On overlapping bell curves and the irony of being an outsider

Suppose you have a population–we’ll call it PopA. PopA can be just about any group of people–farmers, classical music lovers, Ukrainians, women, etc. In any population, you’re going to get a range of traits (unless you’ve selected your population in some exact way). Farmers, for example, vary in the sizes and productivity of their farms; women vary in height and weight. Variation in many (though not all) traits can be modeled with a bell curve:


Take height: some people are very short, and some are very tall, but most cluster near their group’s average.

Where we have two (or more) groups, they must vary on the distribution of some trait/s. (Otherwise they would not be separate groups.) For example, the group of classical music lovers tends to listen to more classical music than the group of rap music lovers (who, in turn, tend to listen to more rap music.) Women, on average, are shorter than men. But few groups are absolutely distinct–there are some classical music lovers who also listen to some rap music, and rap fans who listen to a few classical compositions, just as there are men and women who are the same height.

We can figure ut something else from thi graph: men lie about their heights
Men and women arranged by height

Picture 9

A graph of male and female heights

In America, the biggest groups people tend to be aware of (or act like they are aware of) are gender and race:

Picture 10

Asians, whites, Hispanics, and blacks.

You can pick just about any trait to label this graph. We’ll use introversion/extraversion. Introverts are on the left; extroverts are on the right.

“Normal” people–that is average ones–tend to have, by definition, a lot of traits in common with the other people in their group. These folks fit in comfortably. For our example, a normal member of Group A, while more introverted than the national average, is perfectly at home among most other members of Group A. A normal member of Group C, while more extroverted than the national average, is perfectly happy among other members of Group C.

Picture 6

To be explicit: normies have it pretty good. They are constantly surrounded by people who are just like themselves. Outliers, by contrast, tend to be alone (and are often ostracized, bullied, or otherwise attacked by more normal people.)

The thing about traits is that they tend to cluster. People from Pakistan, for example, tend to be Muslim, speak Urdu + a second language, and have brown skin. People with a specific mutation of the EDAR gene–found primarily in east Asians–have thicker hair, more sweat glands, smaller breasts, and differently shaped teeth than people without it. People who like country music are more likely to be pro-life than people who like techno. Women tend to like handbags, diets, and babies, while men tend to like sports and cars.

If traits didn’t cluster, we wouldn’t have groups.

One of the results of this is that normal people on one bell curve probably won’t get along all that well with normal people on another bell curve. To use a somewhat simpler graph:

Picture 5 copy

Normies A, B, and C get along well with normal people from their own groups, but tend not to get along all that well with normal people from other groups. Normie A, for example, is a perfectly normal introvert from group A, and finds most people from groups B and C way too extraverted and regards interacting with them as quite unpleasant. Normie C is a perfectly normal extravert from Group C, and finds most people from groups A and B way too introverted. Normie B thinks there are some perfectly reasonable members of Groups A and C, but that most As and Cs are extremists, and that both sides need to be more like B.

But this is not generally a problem, as normies can just hang out with other people from their own group, who tend to be like themselves.

Let’s talk about outliers:

Picture 5 copy2

Our outliers are, by definition, far from average. Our extremely extraverted member of Group A is simply way too extraverted for other As, and our introverted member of Group C doesn’t get on well with the average C at all. But our extraverted A gets on just fine with normal members of Group C, and our introverted C gets on fine with normal members of Group A.

Obviously my graphs have been rather arbitrarily chosen (actually, chosen for their ability to show up well on the screen rather than their accurate portrayal of the ethnic breakdown of introversion/extraversion.) It is easy to imagine traits that vary in all sorts of interesting ways between groups, depending on the shapes of their relative bell curves. Despite the limitations of my visuals, I hope the overall idea, however, is clear.

Anyway, this was all inspired by conversations/observations I was reading the other day on the kinds of people who enter into interracial marriages. No, I wasn’t reading Stormfront; these were perfectly mainstream-to-leftist people who probably approve of interracial marriage. For example, I have read several complaints from Asian women who say that they get a lot of attention from really creepy guys who have some kind of weird Asian fetish. (And here I just assumed that guys like Asian women because Asian women are less obese.) Another post, written by the (grown) child of an interracial couple, asserted that his dad had married interracially because he was too socially incompetent to attract a woman of his own race.

Harsh, but from the normie perspective, people who get along well with members of other races may in fact be outliers from their own, and are thus considered “socially incompetent.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, anecdotal observation of white women who marry black men suggests that they, too, are not “average,” but instead have a lot in common, personality-wise, with black men. They tend also to have more limited social opportunities due to poverty. (This should be a caution, by the way, for people trying to model the effects of racial admixture: admixture is unlikely to come from a random sample of the population, but to have been selected in some way.)

