to be socially acceptable for others. Even contentious people are permitted to be honestly contentious.
Regarding your comment:
“I’ve got a real beef with amateur sociology to prove the point that if you act like a jerk in a semi-public place, the regulars – who are having a conversation about sexism – will not respond with open arms and spoon filled hands.”
I did not expect people to respond with open arms and spoon filled hands. I quite expected people to react according to their own honest natures. Yes this is amateur sociology as you call it, but it wasn’t without a point or to serve no purpose. I am an author who observes the human condition including various responses to adversity to more accurately portray human bahavior within my own writing. In this particular case I wanted to observe the reactions to someone whose behavior marks them as a repulsive outsider, a metaphorical “geek” in the classical sense. I found the observations of value for my personal work, and I place no negative judgements on the individuals for behaving honestly.
As far as whether I should be trusted or not, that is up to you to decide. I do not require or even believe I should be trusted. Once again I will appologise to anyone who feels their feelings have been hurt through my experiment. I will say that people who extrapolate the actions of an individual such as myself to an entire class of people such as men is making a logical mistake. I personally recommend not classifying individual actions as reflecting the entire view of any arbitrary class of people. That is a problem in believing that because a subset is part of a superset, all of the superset must match the subset. All men should not be trusted, all women should not be trusted, ect. just because some individual of their arbitrarily defined group can be trusted. The reverse of an untrustyworthy person being part of the group is also true. That is always the problem with attributing the actions of individuals to a larger arbitrary classification.
I do thank you for your well reasoned remarks. I also hope you do well in your future.
“I am an author who observes the human condition including various responses to adversity to more accurately portray human bahavior within my own writing. In this particular case I wanted to observe the reactions to someone whose behavior marks them as a repulsive outsider, a metaphorical “geek” in the classical sense. I found the observations of value for my personal work, and I place no negative judgements on the individuals for behaving honestly.”
Observing human nature to inform your writing, undeniably, has value. And, in fact, a sociological study on how groups react to outsiders with conflicting viewpoints and how that compromises their stated ethics has undeniable value.
What I’m getting at is that what you did, for the reason stated in your post here, is unethical. If you wanted to look into what you described, even at Scalzi’s website you could have searched out any of the posts that received major traffic from other portions of the web. He’s had a number of contentious, aggressive comment threads. And I absolutely see value in taking a case study in any one of those. Nothing stopped you from looking at the commenters in the thread, tracking their arguments and then searching out their comments in other threads were the regulars represented the vast majority to make a comparison. Hell, I’d read that.
But, what you did was take an intractable argument and use it to troll a group of people. As a guy with some sociological research in his own background, I take offense to your calling that a social experiment after the fact.
“As far as people being the subjects of an experiment without their knowlege of the terms or nature of the experiment, this happens quite frequently in experimentation to prevent the subjects from introducing bias into the observation.”
This is only true in the instance of case studies, on publicly available records of interactions after the fact. Every single social experiment conducted by sociologists involves participants who knew they were involving themselves in an experiment. They may not be told the exact nature, but they were volunteers with full agency. Because if they don’t do that, people won’t publish their research. Sociologists can dispassionately observe interactions happening in real time, but they do not interact without the consent of the participants.
“The concept was to demonstrate that people who claim that everyone should be accepted, are quite frequently able to quickly move to rejection of someone percieved as a repulsive “outsider” without seeing any contradition in their behaivor.”
This is determinable from publicly accessible interactions that have already occurred. You’ve got your own agency, this is your space and Scalzi didn’t step in and say no-go on his space and that’s all perfectly allowable. What I’m saying is that based on your explanation of your actions, you’ve demonstrated unethical behavior from a sociological research point of view.
“I will say that people who extrapolate the actions of an individual such as myself to an entire class of people such as men is making a logical mistake.”
This quote, and the paragraph its from, have a lot more that I take issue with that I don’t particularly wish to delve too deeply into. But, the short of it: you’re mistaking your ideal world from the real world. And you’re certainly misunderstanding a lot about the favors of privilege and the balance of power between the sexes in the real world.
For a guy who wants to inform his writings with meaningful real world observations, I am sincerely recommending that you spend some time reading through various websites that talk expressly about sexism, bigotry and social justice. You can decide if you agree with them after you spend the time. But, some of the language I’m talking about and using carries a lot of meta information with it and a lot of social baggage. It seems like some of that went by you.
If you’re really interested in learning more about the human condition, I’m telling you, sincerely, that you’ve got a hole in your understanding here that could do with some filling in. Spend the time on reading up on that. Even if you take issue with discussions of privilege, you’ll have a much more nuanced understanding of what you’re disagreeing with.
“Observing human nature to inform your writing, undeniably, has value. And, in fact, a sociological study on how groups react to outsiders with conflicting viewpoints and how that compromises their stated ethics has undeniable value.”
