The Big Bang Theory is not “My People”: aspies, tribalism, and the development of nerd politics

As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t watch much TV, other than the odd documentary and some children’s programs. So while I’ve heard of The Big Bang Theory, I’ve only actually seen a couple of episodes. An acquaintance recently expressed surprise at this fact, asserting that TBBT depicts “[my] people.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I attempted to watch some episodes on YouTube. Unfortunately, I could only find highlight reels; curse the zealous and effective enforcement of copyright laws. Regardless, I have watched a couple hours of highlights and read the relevant Wikipedia pages.

And these are not “my people.”

To be fair, I laughed. I’m not going to go on a rant claiming that a popular, successful show that lots of people enjoy is actually bad for reasons particular to my own taste in TV. Neither is this going to be an in-depth deconstruction of the good or bad points of a show I’ve barely seen. I’m content to say that it’s funny and I see what other people like in it.

I just don’t see myself in it.

“My people” is a bit of a fuzzy concept. Certainly plenty of “my people” like video games or comic books or have OCD or autism. But this is not what defines us; this is not what separates us from the rest of you.

If anything, video games, Star Trek, comic books, etc., are the things that connect us to normal people. Video games are immensely popular–Farmville2 had, as of 2013, 40 million regular players, which is about the same as the total number of copies of Super Mario Bros. (1985) sold. Then there’s The Sims, which sold over 125 million copies between 2000 and 2010 and has probably kept on selling.

“The success of The Sims resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the series five world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition 2008. These records include “World’s Biggest-Selling Simulation Series” and “Best Selling PC Game of All Time” for the original The Sims game, which sold 16 million units…” (Wikipedia)

There’s nothing wrong with videogames. I like them; lots of people like them. The same goes for the rest of the list. Are nerds more into Star Wars or Star Trek than the average Joe? I think so, but the vast quantities of Star Wars merchandise available at Target certainly isn’t being driven by my tiny demographic; I own more things (books) on P. A. M. Dirac’s contributions to quantum physics than Star Wars and Star Trek-related things combined.

Maybe TBBT is what “my people” look like from the outside, but it’s not what we look like from the inside.

Let’s start with the clothes:

b9f955c1-d8ad-4778-862d-e66ec2c38df1-1

This show is set in southern California. It is hot there all the time. They have no winter. WHY ARE THEY WEARING JACKETS AND SWEATERS?

While nerds do occasionally dress nicely–especially for SCA events–most of the time, we wear clothes to cover our fleshy meat sacks. We do not (generally) have colorful, curated wardrobes.  Most of us don’t really think about clothing. I have seen nerds walking in the snow wearing less clothing than these guys are wearing for the simple reason that they were thinking about something else and had not thought to put on clothes.

If Sheldon were really an autistic (or OCD,) quantum physicist with an IQ around 178 or whatever, he’d look more like the guy on the left:

yesss physics yesss
From left to right: Dirac, youngest Nobel prize winner in physics; Nobel laureate Robert A. Millikan; and Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Caltech, Calif., May 28, 1935.

(Say what you will, Dirac clearly did not notice that he put on a vest that’s too small for himself this morning.)

Or maybe this guy:

Blatant attempt to cram Niels Bohr into a post
Blatantly cramming Niels Bohr into post

Of course, the modern style of Caltech Physicists is a little less formal–they appear to have ditched the jackets–but still a far cry from curated colors.

But clothes are a triviality. They are not my real objection; they’re just the easiest to express objection.

According to the Wikipedia’s summary of TBBT, the show revolves around the characters’ pop-culture obsessions and failures at dating:

One of the recurring plot lines is the relationship between Leonard and Penny. Leonard becomes attracted to Penny in the pilot episode and his need to do favors for her is a frequent point of humor in the first season. Their first long term relationship begins when Leonard returns from a three-month expedition to the North Pole in the season 3 premiere. However, when Leonard tells Penny that he loves her, she realizes she cannot say it back. Both Leonard and Penny go on to date other people; most notably with Leonard dating Raj’s sister Priya for much of season 4. This relationship is jeopardized when Leonard comes to falsely believe that Raj has slept with Penny, and ultimately ends when Priya sleeps with a former boyfriend in “The Good Guy Fluctuation“.

