The Taoist writer Chuang Tzu once told a tale of a carpenter and his apprentice, who stumbled upon a gargantuan oak tree standing in the middle of a village square. Its majestic size shaded the entire square and the apprentice grew excited thinking about what they could do with so much quality wood. The carpenter chastised him, lecturing him that, on the one hand, the branches of the wood were too gnarled to be of any use, and on the other hand, the trunk was so strong that it would break their tools. The tree was worthless, which is why it had lived for so long.
Oscar Wilde described a cynic as a person “who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Cynicism is now easier than ever. With a simple search, you can find out how to calculate the cost of a human life. Even when the answer is left up in the air, it means that we’re just haggling over the price. And values? There’s doubt that we can even know our own accurately. This is before you factor in the number that postmodernism has done on the concept.
Identity politics offers the perfect mix to fill this void. Values are made quantifiable through victim statistics, wage gaps, and speaking time. The solutions also have concrete price tags: progressive stacks, quotas, and Bechdel tests. In this form, political scholar Adolph Reed calls identity politics neoliberalism, noting how it often shies away entirely from class issues.
Netflix and chill becomes live-tweeting how ableist a movie is. Buying nail polish and high heels become one’s weapons to attack the patriarchy. Eating out becomes a way to support local independent entrepreneurs in their ruthless war against fast food chains. It’s the genius of thinking you’re turning the system against itself, while you’re in actuality just forking it. These people are the Good Geeks, quantifying and consuming for a better tomorrow.
In this forked system, the Angry Nerd is the ultimate evil. He’s a white hetero able-bodied middle-class cis male in spirit, though he may not be any of these things in reality. He’s part of an aging and dying demographic. Notice how much of the changing nerd world is justified according to this system: inclusivity in pop culture products is simply a case of new demographics to market to, accomodating diversity in a tech company leads to better employee output, et cetera. In short, he has made himself obsolete (snipped from its context, this scene could easily be about the literary works of white men specifically).
Of course, his stubborn pride leads to ugly reactions. If the only value comes with a price tag, he is prepared to suck away as much of it as possible by becoming a mooch in every sense of the word. Popular products are pirated consistently, and you don’t need that big of a fix if you have remix culture at your side. The Nerd will make his own variation, with memes and Rule 34. Watch how he befouls search results with his creations, turning away potential consumers. He will badger the creators, scare them away from using social media, and then use any articles written about the spat to enrage more tribesmen, all while blocking ads or using archive.org in order to deny said publications.
This total, purposeful valuelessness goes even further. Relationships? He has a waifu. Jobs? They’re for wagecucks. Politics or religion? Those are window dressing, only good as a fuel for flamewars. Their civic participation is nil. But what if they suffer from depression, social anxiety, are neuroatypical, or otherwise lack privilege themselves? It offers an explanation, not an excuse; but this is taken by him as a sign that you want to take away his right to suffer too.
What better response than to reclaim it as a point of pride against the normies that cast you out? And so they opt out of society entirely, very loudly, while never really leaving, unless it’s through a shooting spree. You could calculate the ad money the coverage brings in versus the cost in lives, medical care, and trauma treatment afterwards, but I’d wager the latter is higher. This is doubly true if a few copycat threats for the next spree arise in the wake of it.
Joseph Bernstein at Buzzfeed dubs the whole gig chanterculture, as if it is a new phenomenon instead of a group that has existed for nearly a decade, a group whose content the website has shamelessly monetized after a polish since its very inception. Any person having a nostalgic vision of a bygone age in which trolling meant something is deluding themselves: there’s always been duper’s delight involved in the act. Furthermore, it is precisely this strip-mining of memes which boosts the speed at which the wretched Nerd must search for new highs to stay ahead of the curve, whilst at the same time providing himself new platforms to enshrine the harvesting of lulz. This is a lesson that should have been apparent since the famous Hackers on Steroids item.
What do you do with the Angry Nerd? Good Geeks offer tech solutions, set up conferences, buy from cyber-harassed creators, and perhaps even support one specific flavor of donorcrat effigy. In short, they cynically or inadvertently attempt to monetize the hell out of him. To butcher Derrida, one never escapes the economy of the culture war. As the State looks at the bank balance and tries to nail down every dollar heading for the drain, the Angry Nerd becomes a nomad (although pirate is probably the proper moniker). Cast out or opting out, his psyche is too gnarled to be of use in society, and his mentality too obstinate to be molded into something that is.
The umadic war machine can be bought off only temporarily. It is easily bullied but hits back harder, reasons in troll logic, and negotiates only for more ammunition. It casts its shade over everything in the public square the gentle-natured gentrifiers live next to, and has freed itself purposefully from values and prices, save for, perhaps, the freedom to be itself. This is precisely why it has the potential to live on for a very long time, long after the Good Geek bubble has burst.
Bas is an eternal student with self-diagnosed Witzelsucht. He likes volunteering at cultural events, Disney parodies, and writing opinion pieces. He dislikes neoliberals doing surface readings of Critical Theory. You can find him on Twitter @basmoetjevoelen.