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Geek Social Fallacies

Went out to PRSFS last night; meeting was in the ass-end of Cheverly, practically in digex' back yard, and since I'd agreed to give one of the members a lift home to Vienna, it seemed only reasonable to get together with P, who is on her three-day weekend from working the midnight shift. The PRSFS meeting...hm. On the one hand, I like talking about science fiction, but on the other hand, I don't like being reminded of these truths:

Five Geek Social Fallacies (Dec 2, 2003)

Within the constellation of allied hobbies and subcultures collectively known as geekdom, one finds many social groups bent under a crushing burden of dysfunction, social drama, and general interpersonal wack-ness. It is my opinion that many of these never-ending crises are sparked off by an assortment of pernicious social fallacies — ideas about human interaction which spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and to each other.

Social fallacies are particularly insidious because they tend to be exaggerated versions of notions that are themselves entirely reasonable and unobjectionable. It’s difficult to debunk the pathological fallacy without seeming to argue against its reasonable form; therefore, once it establishes itself, a social fallacy is extremely difficult to dislodge. It’s my hope that drawing attention to some of them may be a step in the right direction.

I want to note that I’m not trying to say that every geek subscribes to every one of the fallacies I outline here; every individual subscribes to a different set of ideas, and adheres to any given idea with a different amount of zeal.

In any event, here are five geek social fallacies I’ve identified. There are likely more.

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil

GSF1 is one of the most common fallacies, and one of the most deeply held. Many geeks have had horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant to them.

In its non-pathological form, GSF1 is benign, and even commendable: it is long past time we all grew up and stopped with the junior high popularity games. However, in its pathological form, GSF1 prevents its carrier from participating in — or tolerating — the exclusion of anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the prospective excludee may be.

As a result, nearly every geek social group of significant size has at least one member that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate. If GSF1 exists in sufficient concentration — and it usually does — it is impossible to expel a person who actively detracts from every social event. GSF1 protocol permits you not to invite someone you don’t like to a given event, but if someone spills the beans and our hypothetical Cat Piss Man invites himself, there is no recourse. You must put up with him, or you will be an Evil Ostracizer and might as well go out for the football team.

This phenomenon has a number of unpleasant consequences. For one thing, it actively hinders the wider acceptance of geek-related activities: I don’t know that RPGs and comics would be more popular if there were fewer trolls who smell of cheese hassling the new blood, but I’m sure it couldn’t hurt. For another, when nothing smacking of social selectiveness can be discussed in public, people inevitably begin to organize activities in secret. These conspiracies often lead to more problems down the line, and the end result is as juvenile as anything a seventh-grader ever dreamed of.

Geek Social Fallacy #2: Friends Accept Me As I Am

The origins of GSF2 are closely allied to the origins of GSF1. After being victimized by social exclusion, many geeks experience their “tribe” as a non-judgmental haven where they can take refuge from the cruel world outside.

This seems straightforward and reasonable. It’s important for people to have a space where they feel safe and accepted. Ideally, everyone’s social group would be a safe haven. When people who rely too heavily upon that refuge feel insecure in that haven, however, a commendable ideal mutates into its pathological form, GSF2.

Carriers of GSF2 believe that since a friend accepts them as they are, anyone who criticizes them is not their friend. Thus, they can’t take criticism from friends — criticism is experienced as a treacherous betrayal of the friendship, no matter how inappropriate the criticized behavior may be.

Conversely, most carriers will never criticize a friend under any circumstances; the duty to be supportive trumps any impulse to point out unacceptable behavior.

GSF2 has extensive consequences within a group. Its presence in substantial quantity within a social group vastly increases the group’s conflict-averseness. People spend hours debating how to deal with conflicts, because they know (or sometimes merely fear) that the other person involved is a GSF2 carrier, and any attempt to confront them directly will only make things worse. As a result, people let grudges brew much longer than is healthy, and they spend absurd amounts of time deconstructing their interpersonal dramas in search of a back way out of a dilemma.