Penny, who admits to missing Leonard in “The Roommate Transmogrification”, accepts his request to renew their relationship in “The Beta Test Initiation”. After Penny suggests having sex in “The Launch Acceleration”, Leonard breaks the mood by proposing to her. Penny says “no” but does not break up with him. She stops a proposal a second time in “The Tangible Affection Proof”. In the sixth season episode, “The 43 Peculiarity”, Penny finally tells Leonard that she loves him. Although they both feel jealousy when the other receives significant attention from the opposite sex, Penny is secure enough in their relationship to send him off on an exciting four-month expedition without worrying in “The Bon Voyage Reaction”. After Leonard returns, their relationship blossoms over the seventh season. In the penultimate episode “The Gorilla Dissolution”, Penny admits that they should marry and when Leonard realizes that she is serious, he proposes with a ring that he had been saving for years.

Jeez. Who goes through that much crap for a relationship? Here’s what a normal relationship looks like:

Day 1: meet; ask other person out. Yes => date. No => meet someone else and ask them out.

Within a month or two: if you’re in love, keep dating. If not, break up.

Within a few years: get married or break up.

I feel like I am harping on something trivially mundane and totally obvious, except that a lot of people watch TBBT, and I honestly think that plotlines like this (which serve to draw back viewers for subsequent episodes with their constant “will they or won’t they finally get together?” rather than depict reality,) actually give some people (mostly beta males) the wrong impression about how to go about their relationships. Anime is also guilty of this. DO NOT SPEND YEARS OF YOUR LIFE WAITING FOR THE GIRL YOU LIKE TO FINALLY NOTICE YOU. If you don’t ask her out, she will not date you. If she says no, she’s probably not interested and you should go ask someone else out. Doing the “nice guy” beta-male best friend thing for years in the hope that someday she will notice you does not work and tends to work out badly for everyone involved.

Here’s what my life revolves around: personal relationships (kids, husband, friends, relatives, job, etc.,) and my ideas.

I have a lot of ideas, hence this blog and a few other projects I’ve got going.

The ideas permeate everything. Picking the kids up from school? Thinking about the evolution of social structures. Conversing with mom-friend on the playground while watching the kids? Calculating estimated total fertility rate for the neighborhood. Trying to fall asleep? Narrating the French Revolution in my head.

Sometimes the ideas are so intense, it’s agony to do anything else. I can’t sleep, can’t converse, can’t be still until I write them down.

It’s ideas, all the way down.

I wouldn’t care a whit about the colorful t-shirts and weird relationships if the show just focused on Sheldon’s ideas! Admittedly, each episode would be Sheldon wrangling his friends into the apartment and then 2o minutes of enthusiastic physics lecture, which might not go over so well with the intended audience. But real life tends not to be all that TV-worthy.

I am now going to break an unstated rule of this blog and talk about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

No, I don’t watch MLP. I have kids; my kids watch MLP. (But I admit that MLP is one of the kids’ shows that doesn’t make me want to light the TV on fire and defenestrate it.)

Anyway, if I were a pony, I’d be Maud Pie:

Picture 5

She likes rocks. (I like rocks.)

Unlike Sheldon, Maud was not written for the audience to connect with. Maud is the pony the other ponies cannot connect with; the one they cannot be friends with. (This is aside from her sister, Pinkie Pie, who loves her unconditionally because she’s family.) The point of Maud’s episode is that there are some people in this world who, though they are not bad or evil people, are simply interested in things you aren’t, and you don’t have any connection to them.

Maud is interested in rocks, rocks, and nothing but rocks. She writes poetry about rocks. She has a pet rock. Her special magic abilities have to do with rocks. Her cutie mark is probably a rock. She doesn’t really have interests outside of rocks.

The audience, like the main cast, is supposed to find Maud boring. You are supposed to connect with their total lack of anything in common with someone like Maud.

Of course, since I like rocks, I spent the episode going, “Why don’t they just learn to love rocks like Maud does? Why don’t they try connecting with her by finding out what she finds so fascinating about rocks?”

But the idea that one might try to connect with someone by being willing to discuss their passion did not occur to the show’s creators. This is why physics and ideas can never be the focus of TBBT–the viewers have no real interest in what makes Sheldon passionate about physics.

While researching this post, I happened into a conversation on whether or not Maud has Asperger’s. All but one of the folks in the thread who actually have Asperger’s agreed that Maud comes across as Aspie. All but one of the folks saying that Maud was not Aspie were neurotypicals.

Their arguments tended to go like this: “Maud is not Aspie. There is nothing wrong with her, and Aspies have something wrong with them because Asperger’s is a disorder. She is just very passionate about rocks.”

Yes, well, fuck you.

Let’s get something straight. We can call Maud “Aspie” without saying that there is anything “wrong” with her.

I don’t think the show’s creators intended to create an Aspie pony. I think they wanted to create a pony none of the other ponies could connect with because she was boring, uninterested in the other ponies, and only talked about one boring thing.

