Public Nuisances

Nerds Behaving Badly

March 27, 2013

Multiple Pages
Nerds Behaving Badly

The “microaggressions” website reads like comedy. It is pathetic and funny, yet it is beginning to look like the manifesto of our future overlords: a tyranny of the aggrieved, abetted by the powerful, lording it over anyone who dares open their yap. It sounds crazy, but it isn’t. It is happening daily in “culturally advanced” areas of Western Civilization.

Last week’s most celebrated microaggression: Miz Adria Richards experienced dismay at the telling of an off-color joke at a Python programming language convention. Miz Richards was not being addressed directly; she eavesdropped on someone else’s conversation. It was not a very clever joke, even if you speak nerd. The dastardly malefactor made a dorky jape about his large dongles. Dongles are those USB things that have replaced floppy discs. Miz Richards doesn’t seem to know this. She also took umbrage with an alleged subsequent statement about “forking that guy’s repository.” The phrase “forking a repo” refers to using someone else’s software for your own development purposes. It is generally considered a nerdy compliment for someone to fork your repository; it means they think your software is good. The forker’s friend, who was referring to an earlier speaker at the conference, claims the comment was intended in exactly this fashion. Miz Richards took it as some kind of off-color joke that demeans women and prevents them from becoming software engineers, despite the fact the speaker was obviously referring to “forking” a male.

“The idea that an ill-chosen word overheard by a fellow citizen may end your career is despotism, not tolerance.”

Open-source website “github” makes an actual crude pun about “hardcore forking action” when you fork a repository and nobody has complained yet. I guess one would have to actually fork some software from the thing to notice this; not a common occurrence in the lives of the perpetually aggrieved. Miz Richards herself had made a much more crass dong joke a mere two hours earlier on her Twitter account. Apparently the sinfulness of dong jokes depends on who is telling them.

Self-aggrandizing witch hunts seem to be the 21st-century approach to dealing with juvenile humor. Miz Richards proceeded to instigate one by Tweeting a photo of the sinners and her interpretation of their hurtful words, which she deemed to be “Not cool.” She later compounded this with a bubble-headed blog post in which her dismay was transmuted into “Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard.”

In a sane society, the entire incident would have been ignored. Instead it was taken up by the sanctimonious mob and trumpeted to the skies as an incident of Towering Importance. The dorky dongle-joke guy was cashiered from his job. He has a wife and three children. Don’t make dongle jokes if you have a wife and three children. Dongle jokes are not technically illegal, but in our modern era of social totalitarianism, they may as well be.

Hackers from 4chan, who tend to be fond of dong jokes, were outraged at this injustice. They proceeded to cause problems for Miz Richards’s employer. Now she has been made redundant. This may seem like some kind of twisted justice, but I have a hard time seeing it that way. The best possible outcome from this is lawsuits galore, with our dong-joking dongle-offended heroine taking up an even more destructive career as a full-time Torquemada.


It is worth noting that Miz Richards isn’t anything like a software developer. Her official job title is “developer evangelist,” which I think means “salesgirl” in the San Francisco dot-com dialect. I doubt she has ever coded anything in Python and was thus out of her depth at a Python conference. Her crunchbase profile says that “She produces videos and online content to explain technology to the world.” Some of the videos demonstrate astonishing technical ignorance, unless you think connecting a laptop to a big screen is interesting. It wouldn’t be a big change to go from leveraging her considerable skill at self-promotion to producing dumb videos and online content for the purpose of full-time insane political activism. Who else would hire her at this point? 

One of the ironic consequences of this Döngledämmerung is that association with this creep will cause authentic hacker girls to be unfairly vilified. While there are doubtless some programmer girls who share her character defects, most I have known are pleasant and hardworking introverts—the opposite of megalomaniacal attention-seekers perpetually demanding redress for imagined slights. Their semi-autistic male colleagues will inevitably be even more awkward and evasive around them, and potential employers will be more reluctant to hire them for fear of costly future Döngledämmerungs.

Researchers in Great Britain have found that 73% of their citizens are considered “official victims.” If we count double victimhood, up to 109% of their populace are considered “victims.” Being female, black, and Jewish, Miz Richards scores triple victim points by this accounting. I only count her as a victim once—for losing her job. This non-incident involved two or three people, and it directly ruined at least five people’s well-being. Two companies and one very large programmer community will experience fallout from this for months or years. This makes thousands of people the “victims” of the actions of one or two mildly crass men and one hysterical woman. Those British researchers are optimists.

A sane society would not attribute any importance to this non-incident. So long as large groups of people subscribe to insane conspiracy theories masquerading as sociology, this will only get worse. So long as the subjective dismay experienced by certain privileged people is elevated to totemic significance, social totalitarianism will only become more oppressive. Well-meaning dunces continue to yammer on about “systems of oppression” involving dongle jokes. Losing your job over a dumb joke is overt oppression. The idea that an ill-chosen word overheard by a fellow citizen may end your career is despotism, not tolerance. 

While I endeavor to have good manners and think others should too, I do not wish to live in a country where people live in fear that they could lose their livelihood for some illusory sin. I don’t understand why other people seem to accept this as natural and just. We laugh at a country that puts feminists in jail for desecrating a Church; maybe the Russians have the right idea.


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