Ironically, GSF2 carriers often take criticism from coworkers, supervisors, and mentors quite well; those individuals aren’t friends, and aren’t expected to accept the carrier unconditionally.

Geek Social Fallacy #3: Friendship Before All

Valuing friendships is a fine and worthy thing. When taken to an unhealthy extreme, however, GSF3 can manifest itself.

Like GSF2, GSF3 is a “friendship test” fallacy: in this case, the carrier believes that any failure by a friend to put the interests of the friendship above all else means that they aren’t really a friend at all. It should be obvious that there are a million ways that this can be a problem for the carrier’s friends, but the most common one is a situation where friends’ interests conflict — if, for example, one friend asks you to keep a secret from another friend. If both friends are GSF3 carriers, you’re screwed — the first one will feel betrayed if you reveal the secret, and the other will feel betrayed if you don’t. Your only hope is to keep the second friend from finding out, which is difficult if the secret in question was a party that a lot of people went to.

GSF3 can be costly for the carrier as well. They often sacrifice work, family, and romantic obligations at the altar of friendship. In the end, the carrier has a great circle of friends, but not a lot else to show for their life. This is one reason why so many geek circles include people whose sole redeeming quality is loyalty: it’s hard not to honor someone who goes to such lengths to be there for a friend, however destructive they may be in other respects.

Individual carriers sometimes have exceptions to GSF3, which allow friends to place a certain protected class of people or things above friendship in a pinch: “significant others” is a common protected class, as is “work”.

Geek Social Fallacy #4: Friendship Is Transitive

Every carrier of GSF4 has, at some point, said:
“Wouldn’t it be great to get all my groups of friends into one place for one big happy party?!”

If you groaned at that last paragraph, you may be a recovering GSF4 carrier.

GSF4 is the belief that any two of your friends ought to be friends with each other, and if they’re not, something is Very Wrong.

The milder form of GSF4 merely prevents the carrier from perceiving evidence to contradict it; a carrier will refuse to comprehend that two of their friends (or two groups of friends) don’t much care for each other, and will continue to try to bring them together at social events. They may even maintain that a full-scale vendetta is just a misunderstanding between friends that could easily be resolved if the principals would just sit down to talk it out.

A more serious form of GSF4 becomes another “friendship test” fallacy: if you have a friend A, and a friend B, but A & B are not friends, then one of them must not really be your friend at all. It is surprisingly common for a carrier, when faced with two friends who don’t get along, to simply drop one of them.

On the other side of the equation, a carrier who doesn’t like a friend of a friend will often get very passive-aggressive and covertly hostile to the friend of a friend, while vigorously maintaining that we’re one big happy family and everyone is friends.

GSF4 can also lead carriers to make inappropriate requests of people they barely know — asking a friend’s roommate’s ex if they can crash on their couch, asking a college acquaintance from eight years ago for a letter of recommendation at their workplace, and so on. If something is appropriate to ask of a friend, it’s appropriate to ask of a friend of a friend.

Arguably, Friendster was designed by a GSF4 carrier.

Geek Social Fallacy #5: Friends Do Everything Together

GSF5, put simply, maintains that every friend in a circle should be included in every activity to the full extent possible. This is subtly different from GSF1; GSF1 requires that no one, friend or not, be excluded, while GSF5 requires that every friend be invited. This means that to a GSF5 carrier, not being invited to something is intrinsically a snub, and will be responded to as such.

This is perhaps the least destructive of the five, being at worst inconvenient. In a small circle, this is incestuous but basically harmless. In larger groups, it can make certain social events very difficult: parties which are way too large for their spaces and restaurant expeditions that include twenty people and no reservation are far from unusual.

When everyone in a group is a GSF5 carrier, this isn’t really a problem. If, however, there are members who aren’t carriers, they may want occasionally to have smaller outings, and these can be hard to arrange without causing hurt feelings and social drama. It’s hard to explain to a GSF5 carrier that just because you only wanted to have dinner with five other people tonight, it doesn’t mean that your friendship is in terrible danger.

For some reason, many GSF5 carriers are willing to make an exception for gender-segregated events. I don’t know why.