Which is basically the colloquial definition of “Aspie.”

Here I need to pause and clarify the difference between a formal diagnosis of Autism or Asperger’s with the colloquial usage of “Aspie.”

Autism and Asperger’s were never all that well defined to begin with, with a tremendous overlap between there. Asperger’s is thought of as the less severe of the two diagnoses, but there are “low functioning aspies” who are much worse off than many “high functioning autistics.” My suspicion is that the distinction drawn between the two (language delay and IQ,) wasn’t really the correct distinction, and the whole business should have been determined via degree of impairment in the first place.

Which I suppose is what they are trying to do, now that they’ve formally removed Asperger’s from the DSM.

A formal diagnosis of autism means that there probably is, in fact, something “wrong” with you. As Slate Star Codex notes, formally diagnosed, institutionalized autistics do a lot of things that are definitely problematic, like try to chew off their hands.

I do not have a formal diagnosis of autism, Asperger’s, or anything of the like.

According to the Wikipedia, “Asperger syndrome is characterized by impairment in social interaction accompanied by restricted and repetitive interests and behavior; it differs from the other ASDs by having no general delay in language or cognitive development.” Autism, “is distinguished not by a single symptom, but by a characteristic triad of symptoms: impairments in social interaction; impairments in communication; and restricted interests and repetitive behavior.”

Unlike the stereotype of autistics as “idiot savants,” most of them are intellectually impaired across the board, cannot work, and will be dependent on others for their entire lives. Many of them cannot talk, put on their own clothes, use the toilet unassisted, or communicate their needs to others.

A recent study of people with actual, diagnosed Autism found a bunch of de novo mutations. These kids can’t talk because there is actually something genetically wrong with them:

By comparing affected to unaffected siblings, we show that 13% of de novo missense mutations and 43% of de novo likely gene-disrupting (LGD) mutations contribute to 12% and 9% of diagnoses, respectively. Including copy number variants, coding de novo mutations contribute to about 30% of all simplex and 45% of female diagnoses.

The colloquial definition of “Aspie” is someone who’s interested in stuff you’re not interested in and who has trouble interacting with normal people. This definition has nothing to do with functionality; it’s really just a matter of whether or not you “fit in” with dumbs. So, a teenage girl who talks endlessly about boys and makeup is considered “normal” by most people, but a teenage girl who talks passionately about quantum physics is “aspie” because other teenage girls don’t want to hear about quantum physics. A man who is obsessed with motorcycles is “normal” because only an idiot risks getting punched in the face, but a man who is passionate about trains is “aspie.”

“Aspie” is the new “faggot,” now that you’re not supposed to make fun of gay people. (Is it mere coincidence that the actor picked to play Sheldon is, in fact, flamingly gay?)

There’s a major problem here that anyone who is exceptionally intelligent is probably going to have ideas floating around in their head that normal people can’t understand and is going to learn far more about any subject they’re interested in than the average person. If I am trying to express the idea that different environments favor mitochondrial or viral memes, and you’re trying to express the idea that a popular actor is very attractive, we are not going to socialize terribly well together.

But I have no difficulty socializing with other people like myself.

A recent study of “autism-spectrum-quotient” traits found that men do, indeed, rate higher than women on autism surveys, and people in STEM professions score higher than folks in non-STEM professions, true to stereotypes:

We examine correlations between the AQ and age, sex, occupation, and UK geographic region in 450,394 individuals. We predicted that age and geography would not be correlated with AQ, whilst sex and occupation would have a correlation. Mean AQ for the total sample score was m = 19.83 (SD = 8.71), slightly higher than a previous systematic review of 6,900 individuals in a non-clinical sample (mean of means = 16.94) This likely reflects that this big-data sample includes individuals with autism who in the systematic review score much higher (mean of means = 35.19). As predicted, sex and occupation differences were observed: on average, males (m = 21.55, SD = 8.82) scored higher than females (m = 18.95; SD = 8.52), and individuals working in a STEM career (m = 21.92, SD = 8.92) scored higher than individuals non-STEM careers (m = 18.92, SD = 8.48). Also as predicted, age and geographic region were not meaningfully correlated with AQ.

Hold on a second and look at that last sentence again: age was not meaningfully correlated with AQ. The number of autism diagnoses has been skyrocketing over the past couple of days, accompanied by a great deal of debate on why. Here we have evidence–from nearly half a million people–that the overall “AQ” of the British population has not increased (or decreased) significantly over the years. Either the increase in “autism” diagnoses is entirely an artifact of some other process–like kids who would previously have been diagnosed as just “retarded” getting diagnosed as “autisitic”–or the distribution of “Aspie” traits in the general population has nothing to do with autistics.

