Curtis Yarvin is the universal acid of the blogosphere. While his constructive proposals range from laughable to horrifying, when he takes aim at things I love (democracy, pacifism, self-determination, Richard Dawkins) they reliably lose their aura of beauty and goodness and I can never look at them again with rosy eyes.
So it is with some apprehension that I began to read his recent essay, “Circling and Nerd Society”. Circling I can do without. Nerd Society, on the other hand… as a lifelong proud nerd, this one’s gonna hurt.
Let me be clear about the virtues of nerd society. Nerd society actually only has two virtues—but those virtues were of supreme importance at one stage in my life. Its first virtue is that every nerd is a member. Its second virtue is that it is a society. While it has few if no other virtues, and plenty of vices, for many nothing outweighs these two.
Cute, but this lands far off the mark. Nerd social circles I’ve been part of were extremely cliquish and exclusive. While it’s true nerd social circles often have much lower standards for social well-adjustedness, physical attractiveness and even personal hygiene, they filter aggressively for intelligence (verbal as well as logical-mathematical) and knowlege of obscure ingroup references.
What you will find in nerd world is largely a reinvention of social solutions—such as friendship, dating, marriage and religion—that, with the arguable exception of the last, needed no reinvention at all.
This daring attempt at Life 2.0 does not in general come from the masters of Life 1.0—nor did it generally recruit from them. Otherwise it would be in default world—it would be Skull and Bones, or Bohemian Grove, or the Union League, or Davos.
The revenge of the nerds is the creation of new, reinvented social institutions for social failuryes—people like me, who had no friends in high school. The outsiders.
The eternal dream of the nerd, who would not be a nerd had he not in some sense socially failed between 10 and 20, is not to succeed at being human—not to catch up to the default social world, to learn its secrets and be admitted to its citizenship, to rise in its conventional ranks—but to skip being human—and jump directly to some kind of para-human, trans-human, posthuman or just superhuman experience.
Now this is fascinating. Nerds definitely do reinvent the wheel a lot, and being a nerd seems highly correlated with being into science fiction and transhumanism, though this is more parsimoniously explained by nerds being high decouplers, more interested in inhabiting hypothetical scenarios. The argument seems much stronger for superhero movies and comics; it certainly makes sense that those who fail at being human would fantasize about transcending their humanity.
The question is: inventing from scratch, are these outsiders, these nerds, these losers, going to do a better job than the masters of Life 1.0—especially when those masters have inherited their ways of living across many generations? Who would you bet on? Especially when the nerds are not even reinventing themselves as a group, but each working alone from his own fragile psychological capital… I’ll bet on Chad and Stacy.
And I’ll bet on Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon, on Lenin and Lyndon Johnson, on Mark Zuckerberg and Vitalik Buterin - all people who “failed socially” at age 10-20, instead spending those formative years investing in unique human capital with which they moved the world. Being socially well-adjusted may give you happiness and some measure of power, but in exchange you give up the chance to do something unique. Silicon Valley, one of the few centers of innovation left in the Western world, is filled with socially maladjusted nerds building incredible futures because they didn’t internalize that it’s uncool to, like, Actually Try.