Interactions

Each fallacy has its own set of unfortunate consequences, but frequently they become worse in interaction. GSF4 often develops into its more extreme form when paired with GSF5; if everyone does everything together, it’s much harder to maintain two friends who don’t get along. One will usually fall by the wayside.

Similarly, GSF1 and GSF5 can combine regrettably: when a failure to invite someone is equivalent to excluding them, you can’t even get away with not inviting Captain Halitosis along on the road trip. GSF3 can combine disastrously with the other “friendship test” fallacies; carriers may insist that their friends join them in snubbing someone who fails the test, which occasionally leads to a chain reaction which causes the carrier to eventually reject all of their friends. This is not healthy; fortunately, severe versions of GSF3 are rare.

Consequences

Dealing with the effects of social fallacies is an essential part of managing one’s social life among geeks, and this is much easier when one is aware of them and can identify which of your friends carry which fallacies. In the absence of this kind of awareness, three situations tend to arise when people come into contact with fallacies they don’t hold themselves.

Most common is simple conflict and hurt feelings. It’s hard for people to talk through these conflicts because they usually stem from fairly primal value clashes; a GSF3 carrier may not even be able to articulate why it was such a big deal that their non-carrier friend blew off their movie night.

Alternately, people often take on fallacies that are dominant in their social circle. If you join a group of GSF5 carriers, doing everything together is going to become a habit; if you spend enough time around GSF1 carriers, putting up with trolls is going to seem normal.

Less commonly, people form a sort of counter-fallacy which I call “Your Feelings, Your Problem”. YFYP carriers deal with other people’s fallacies by ignoring them entirely, in the process acquiring a reputation for being charmingly tactless. Carriers tend to receive a sort of exemption from the usual standards: “that’s just Dana”, and so on. YFYP has its own problems, but if you would rather be an asshole than angstful, it may be the way to go. It’s also remarkably easy to pull off in a GSF1-rich environment.

What Can I Do?

As I’ve said, I think that the best way to deal with social fallacies is to be aware of them, in yourself and in others. In yourself, you can try to deal with them; in others, understanding their behavior usually makes it less aggravating.

Social fallacies don’t make someone a bad person; on the contrary, they usually spring from the purest motives. But I believe they are worth deconstructing; in the long run, social fallacies cost a lot of stress and drama, to no real benefit. You can be tolerant without being indiscriminate, and you can be loyal to friends without being compulsive about it.

Hey, Are You Talking About Me?

If I know you, yeah, probably I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; most of us carry a few fallacies. Myself, I struggle with GSF 1 and 2, and I used to have a bad case of 4 until a series of disastrous parties dispelled it.

I haven’t used any examples that refer to specific situations, if it has you worried. Any resemblances to geeks living or dead are coincidental.



Reposted from this website http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/04/02/geek-social-fallacies-2/ since the original source at plausiblydeniable.com has lapsed. Apparently
Copyright 2003 Michael Suileabhain-Wilson. All rights reserved.


So...I dunno. It was good seeing Kyle & Monica, it was nice to see the hostess' charming daughter, but there were 4-5 people there who just got up my nose. Maybe I'll go back next month, and maybe I'll find something more constructive to do.

As mentioned before, returning one of the members to their place in Vienna took until 0100, at which point I got together with P for breakfast at Sheetz and a drive with conversation so we could get caught up with each other. Got home ~0300, full of caffeine, started reading Michael Flynn's The Wreck of The River of Stars to decompress, and that backfired by keeping me up until 0600. Up at 1400 with decent blood sugar...probably going to crash early tonight to get back on a normal sleep schedule.