At any rate, I see no reason to assume that people in STEM fields are retarded; their aspieness strikes me as far more of the colloquial, “normal people just aren’t into this,” variety. Whereby “normal” I mean “people who talk about their emotions all the damn time.”

Stupid emotions.

Now, I have no idea whether or not Sheldon is really autistic. At this point, I’m not even comfortable with the colloquial use of “Aspie.” And I’m not saying that nerds never act like the guys on TBBT. I’m just saying that this isn’t really “my people,” at least as I see them.

A show about people like me would have one programmer guy who starts out libertarian in season one and then starts reading Moldbug in season two. The main character would be a prominent rationalist blogger/physicist, whose ex-girlfriend is in a bi-poly open relationship with an SJW Asian bio-major, who gets in frequent fights with the programmer. Their room would be full of computers, disassembled computers, computer parts, and robots. (TBBT has one Jewish and one Indian character, which I would obviously retain.)

It’s getting late, so I’m going to continue this tomorrow.

21 thoughts on “The Big Bang Theory is not “My People”: aspies, tribalism, and the development of nerd politics

    • Wish I got your mitochondrial vs viral meme example. Memetics refer to ideas and mitochonria are physical structures. They are organelles that convert stuff (food) into energy within cells. I clearly don’t know a whole lot about mitochondria but what I do know is that genes are responsible for mitochondria changes not memes. I could see where “viral” may be a more abstract usage, but “mitochondrial” in the context of memetics is just confusing to me.

      Like

      • “Meme theory” uses viruses as a metaphor for the transmission of memes (ideas) from person to person.

        If you get down to the biological nitty-gritty, mitochondria weren’t originally part of our cells, but were independent, single-celled organisms. Most likely, one of our ancestral cells attempted to eat an ancestral mitochondria, didn’t digest it, and it just got stuck there. Mitochondria, like viruses, can’t reproduce themselves–they are dependent on us to reproduce them. Unlike viruses, they don’t directly hijack our DNA to produce copies of themselves which then get spewed out of our noses every time we sneeze. Mitochondria reproduce when we reproduce.

        Viruses spread from person to person–we can call this horizontal spread. Mitochondria spread from mother to child–we can call this vertical transmission.

        If a meme acts like a “virus,” then (like a real virus,) it may use you–weakening you–to spread it. For example, many religious martyrs and missionaries sacrificed their own personal wealth and well-being, had no children, etc., in order to spread the ideas of their religion. If a meme acts like “mitochondria”–that is, if it is passed primarily from parent to child–then it is likely to optimize for your well-being and having lots of children, because these ideas only get passed down by people who have children.

        I have a longer post on mitochondria here, if you want it. :)

        Like

  1. Big Bang Theory is a minstrel show for nerds. Just as minstrel shows depicted blacks in a manner which pleased yankees and puritans, so does tBBT depict nerds in a manner pleasing to SWPLs and progressives. Having never had to interact with nerds and nerd culture except for that one time they needed to go to the engineering department to ask for some diagnostics they don’t get that nerds have largely differing goals from the rest of the population.

    Like

    • I am familiar with this argument, but having only seen a couple of episodes + highlight reels, don’t really know enough about the show to make coherent arguments of my own about it. I do know, however, some pretty legit nerds who like it; perhaps they see something in it that I don’t. In general, I shy away from using too much politicized language when describing TV shows, because I tend not to take it very seriously when other people do it.

      Like

  2. …bunch of thoughts:

    There’s a major problem here that anyone who is exceptionally intelligent is probably going to have ideas floating around in their head that normal people can’t understand and is going to learn far more about any subject they’re interested in than the average person. If I am trying to express the idea that different environments favor mitochondrial or viral memes, and you’re trying to express the idea that a popular actor is very attractive, we are not going to socialize terribly well together.

    But I have no difficulty socializing with other people like myself.

    High-V people have this problem too. It’s not just STEM types.

    BTW I am surprised and envious that you are willing and able to say this straight out, and have not had it beaten into you, to the point of causing a PTSD-like reaction to the very thought, that one does not say things like that EVER EVER EVER.

    But others have, thus the tendency to resort to “Asperger’s” and “it’s innately poor social skills, that’s all [please don’t beat me].” :/

    Knowing people in various places on the autism spectrum makes it clearer that, and why, high-g people look like autists from the outside.

    Here’s a very painful yet true fact.