I feel like repeating here that even though normal people are harsh on outliers, does not automatically mean that being an outlier is morally reprehensible. Highly intelligent people and criminals are both outliers; very short and very tall people are outliers. Blind people and homosexuals are outliers. Outliers can be good, bad, or totally neutral. They’re just not normal, and normal people think that being normal is morally good, because they’re normal, and people default to thinking that they and people like them are good.

As I noted back in the post about adoption, 61% of whites say they’re okay with intermarriage, but only about 2% of them have mixed or other-race children, including step and adopted kids. Given the number of minorities in the country + random chance, about half of the whites who say they’re okay with intermarriage ought to have a mixed-race family–30% of whites, not 2%. Breaking it down by liberal vs. conservative doesn’t help–2% of conservative whites live in mixed-race families, vs. 2.4% of liberal whites, which is really not much of a difference to crow about.

Being okay with intermarriage is a normative value among whites (and probably other racial groups, too,) but differences in the distribution of personality traits may prevent most normal people from forming a lot of friendships (or romantic relationships) with people from different races. By contrast, outliers may get along better with people of other races. Ironically, this means that people whom normals might characterize as “racist” are likely to actually get along pretty well with people of other (or certain) races.

Hence why Derbyshire, a “white advocate,” is married to an Asian woman.


10 thoughts on “On overlapping bell curves and the irony of being an outsider

  1. Yes! This is what I was trying to get at before, about the problems faced by people who love and/or are talented in X but who are members of groups with lower mean interest and/or ability in X.

    Frex your “rap fan who appreciates some classical” may not be able to get along with, and/or may not feel they fit in with, the rap fans who scorn all classical and classical fans (and same for the classical fan who appreciates some rap, of course).

    Another way of putting it is: Of course, you can be an outlier for your group in some traits-whose-group-means-greatly-differ and not others. Now think about the implications of that for the individual in question.

    *Another* way of putting it is…

    In an SSC open thread a while back, people were discussing “fake nerd girls.” I couldn’t type then (and TBH still should be taking it easy) but wanted to say something like:

    The problem is the existence of girls who differ from “normal girls” in the same way that “nerdy boys” differ from “normal boys,” but who also are not “exactly like nerdy boys except for their gender.” (Such “girls” once drove second-wave feminism, frex. And feminism has since been, in effect, “taken over by casuals.”)

    This raises the question of whether differing from your group’s expected norm in the same way “nerdy boys” differ from “normal boys”…justifies calling yourself a nerd.

    BTW, the same issue cropped up earlier, in feminism, with race. If you differ from “the expected norm for black women” in the same way that white feminist women differ from “the expected norm for white women,” do you have a right to–or do you even want to (see “womanist”)–call yourself a feminist? Even if you also differ from the white feminist majority? In ways that start fights?

    So anyway, my point before was: These “multiple outlier types” tend to have a certain experience, which really is what they experience–it’s not a myth. But which they understandably typical-mind as the main cause of The Gap(s), when it looks like it’s really not. They especially did this in the ’60s and ’70s, when after all Society(tm) specifically asked them to take a guess as to The Gap(s)’ cause. And even though it turned out to be an overgeneralization, still, *actual* multiple outlier types really do often still have this type of experience.

    (And the *next* question beyond *that* is: Does the established group of “classical fans” want to welcome in those other “classical fans” who do also “like rap”? Are they willing to stop disparaging rap? Are they, even, *able* to force themselves to learn enough about this music they hate to even *predict* which things they say will strike rap fans as “an obvious insult to rap/rap fans”? Maybe not, it turns out…and that’s why I’ve been saying the inferential distance between such groups is greater than people had expected, back when they set out to say, “Hey fellow classical fans, could you just change this one tiny thing…”)


    • Other than having read a few articles on the interwebs, I haven’t any first-hand knowledge or experience relevant to the whole “fake geek girls” controversy thing. So I have no window into “do girls with no real interest in geek culture go to cons in skimpy clothing, and is this somehow problematic?” though I would guess, “No, it isn’t, because even if they did, men don’t mind looking at women in skimpy clothing.”

      But clearly a few geeks, feeling their culture threatened by the invasion of “outsiders,” have been yelling, “cultural appropriation!” Since Superman and his ilk have always been popular among boys, even the cool ones, it’s hard to argue that popular boys can’t belong in the Superman-fan-club. But since girls were historically very conspicuously absent from the club, they get singled out.

      Then the internet-outrage-machine blows it into a much bigger controversy than it probably warrants.