Comments

( 16 comments )
polaris93
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
It's not just geeks who contract these ailments. There's a developmental stage we all go through where these are normal attitudes and behaviors, but most of us grow out of them by the time we get out of high school, or even much sooner. It's the people who get stuck that way . . .
wombat_socho
Jun. 12th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
An argument has been made that most people involved in fandom (science fiction or otherwise) are socially retarded. After almost 35 years of being involved with SF and (more recently) anime fandom, I tend to agree.
polaris93
Jun. 12th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
You have something there. I have encountered more social awkwardness, gauche behavior, cluelessness, and social stupidity among s-f and other fans than just about anywhere else. Also, a disturbing number of them haven't even a nodding acquaintance with the world's great literature, even that of Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, or any knowledge of most of the great s-f/fantasy/horror writers of the 1920s, 1930s, and early-to-mid 1940s, such as C. L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Abraham Merritt, and others. Their fan interests are always confined to one or another extremely narrow sub-sub-sub-genre to the exclusion of all else. Thirty years ago, fans were always reading everything not nailed down, regardless of genre, though they had their preferences, of course. They'd read at least some literature -- Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, Chekov, Dostoyefsky, Thomas Mann, Cervantes, others, whether in translation or in the original -- and a lot of classic poetry, and were well-acquainted with the world's mythologies. Now -- nada. Empty air save for those narrow interests. What's happened to these kids?
wombat_socho
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
I am inclined to think that the Internet, for all its failings, has actually helped anime fans avoid a lot of the social awkwardness that used to be a defining characteristic of SF fandom. I could be wrong about that and they might be just displaying a different kind of geek social failure. ;)

As to the ignorance of SF fans of anything outside their narrow subgenre of interest, including classic literature, this has its roots in two related issues, both broadly described as "the treason of the clerks", a phrase Jerry Pournelle used to describe the failure/refusal of the public schools and universities to transmit the culture of the Anglosphere to American kids of the 1960s and forward. Much like the public schools and universities, SF fans of the 1960s failed to teach the Star Trek and Star Wars fans who came into fandom about the rich literary history of SF and fantasy. That was forty years ago, and since then we've had more waves of fans who came to fandom by way of TV and movies, few of whom have any exposure to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, van Vogt and other writers from the Golden Age, much less the more obscure authors from the pre-Campbell era. It's not that the kids aren't interested - while I was involved in Space:Above and Beyond fandom, the Space Ready Reserve fan club put together a very well-received list of combat SF classic books. But there isn't really any kind of ongoing effort that I'm aware of to inform media fans and anime fans of the literary canon, and the poor social skills endemic in fandom aren't helping.
polaris93
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)
I am inclined to think that the Internet, for all its failings, has actually helped anime fans avoid a lot of the social awkwardness that used to be a defining characteristic of SF fandom.

You could be right. Kids that are arrogant social boors nevertheless notice all the stuff out there on the Web, and are curious about it, whether it's fiction, nonfiction, or entertainment. They ask one another questions about it, exchanging information readily, and in the process they work out various modi vivendi faciliating social exchanges, learning to be social beings the hard way, but learning. Eventually they may even become real live boys (to paraphrase Pinocchio). :-)

As to the ignorance of SF fans of anything outside their narrow subgenre of interest, including classic literature, this has its roots in two related issues, both broadly described as "the treason of the clerks", a phrase Jerry Pournelle used to describe the failure/refusal of the public schools and universities to transmit the culture of the Anglosphere to American kids of the 1960s and forward. Much like the public schools and universities, SF fans of the 1960s failed to teach the Star Trek and Star Wars fans who came into fandom about the rich literary history of SF and fantasy. That was forty years ago, and since then we've had more waves of fans who came to fandom by way of TV and movies, few of whom have any exposure to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, van Vogt and other writers from the Golden Age, much less the more obscure authors from the pre-Campbell era. It's not that the kids aren't interested - while I was involved in Space:Above and Beyond fandom, the Space Ready Reserve fan club put together a very well-received list of combat SF classic books. But there isn't really any kind of ongoing effort that I'm aware of to inform media fans and anime fans of the literary canon, and the poor social skills endemic in fandom aren't helping.