    Stephanie Tolan writes:

    A microscope analogy is one useful way of understanding extreme intelligence. If we say that all people look at the world through a lens, with some lenses cloudy or distorted, some clear, and some magnified, we might say that gifted individuals view the world through a microscope lens and the highly gifted view it through an electron microscope. They see ordinary things in very different ways and often see what others simply cannot see. Although there are advantages to this heightened perception, there are disadvantages as well.

    She’s right: High-g people see things other people can’t see.

    Including connections. (Many in the field say, *especially* connections.)

    Including connections *to the conversational topic at hand*.

    So the *actually on-topic* things high-g people say…

    Seem to “normal people” just as off-topic and irrelevant (and therefore boring)…

    As the things actual autists say that actually *are* off-topic and irrelevant.

    Sad but true.

    “Sometimes the ideas are so intense, it’s agony to do anything else. I can’t sleep, can’t converse, can’t be still until I write them down.”

    I’ve either said this before or wanted to, can’t remember which, so: “How did you ever get through school? / A “good” school fixes that.”

    In a “good” school you are required to do nothing but appear to be paying attention. DH got through because he went to a “bad” school where kids were allowed to “get away with” reading under the table, doing homework in class, etc. I OTOH…was forcibly cured of the need to write all my ideas down because *you couldn’t*. The most you could do was think silently to yourself. It’s very good training in being willing to waste your life.

    Aanyway back to my main point: Your point is taken, but keep in mind that high-V people exist too, and you’re not quite accounting for them in this uh taxonomy. (Well, as Ed Realist has said, US society kind of doesn’t. They’re sometimes sort of part of “nerds” and sometimes really not…)

    Like

    • *Waves to the high-V people*

      I don’t think STEM excludes high-V people; verbal and mathematical abilities are strongly correlated, so most high-V people are also good at math, and most high-M people are also good at writing. The idea of dividing people up into different kinds of smart people where never the twain shall meet is flawed; lots of “nerds” are readers of fantasy-romance who like to dress up in historical costumes and attend SCA meetings. Indeed, my “other hobby” is writing fiction, and I consider writers part of “my people,” too.

      But I don’t think SCA folks or writers show up much on The Big Bang Theory, and the original claim was simply that I ought to watch TBBT because it is, “my people.”

      “BTW I am surprised and envious that you are willing and able to say this straight out, and have not had it beaten into you, to the point of causing a PTSD-like reaction to the very thought, that one does not say things like that EVER EVER EVER.”

      I’m trying to think of a concise response. Partly it’s context–the whole post is about being a high-IQ person, so it wouldn’t make much sense to deny it in the middle. If I were just hanging out with my local moms’ group or chatting with co-workers, I wouldn’t refer to myself as intelligent, because it’d just come across as bragging. Partly I think it’s being exposed to people from cultures outside the American Middle Class, where it is actually okay to say you’re intelligent, and partly I think it’s just having a personality that doesn’t internalize bullying as self-loathing, but just hates the bullies instead.

      You strike me as a highly intelligent person, and you have every right to be proud of that.

      “How did you ever get through school? / A “good” school fixes that.”
      Ritalin + “I am taking notes on the lecture, I swear.”

      Thanks for your comments; they are well appreciated.

      Like

      • …I also…*tried* to be concise. ;)

        (So Ritalin lets you get through the training without it “taking”? That’s really interesting!)

        I’d agree with your first paragraph except I think you take it too far–not everyone with the potential to be good at [whatever, in this case math] develops it or even figures out how to (Scott’s math issue is an example, and Ed Realist discusses the issue too). Yeah, I know, it’s a little off-topic for this post. It’s just a peripheral “there’s a group that doesn’t totally fit into ‘nerds’ but has the same problems as other high-g people” issue. I guess I just think there’s a lot of confusion on whether or how much there’s overlap between “nerdy”/”Aspie”/”high-g”/”STEM-type” etc. and it often impedes discussion of these issues.

        “Partly I think it’s being exposed to people from cultures outside the American Middle Class, where it is actually okay to say you’re intelligent”

        DH’s working-class family likes to declaim that “It’s not important how smart you are, it’s only important how good of a person you are.” When I pointed out to MIL that saying that is basically saying to any smart people in earshot, “*Your* strengths don’t count,” she’d never thought of it that way.

        IOW, I don’t think it’s just the American middle class, so if you’re willing to be more specific, I’d be interested to hear which cultures you’re thinking of.