      That said, I do see a lot of men who feel like women are being pushed into traditional geek/nerd spaces for political reasons, which you are probably already well familiar with.

      And I suspect that this is much of the dynamic underlying the controversy–already marginalized men who don’t have a lot going for them, socially, feeling like the few spaces they do have are being taken over by outsiders (normies,) with a side dose of “if you don’t go along with this, you’re a bad person!”

      Then women who actually fit into these spaces get caught in the crossfire–many of them also already marginalized and not part of normie culture, either.

      And that’s where I throw up my hands and say that I don’t know what to do about people being jerks. Most people seem to be really into conformity (and various aspects of social class fit into this,) so that, for example, if classical music lovers don’t typically listen to rap music, then they’ll tend to think that listening to rap music isn’t just “weird” or “not part of their subculture,” but actually bad. Because not conformist. And then classical fans who are also rap fans get insulted or otherwise socially punished for their deviant behavior. Because people are jerks.

      I hope your hands/wrists start feeling better soon.


      • Thanks. It’s a weird injury–I dislocated a metacarpal…twice…and now after the second closed reduction it’s just not healing well. In the mean time I need to at least try to preserve what pain tolerance I have for, you know, doing my actual work…

        …but not today! ;)

        :search: Here’s the SSC comment I was thinking of: “Nerdy girls aren’t the outgroup. Girls who call themselves nerdy, but differ from nerdy boys in ways other than their gender, are the outgroup.”


        I do see a lot of men who feel like women are being pushed into traditional geek/nerd spaces for political reasons, which you are probably already well familiar with.

        And I suspect that this is much of the dynamic underlying the controversy–already marginalized men who don’t have a lot going for them, socially, feeling like the few spaces they do have are being taken over by outsiders (normies,) with a side dose of “if you don’t go along with this, you’re a bad person!”

        Yes…I understand their feelings, but…I disagree with this framing.

        I see two separate issues there. One issue is the universalist cultural and/or genetic adaptation to assume that everyone is basically the same. The other issue is people who are not part of the gender and/or ethnic group which created a space and who are in some ways more typical of their own gender/ethnic group, but who are sincerely attracted to the space because in other ways they do have more in common with its creators. They aren’t normies–they aren’t normal for their group–but they also aren’t normal for $Subculture. So are they $Subculture or not?

        Since we *are* adaptation-executers and not fitness-maximizers, the universalist instinct is not to be underestimated. However, my personal experience is that it’s typically reactive. I haven’t ever seen universalists pushing people into social/cultural spaces they have no interest in. Mostly I’ve just seen them notice a difference in group representation, assume the difference is because of some problem that needs to be solved, and then go looking for something to label as the problem.

        So I think these men are conflating the universalists’ criticism with the “nerdy women’s” or “womanists'” or “black intellectuals'” etc. criticisms.

        We’re all gonna be tempted to do that, because the universalists’ search for a reason there aren’t more female nerds or black academics brings them to female nerds and black academics. And–to their credit–it also brings them to those who “you’d think would have” joined these groups but chose not to. Black CTD/CTY/TIPsters who didn’t go into academia. Womanists. Female CTD/CTY/TIPsters who didn’t go into STEM and/or felt excluded from nerddom. There’s one group that openly cares about the problems of these groups, and that openly asks why the second group left/didn’t join. And that’s the universalists.

        That’s how the universalists have unintentionally “captured” many nerdy women / black intellectuals / etc. If nerds / academics / etc. want to capture them back, then they need to make their own accommodation to their problems and differences. I don’t know if that *is* what they want to do or how possible it is; I’m just saying, if.

        And. I just…have never seen any “normie” woman pushed into a nerd space against her will. TBH, I can’t even imagine it. I’d say “normies can take care of themselves,” but that isn’t true either–I guess the universalist adaptation *does* harm normies when elite universalists remove restrictions that elites don’t need and are only harmed by, but that normies do need. So I guess I’m really just saying normies can take care of themselves *when it comes to choosing what cultures to try to join*. IOW, my experiences predispose me to think there’s a much greater chance of “mistakenly assuming someone’s a ‘normie’ who’s been ‘pushed in’ when really the situation is more complicated” than of actually encountering a real one.

        …so people are jerks, even nerds? I’m sure you understand when I say that I had really wanted nerds to be the exception. :/


  2. I’ve seen two examples of this. One, intelligent, introverted and socially awkward westerners moving to Japan and getting along well with the intelligent, introverted, socially awkward Japanese.
    Two, uneducated, unemployed, drunken, nonconformist white Australians who end up living in remote, disfunctional Aboriginal communities.


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