The ongoing, ever-evolving failure of American education is heartbreaking. Certainly it has underwritten much of what's wrong with people born in this country from 1950 on. It could be countered with a strong drive by those of us who were heirs to all that great literature, Golden Age s-f and otherwise, to create Websites that would attract these youngsters and draw them in to check out what they've been missing, e.g., by posting lots of anime and other things that already interest and attract them, but also having discussions on, for example, the relationships between anime and older science fiction and other literature that might get them interested in checking out the latter. That sort of thing. Something.
wombat_socho
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
It could be countered with a strong drive by those of us who were heirs to all that great literature, Golden Age s-f and otherwise, to create Websites that would attract these youngsters and draw them in to check out what they've been missing, e.g., by posting lots of anime and other things that already interest and attract them, but also having discussions on, for example, the relationships between anime and older science fiction and other literature that might get them interested in checking out the latter. That sort of thing. Something.

I do this as much as I can at conventions that I go to, pushing for panels that discuss this sort of thing, and since most conventions are desperate for panels and panelists, I usually don't have too much trouble getting a slot and drawing a small crowd. :)

Also, for all that it occasionally gets maligned for being the pornography of violence, combat SF (at least that published by Baen) is conscious of its roots and frequently refers back to the classics; there was even a tribute anthology acknowledging Kipling's contributions to SF. David Drake often honors the Greek and Roman contributions to our culture; one wonders how many kids have been inspired to look deeper at the Roman Republic and Empire after reading his Ranks of Bronze, to name but one such book of his.

So there are efforts being made, but we're a pack, not a herd. :)
polaris93
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
I know. My literary partner likes anime, and loves science-fiction (which is what we collaborate on), and he's always prowling the Web to see what he can find. There's a great deal of good stuff out there, but very few of those under 30 are checking it out. They're either into porn, or reading and contributing to some really lousy fanfic, or otherwise totally oblivious to anything but the most superficial and witless stuff out there they can find/interact with. And these are the heirs of the future? We're doomed.
haikujaguar
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
I remember several Worldcons ago mentioning to the two graybeard authors manning SFWA's Bulletin table that I was enjoying Stanley Weinbaum and the response of the one who recognized the name was to snort and say, "That old stuff?"

:/
wombat_socho
Jun. 13th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Probably a relic of the 1960s New Wave who had no real idea who Weinbaum was. If he did know, then he was a jackass pure and simple.
haikujaguar
Jun. 13th, 2010 11:17 am (UTC)
That dismissive attitude was unfortunately not rare. :(
polaris93
Jun. 13th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Hoo-boy! Weinbaum is one of the greatest science-fiction authors of all time. He was a contemporary of Olaf Stapledon, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, and other greats of science fiction's Golden Age. If those two men weren't just teasing to see what you'd do, they have missed out on some of the best the 20th century has to offer. I am torn between feeling sorry for them and wanting to read them out for being so ignorant.
haikujaguar
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Having attended some anime cons, I'm afraid to say anime fans are as prone to SF/F fannish behavior as SF/F fans.
wombat_socho
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
Having run some anime conventions, I am inclined to agree with you up to a point. I think that the younger fans are (on average) less prone to be socially retarded, while the older fans -who often got into anime through SF/F fandom- are just as messed up as they ever were.
haikujaguar
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
Hmm. That hasn't been my observation! Which is that the cons I've attended have mostly been composed of pre-teen and teenage girls, who while having some of the social understandings of girls, are taking cues on how to act from... somewhere bizarre. Certainly not normal. They take weird liberties. They consume porn that their dealers' rooms shouldn't be selling them, given how frequently they're underage. They act a lot like females at SF cons, in my experience.

Dunno. Maybe I've had a bad few runs. But it feels to me like anime wants to encourage a kind of permanent adolescence, probably because the genre seems to fetishize (particularly female) youth.
wombat_socho
Jun. 13th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
There are certainly plenty of the young women you describe, who are most likely getting their behavior cues from popular culture here and their distorted perception of Japanese culture, particularly the behaviors considered "cute" in the latter.

They act a lot like females at SF cons, in my experience.
There are women at SF cons? ;)
haikujaguar
Jun. 13th, 2010 11:17 am (UTC)
Point! -_-
( 16 comments )

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