        …but I *would* have said it’s especially “the blue tribe.” Not that I’m very sure what “blue tribe” really is. Maybe what I mean by “blue tribe” is what you mean by “the American middle class,” in which case we agree. Anyway, the culture I’m thinking of has equated intellectual skill with virtue, and that doesn’t really work if it’s possible for different people to have different levels of natural talent in developing intellectual skill. They couldn’t stand the unfairness, and couldn’t feel as comfortable judging people for their failures. And so it’s really important to them that no such differences exist.

        …I’m unsure about being proud of natural talent. On the one hand it’s not something a person chooses or does anything to earn; OTOH people are proud of other natural talents such as athletic or musical, so…I dunno. But I do feel strongly that it’s important to accept the reality that differences in intellectual talent do exist, and the people who happen to have talent in this area are no worse than anyone else. And are not being talented “at” others. And this talent comes with a natural drive to develop it, just like every other talent does. So let them develop it and don’t punish them for existing.

        (And that’s how someone can pull off “denying it” even in a post about the topic–by saying “them” instead of “us.” :/ )

        …but the above appeal never works in the end, for reasons Ed Realist has pointed out in SSC comments. And that’s one of the reasons I chose to stop pursuing my childhood dream of becoming a psychologist and helping “kids like me” (IOW, like Hollingworth’s subjects or Tolan’s “Jason”). It’s also (sorry to repeat myself) one of the reasons that people have often resorted to (ab)using the Asperger’s dx.

        I don’t normally use trigger warnings but I’m slapping one on the following because it discusses…the kinds of childhood experiences “kids like this” tend to have:

        (Again,) “Blue tribe” (or whatever culture(s) it is) has a serious culture-wide problem whereby kids like this challenge the group’s cherished beliefs just by existing. So members of that culture wind up feeling that these kids must be stopped from showing that aspect of their natural selves. They just have to. *Whatever* it takes.

        You mentioned internalizing bullying, but…I don’t think that’s the main problem in the type of situation I’m talking about. It can be perfectly clear to a child that the teachers’ behavior is about the teachers, about defending their cherished beliefs, and not at all about the child…but that doesn’t change the fact that these are adults with power over a child who are using that power to hurt the child in response to certain behaviors. You can know all you want that they’re wrong to hurt you; if they still do it, you still learn you’ll be hurt. You still learn to associate the behavior with the pain.

        If this kind of teacher were doing it consciously, if this were just part of a conscious effort to teach politeness or something, it would be a much healthier experience for the child. A child who has misbehaved in a “normal” way can apologize, say “I tried but I messed up,” and get forgiveness (even if they also still get punished). But if your mistake was inadvertently failing to hide a reality the adults are furiously denying even to themselves…

        “I’m sorry, I *tried* to hide that thing you’re in denial of”…yeah, doesn’t go over well. You’re not allowed to have made a normal childish mistake with the mask, because part of their emotional need is that it *not be a mask*. To them, the mask is, it *has to be*, your real face, and that bit of your real face you messed up and let show…is (has to be) some ridiculous thing you made up because you’re just that malicious, you horrible child.

        (For a specific example: “I’m sorry,” says the three-year-old to the nursery school teacher, “I know you don’t like it when I read. I just really wanted to read this one story…I’m sorry!” = “The three-year-old is persisting in their ‘lie’ that they can read, and worse, is ‘lying’ that they do it because they want to when it’s ‘really’–it *has to be*–because an abusive stage mom drilled a miserable child.” (Yes, the “in-denial adult” contradicted themselves there. They do that.) A three-year-old who really did make up this level of lie would be a prodigy of psychopathic manipulation. And…that is how such a teacher treats such a child. I know of a three-year-old who an adult literally said was “possessed by the devil” in response to a similar incident.)

        (In my n=1 case I suspect lack of parental support did make a difference. Some parents are socially inept enough to think that agreeing with a bullied child that the teacher’s bullying is wrong will cause the child to start picking fights with the teacher on purpose…rather than give the child strength to handle the bullying and better manage the teacher. Silly parents. :/ )

        Like

      • (So Ritalin lets you get through the training without it “taking”? That’s really interesting!)
        Maybe, It might just be my oft-described as “mule-like” personality. ;)

        DH’s working-class family likes to declaim that “It’s not important how smart you are, it’s only important how good of a person you are.”
        This is one of those lies people tell their kids (and themselves) so they won’t feel bad about getting bad grades in school. It’s like telling an ugly kid that “true beauty is on the inside” because you don’t want to say, “I’m sorry, it really sucks that you’re not attractive and people are going to be mean to you as a result.”

        if you’re willing to be more specific, I’d be interested to hear which cultures you’re thinking of.
        One acquaintance from a swampy part of the Deep South and another from Appalachia. One swears up and down they had no idea that some people have this weird thing against saying you’re intelligent (because that norm simply doesn’t exist in their small town; a smart person is just considered an asset to the community,) until they got on the internet and encountered mainstream US culture, which went super badly. To this day, mainstream culture’s thoughts on this remain a total mystery to them, and they think it’s are totally immoral, evil, and toxic for the way it treats smart people. Similar story from the other acquaintance.