“What I’m getting at is that what you did, for the reason stated in your post here, is unethical.”
I agree with this statement. If this were a study in the field of professional sociology it would be an unethical approach by the standards of that field. This was an experiment of a different nature. It was done for my personal understanding to be complete, and not to publish in a scholarly journal. I also desired to understand the internal view point of the person with the outsider point of view who is being attacked. Much like other events in my past where I have learned a skill, or participated in an activity to gain a better understanding to write about it. I also wanted to know the mind set of a person being reproached and repudiated for being the repugnant outsider.
Certainly with enought time, funds, and knowledge I could have tracked down several people who consider themselves outsiders, and attempted to gain their trust enough to get honest answers about their internal observations to their external activities. The other quicker, less expensive option to get access to that internal landscape of the mind is to experience it first hand.
What you are suggesting is much like asking Hunter S. Thompson to have interviewed and silently observed drug addicts to gain a perspective of their internal mindset before writing “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Certainly he could have just done that, and legally he probably should have done that. Yet he choose to experience the drug usage and addiction first hand to better write about the internal landscape discovered. He interjected himself into the situation instead of being a disconnected external observer.
Am I writing at the level of Hunter S. Thompson? Not even close. Yet I do in my writing want to explore a group of villian characters which don’t see themselves as the villian in their own personal perspective. They stand outside the cultural norms of their world. These villians view themself as moral and right, while the protagonists view them as corrupt and evil.
The interesting thing is that the protagonists also see no problem with adopting questionable methods typically associated with villians. In my second book Thomas the Poisoner the protagonist starts out as the son of a knight, and quickly finds himself working for a group of assassins to set things right by removing corrupt people from positions of power.
As I’m moving from my second to my third book, I am exploring the perspective of the villians more.
If you have ever read the publication “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” you’ll find plenty of statistics about demographics, and some very high level mechanical observations about what happened. What is typically missing from this “sociological” study is why the perpetrators thought they were in the right in killing and assaulting police officers. What exactly were they thinking? How did they self justify their actions? Since I am not willing to perform a criminal action to get that perspective, I took the next lesser step and performed a socially condemned action with no legal difficulties attached. I’m only willing to go so far in the name of understanding.
There are other publications which attempt to get inside these internal rationalizations, but many of them are not readily available outside of the academic or law enforcement community. Many of them still make it quite difficult to interpret a dry academic clinical depiction of the mindset, into an emotional connection with it.
If you are aware of a particular publication which explores the internal mindset of a social outsider from their perspective, then I would be willing to look it over if I can obtain it at a reasonable price. My research budget is limited to about ten dollars or so. I’m self publishing, and self funding so everything is run on a shoestring budget around here, hehe.
As far as sexism, racism, etc. I do personally take an idealistic point of view. I try to treat people as people first and foremost. Part of that mindset is I don’t try to judge an arbitrary group based on the actions of specific individuals which could theoretically be associated with a group. I believe that when people become stuck in a mindset of addressing grievances centuries old, that little forward progress can be made in creating equality where past inequities existed.
Yes I think that many of these inequities exist still in various corners of the world. I don’t agree with them either. Yet there are also cases where people use the existence of past inequities to justify current hatreds. There are people who choose to self identify as victims of their society. They often subsequently turn to violence and repression of those whom they viewed as formerly oppressing them.
Joe Peacock is probably a good example of that very behavior. He was striking out at “popular” people invading his perceived space first and foremost. “Popular” people were the people he likely felt had repressed him his whole life. He had likely thought “geek” cons were his place to avoid such repression, and was subsequently feeling invaded when that started being no longer the case.
The problem is that Joe like many people feeling repressed acted like a victim. He blamed others for how he was feeling, and in an amazing display of ignorance in terms of internet cultural norms he blamed a small segment of a larger “protected” class of people for being part of his problem.
So the put upon “geek” was blaming a sub set of the put upon class “women” for being part of his problem. Women being approximately 50% of the worlds population clearly won out in that debate.
So my idealistic approach: women aren’t the problem, geeks aren’t the problem, etc.. People and their unwillingness to let go of perceived grievances of the past are the problem. They need to start treating each other as equals. I hold out a lot of hope that someday humans will learn that lesson before they destroy themselves.
Thank you for your reasoned reply.
p.s. before I get accused of it, I am not saying people should ignore or not address current grievances. If a grievance against an individual is real and current (aka it actually happened to them directly as oppossed to the class they self identify with in the past), then we have a system of courts in our country designed to address these very things. People should involve the legal system when an actual grievance exists. If the legal system doesn’t adequately address it, then addressing the issue to the various legislatures needs to be done as well.
I think that we aren’t going to bridge the gap in this conversation. Perhaps at another time we can renew the discussion. For now, I’ll leave it be.
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