Geekdom, Pathology, and Psychology

August 17th, 2007

A friend of mine passed me a link the other day to a piece that people were chatting about in his workplace: An essay on “Five Geek Social Fallacies.” I had seen this years ago but forgotten about it. If you haven’t seen it before, take a gander, and feel free to comment on whether you think it sounds familiar.

The author lays out the basic premise in the opening paragraph:

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.

The social fallacies the author suggests are:

  1. “Ostracizers Are Evil”
  2. “Friends Accept Me As I Am”
  3. “Friendship Before All”
  4. “Friendship Is Transitive”
  5. “Friends Do Everything Together”

He also suggests that these misguided beliefs help people thinking that geek interests are freakish. In reference to the first fallacy, which suggests that no one should ever be ostracized from social groups, the author explains:

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.

This is an interesting take in that it defines geekdom initially as a “constellation” of hobbies and subcultures—pretty much the same way I’ve been looking at it, but with better wording, in my opinion—but what really emerges from this picture is a characterization by social ineptitude. I don’t really see a connection offered between the actual hobbies and the ineptitude (except tangentially in another essay on the same site, “Why Geeks Like Anime”).

The ideas presented in the “Fallacies” essay are not the kind of things I’m empirically exploring in my own research, though sometimes I get the sense that people do want to read this perspective. I often get people asking me why I’m not studying geekdom from a psychological perspective (including in the first comment ever left on this site), though perhaps most are expecting a psychological analysis exploring “why are geeks awesome” than “why are geeks stereotyped.” Frankly, though, the techies, fans, and hobbyists who get lumped under “geek culture” are too diverse for me to feel confident that a psychological study could do any justice to the phenomenon (without years of complex longitudinal data, anyway). Plus, as “Fallacies” might suggest, speculating about the psychology of others runs some risk of being judgmental or condescending (an accusation that anthropological ethnography has been trying to escape for years now as it is).

This kind of essay is still really relevant to me, however, because my approach considers how people make sense of their own lives. I’m not going to cite “Fallacies” as if it were a psychological study, but I might quote it as an example of the popular mythology of what it means to be a geek, as understood by geeks themselves. Of course, if that seems off the mark to you, now is your chance to set the record straight.


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