        I’ve never lived or even spent much time in either region, so I cannot confirm if this is true. But the notion that our winner-takes-all culture combined with intense school competition and political animosity has lead to us having all sorts of hangups about IQ that people in other cultures simply don’t have certainly seems possible.

        I am reminded here of a Pakistani friend’s beautiful comments on their grandmother and the changing nature of family life in Pakistan, which I am sure I am about to mangle. The grandmother, part of the older generation, was an old-fashioned sort of person, extremely devoted to serving her family and ensuring their well-being. The parents’ generation, similar to the stereotypical “tiger moms,” is obsessed with their kids’ educations so they can get good jobs in the (hopefully) industrializing economy.

        As you might expect, this puts a lot of pressure on the kids, who feel a lot of their self-worth and parental love tangled up in their school grades. But the old-fashioned grandmother was a font of unconditional love, no matter what grades my friend made. And that love was very important.

        So I think we can overcome cultural toxicity on IQ.

        …I’m unsure about being proud of natural talent.
        From a determinist POV, there’s no “logical” reason to be proud of anything, but pride doesn’t exist because of logic, it exists because it is part of a healthy way of interacting with the world. (Note: Pride, not hubris, not bragging.) Everyone should be proud of whatever talents they bring to the table–a strong person can be proud of being strong; a good hunter can be proud of feeding their family; an artist can be proud of making masterpieces; and a smart person can be proud of figuring out tricky problems.

        On to personal experiences: “Blue tribe” (or whatever culture(s) it is) has a serious culture-wide problem whereby kids like this challenge the group’s cherished beliefs just by existing.

        *Deep breath* My family is mostly red tribe, but they just wanted me to do well in school and be happy. My husband’s family is solidly blue tribe, and they just wanted him to do well in school and be happy. Between us we attended a half dozen different schools, some good, some bad. The other kids bullied us plenty, (for being smart and for other mundane reasons,) but the teachers never minded us so long as we were quiet and did our work–I had many very nice teachers.

        I am sorry your experiences were so awful. Your parents should not have stood for that crap.

        Like

      • Thanks for the sympathy. :) Really, the fact that I can talk about it means I’m basically over it. I’m far from the only person to have been affected in some way by this group’s need to disbelieve in IQ. I’m not an unlucky exception…I’m more of a cautionary tale. ;)

        The thing is, when and where I was young, “everyone” (all my “progressive” school’s teachers, certainly; I daresay all Good Liberals(tm)) knew about the infamous IQ test score gap, in a way that many young people don’t today. And their reaction to this knowledge was…the same one you can see young Freddie deBoer reinventing in response to his own discovery of the gap (he’s quoted here if you want to read it in more detail): “Those silly tests are meaningless.”

        (And…a mom describes the effect people trying to enact this belief had on her very different-from-the-norm little kid. Warning, she doesn’t do the best job in the universe of communicating her experience, so some people find this essay overwrought and have trouble seeing its point. I hope you’ll take her high emotion as a reflection of how much her kid actually was hurt.)

        People who commit to the belief that “Those silly tests are meaningless” generally feel both that it’s the decent thing to believe, and also that believing it has no consequences. I can very much sympathize, since I’m of the same culture and share the same instincts.

        They *really don’t* mean to hurt anyone by it.

        It’s just that…it does have consequences. My little group is only one of the very many people who are often hurt by this belief. Did you see Ed Realist’s comments on SSC on this topic? Ed pointed out the problems this causes for everyone.

        “This is one of those lies people tell their kids (and themselves) so they won’t feel bad about getting bad grades in school. It’s like telling an ugly kid that “true beauty is on the inside” because you don’t want to say, “I’m sorry, it really sucks that you’re not attractive and people are going to be mean to you as a result.””

        I agree (though I’d say both have *some* truth to them–being smart or good-looking doesn’t automatically make you moral). I’m just saying it has more implications than she had realized. Particularly when a parent says it to or in front of a young smart kid whose main focus is pleasing the parent.

