Nerd fatalism, nerd determinism: the problem with nerd politics

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13 Responses to “Nerd fatalism, nerd determinism: the problem with nerd politics”

  1. Remy Porter says:

    I vote for myself at least once, nearly every election. Usually more.

    In nerd terms: I don’t understand parties, I don’t want to be in one, I don’t want to support one, and I especially don’t want to cooperate, unless I can see a clear and immediate goal for my efforts. 

    The problem isn’t nerds. It’s politics.

  2. semiotix says:

    As with many such things, there’s an xkcd cartoon that’s on point here. 

    Nerds succeed because, more than most, they can put aside the voices screeching inside their monkey brains. Nerds fail when, pleased with themselves, they forget that the monkey-screeching in their heads is still at 96% volume, and there are lots more people at 97%. 

  3. Shinkuhadoken says:

    For example, US and EU police agencies demand that network carriers include backdoors for criminal investigations, and geeks snort derisively and say that none of that will work on smart people who use good cryptography in their email and web sessions.

    Apparently the NSA is creating a database so huge as to be measured in Yottabytes because there isn’t a metric prefix higher than yotta (10^24). It’s so huge it could contain the sum of human knowledge several times over. Which means they expect some of that “human knowledge” to be encrypted as they harvest every message they can off the internet and store it in said database.

    While it may not be possible to decrypt every good cipher today, could an acreage of supercomputers 10 years from now do it with ease, especially under the direction of an organization entirely devoted to the task with a nearly unlimited war chest?

    If you don’t think anyone could get in trouble for something they wrote 10 years ago, I submit for your perusal the ugly period of time known as McCarthyism. Tell me how hard it is to imagine a GOP led government doing the same thing today in yet another repeat of history, only switch out the word “communist” with the word “terrorist.” Imagine the vendetta particularly against those with “something to hide.” There’s really not much point to a database like this except to go on an ill-conceived, ultra-expensive witch hunt for the “terrorist within.”

    • Lemoutan says:

      There’s really not much point to a database like this except to go on an ill-conceived, ultra-expensive witch hunt for the “terrorist within”

      Does that mean google must dump the large dataset which allowed us to make hay with the ngrams?

      Whilst not unsympathetic with the point you’re making, and not under any illusions about the NSA’s interest in academic literary research, I’d hesitate to claim that witch-hunting was the only use you could make of such a corpus.

      • Shinkuhadoken says:

        But certainly the raison d’être for the database the imperative to spy on everyone in a massive fishing expedition by secretive spooks. This isn’t a benevolent sandbox intended to be shared for research purposes.

        My point is more along the lines that anything you do say could be intercepted and recorded, anything they can’t decrypt they will decrypt eventually, and that the protection offered from cryptography is merely temporal against a determined foe. Encryption is useful, but it’s not an eternal guarantee of privacy.

        • Lemoutan says:

          I’d not disagree with your statement about the permanent usefulness of encryption (short of the somewhat drastic elimination of all future readers). But …

          the raison d’être for the database the imperative to spy on everyone in a massive fishing expedition by secretive spooks

          Again, I’m not questioning your assessment of its possible original purpose, only your claim that this is its sole possible purpose.

          It can have other uses. Its not being intended to be shared for research purposes doesn’t stop its use as such. Seems to me that you’re entitled to take it to use as you please – your taxes are paying for it.

  4. Keith Tyler says:

    “Geeks who care about privacy dismiss broad wiretapping laws… on the grounds that they themselves can evade this surveillance.”

    The word you are looking for here is: HUBRIS.

    Geeks have it in abundance, at least in some areas. I’m not saying I’m any exception, either. But I have this thing called concern for my fellow man, and by “fellow man” I don’t mean just “fellow geek”. So I actually get involved in politics and do what I can to spread the word about bad laws. (And not just bad tech laws, either.)

    The same phenonomenon causes technologists, even generally progressive or left-leaning ones, to resist and even flatly refuse unionization. We don’t need it, we figure. Even while the technology sector of labor over the past 10-12 years or so (or more!) has been plagued by mass layoffs, buyouts, failed startups, outsourcing, offshoring, H1-B abuse, overwork, limited advancement, and even underpay — precisely the sorts of things that unions were made to protect against — simply because we believe we are too smart to need them.

  5. Brian Boyko says:

    I think there is a third reason: Politics isn’t just inherently corrupting, it’s also inherently insulated from those who would try to use it for anything but corruption.  Checks and balances on government power have to come from the threat of ouster via the ballot box.  But that just doesn’t happen in the modern democracy.

    * Under First Past the Post (FPP)  Systems (US & UK) the district boundaries produce solidly single-party results.  Many people have their voice effectively silenced simply because “they didn’t vote for the winner” in their district – which includes US voters who have to deal with Gerrymandering.  The FPP system also sets up the two-party system, which means that only two views are represented. 

    * Even when the majority of people/voters in the district may all agree on a particular issue, a two-party system does not allow for public opinion to be voiced when both parties agree on the issue.  So, for example, if 90% of people in X county want to legalize Y, but both parties want to keep Y illegal, Y will remain illegal.  

    * Technical issues have the additional burden of being understood by only a few of the people whom it impacts.  Even if all experts agree on an issue, the experts are not enough to constitute a significant voting bloc. 

  6. anrs says:

    You forgot a whole BUNCH of problems with nerd politics. Like the one where nerds assume that all non-nerds are stupid, thus alienating people who would otherwise support campaigns against web surveillance and web censorship. Or the one where nerds only care about problems that affect middle-class white men, thus alienating practically everyone.

  7. Cory,

    Do you ever fret over the apparent fact that your most serious posts here are the ones which get little commenting and even less intelligent commenting?

  8. Tonweight says:

    If only people would just vote “no confidence” instead of trying to “pick the winner” or “vote their conscience,” we might affect some change (or at least muddy the waters enough for no clear winner between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Fascist).

    Although, I do make it a habit to vote for Galactus across the board when I can’t vote “no confidence.”

  9. GawainLavers says:

    It occurs to me that many nerds are afflicted with a kind of Friedmanism, “What the world needs is smart, sensible politicians who happen to agree with me about everything.  Until they come along I’m going to sit on the sidelines casting aspersions and feeling smug.”

    Thomas Friedman, Private Eye

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