        “One acquaintance from a swampy part of the Deep South and another from Appalachia. ”

        That’s really interesting (is it the southern part of Appalachia?). I wonder how it squares with the (supposed) difference in the meaning of “ignorant” that I mentioned under your “Southern Hospitality” post. Do these acquaintances take “ignorant” as an insult?

        “pride doesn’t exist because of logic, it exists because it is part of a healthy way of interacting with the world.”

        Good point–I’ve been overlooking that aspect.

        “So I think we can overcome cultural toxicity on IQ.”

        I hope so, because we really need to, for the sake of many kinds of student.

        Like

      • It also occurs to me that the Asian moms I’ve known over the years don’t seem to have much inhibition against frank discussions of intelligence and test scores. (And, I suppose my acquaintance is technically from the southern part of Appalachia, if we consider Pennsylvania the northern part. I have no idea what they think of “ignorant,” though I am used to people using synonyms for “dumb” as insults, much like “fat.”)

        I didn’t find the mom’s emotions overwrought; I go through that every day.

        I am familiar with liberal lies on IQ. They don’t *have* to lie on this point (one can believe people have worth no matter their intelligence,) but they do.

        It occurs to me that people for whom intelligence is their ticket out of a life of back-breaking poverty tend to value it (and be honest about it,) while people who don’t have to worry about spending their life in a sweatshop or McDonald’s can afford to signal their moral superiority by lying about it.

        On the one hand, it’s so blatant a lie that it amazes me that anyone can make it, (of course IQ measures something that corresponds, roughly, with what people mean, functionally, by “intelligence”; even if I want to claim that “there are many forms of intelligence,” clearly different forms lead to certain kinds of results, and we only care about certain results. Hunter gatherers have all sorts of knowledge that I lack; if a hunter-gatherer made an IQ test, perhaps I would fail it miserably, just as I’d die of thirst and starvation pretty quickly in their society. But no one making the many intelligences argument actually would be content with saying, “well, some of the people in our society actually have hunter-gatherer style intelligence, and therefore the expected result is that they’ll be homeless and trying to “gather” in peoples’ gardens, but that’s okay because hunter-gathering intelligence is equal to other kinds of intelligence.” That’s just not what people mean; what they mean is, “everyone has an equal ability to do the kinds of tasks necessary to get along in an advanced industrial/post-industrial society.” Which of course comes down to having at least similar intellectual talents, which gets us back to IQ tests as generally correlating with life outcomes,) but on the other hand, it’s the kind of lie that shades so easily into “nice thing you say to be polite and not make little kids with bad report cards feel bad about themselves,” that it’s hard to argue against without sounding like a jerk.

        Step one for me was realizing that normals lie to sound good to their friends and to avoid hurting their feelings.

        Like

  3. “Their room would be full of computers, disassembled computers, computer parts”…

    Have you ever seen The IT Crowd? It’s a British work place comedy, but the office is the best depiction of a realistic computer geek environment I’ve seen. (Not one myself, but definitely women’s auxiliary…) (I have a strong math/science background, so it’s a matter of motivation and interest, not ability, and it was a conscious calculation, not the result of a patriarchal conspiracy…)

    (I have the luck of knowing quite a few STEM and/or PhD drop-outs who are currently doing the full-time mother thing like myself, so even if I have to avoid politics and occasionally religion, there’s at least plenty to talk about. If I could find a bunch of people with kids who are smart, not religious (but not anti-religious) and not liberal, that would be nice, but sometimes I wonder if I’m just a natural contrarian, and I’d just turn into a religious socialist in such a milieu… (Of course, my entire adult life in the northeast has gotten me no more religious than the UU level, so maybe I should give myself some credit…))

    Like

      • Three of the four friends from college that I’m still in touch with are religious, and the fourth technically (if you count Unitarians), so it’s not by any means a deal-breaker. I actually find I can discuss theological type topics more easily with religious people, at least the educated ones, since they’ve done the reading, and I don’t, say, have to explain the back story to Jesus Christ Superstar before getting to real topics…

        Like

  4. The thing that always struck me as implausible about “Big Bang Theory” was that it portrayed four faculty members at Caltech: astrophysicist, theoretical physicist, experimental physicist & engineer; and they are obsessed with comic books, action figurines, and sci-fi movies/TV programs with really bad science!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know plenty of nerdy people who do indeed like video games and the like, but I have never met a professor for whom children’s media or pop culture anything was an overriding interest. To become a physics professor (or engineer), you have to devote an enormous amount of time to math.

      But “Sorry Penny, I can’t go out tonight because I have all this math to do,” followed by 10 hours of math, wouldn’t make for much of a show.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s