“Geek” culture is a “clique” — and needs to be destroyed


I have no respect whatsoever for Eric S. Raymond:

The fundamental problem with him is exemplified by the so-called “Jargon File” (a collection of inane slang and “in-group” tidbits which have (regrettably) accrued around what he calls the “hacker” subculture.

Most of it derives from one of two sources: the MIT “model railroad” club, or the San Francisco computer-hobbyist club.  NONE of it has any legitimate purpose (other than to serve as a way for self-described “hackers” to appear to be “3l33t”.

Quite frankly, I utterly detest the way that “in-group” jargon tends to be misused.

A perfect example of this is Amateur radio operators who say “QSL” (pronounced “cue-ess-ell!”) when operating on 2 meter FM voice — repeater nets, etc.

There is NO excuse for this.

The Q-codes do have a legitimate purpose: to serve as “short-hand” for a variety of “standard” phrases/questions during the use of MORSE CODE TELEGRAPHY.


Quite frankly, ANY other use of them is utterly indefensible — especially when that “use” amounts to condescending sneer implicitly targeting those “ignorant” of your particular “in-group” tics.

In the same vein, basically ANYTHING contained in the “jargon” file  amounts to the same basic sort of (vaguely condescending) “in-group” pretense: “Secret clubs” are fucking childish.

More to the point: ANY “in-group” bullshit which derives its “symbolic meaning” from the fact the IGNORANCE OF “OUTSIDERS” reduces whichever “in-group” resorts to it, to the equivalent of a PARTICULARLY SHITTY ADOLESCENT “CLIQUE”.

So, yeah: the “jargon file” is damnable from TWO directions:

  1. It is a collection of inanities which derive their “meaning” exclusively from their status as “in-group” signifiers (IE: snottiness/condescention)
  2. The mere act of “codifying” AND THEN MAKING those “group”-identifiers publicly accessible necessarily renders them USELESS as “clique”-identifiers.

There’s the dilemma: ANYONE who actually knows WTF he/she is doing doesn’t really “need” to resort to the equivalent of a “secret handshake”.

Cliquishness  — “othering” — SUCKS.

As Wikipedia puts the issue:

A cultural example of othering is when individuals that identify closely with their own ethnic or religious beliefs begin to gain the mentality that those who are different from them are problematic.[5] This can lead to extreme separation, alienation, and exclusion of the person or of people that is seen as different or unusual to the typical lens of one’s societal views.[6] Othering can be described as discrimination of people or a population that is different from the collective social norm; since they are different they are also seen as deviant or in need of being cultured by the group that is othering them.


So, yeah:  “Jargon” is implicitly dangerous when it appeals to “in-group” condescention.

Personally, I hate the “Aunt Tillie”-syndrome.


Aunt Tillie: n.

[linux-kernel mailing list] The archetypal non-technical user, one’s elderly and scatterbrained maiden aunt. Invoked in discussions of usability for people who are not hackers and geeks; one sees references to the “Aunt Tillie test”.


The (unstated) implication being that “Aunt Tillie” should remain “scatterbrained” — because she is too stupid to understand “Geek”-type information, anyway.

The thing is: there’s the paradox:

IF “Aunt Tillie” IS too stupid to be able to learn, then “encrypting” the knowledgebase upon which “geek culture” depends (electronics/computers etc.) is unnecessary.

However, IF “Aunt Tillie” can learn (IE: become LESS ignorant and “scatterbrained” to whatever degree), then the attempt to keep the knowledgebase upon which “Geek culture” depends esoteric amounts to A FORM OF OPPRESSION.

Some while back, I watched the TV miniseries Roots.  There’s a line of dialog where a woman inquires as to exactly why it is illegal to teach Blacks to read and write.

If they CAN’T learn, the law is unnecessary.  (There’s no excuse for a “law” prohibiting the attempt to teach your pet ferret to read and write.)

However, if they CAN learn to read, then the MERE EXISTENCE of such “laws” amounts to enforcing illiteracy AT GUNPOINT.

So, yeah:  “Jargon” is excusable when it provides “conceptual short-hand”.

It is NOT excusable when it serves to identify/enforce “group”-based Elitism.

Quite frankly, the broader “geek” and “maker” cultures could benefit from an updated and expanded version of the “Amateur radio code of ethics” originally put forward by Paul  Segal in 1928:

Amateur Radio Code of Ethics 

The Amateur’s Code
Paul M. Segal, W9EEA – 1926

The Amateur is Considerate . . . He never knowingly uses the air in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.
The Amateur is Loyal . . . He offers his loyalty, encouragement and support to his fellow radio amateurs, his local club and to the American Radio Relay League, through which amateur radio is represented.
The Amateur is Progressive . . . He keeps his station abreast of science. It is well built and efficient. His operating practice is above reproach.
The Amateur is Friendly . . . Slow and patient sending when requested, friendly advice and counsel to the beginner, kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others; these are the marks of the amateur spirit.
The Amateur is Balanced . . . Radio is his hobby. He never allows it to interfere with any of the duties he owes to his home, his job, his school, or his community.
The Amateur is Patriotic . . . His knowledge and his station are always ready for the service of his country and his community.


Now, you can quibble with certain aspects of this (the somewhat dismissive claim that Amateur Radio is a mere “hobby”, followed up by the explicit claim that his “knowledge and station are always ready for the service of his country and his community”.  (Is it a mere “hobby”, or is  it a “Service”?), but the basic “thrust” is clear:

As the old saying goes, “With great(er) power comes great(er) responsibility.”

Geeks/”Makers” etc. have a SOLEMN DEBT.  Whether they happen to “monetize” their knowledge/skills at any given time, or not.  The first — and most basic — truth which EVERYONE must acknowledge is this:

We are ALL (“geeks” and “non-geeks” alike) “heirs” to the accumulated knowledge and achievements of millennia of (slow and tortuous) advancement, absent which even the most “gifted” of us would be huddling in a cave somewhere.

This fact leaves NO ROOM for arrogance, grandstanding, or “cliques”.

STOP assuming that “non-geeks” are too stupid to learn anything.  Moreover, HELPING THEM LEARN — to whatever extent — actually ends up making the world JUST THAT MUCH BETTER:

The more THEY know, the LESS they have to “depend” on YOU.  That means more time for YOU to concentrate on whatever you’re “into” instead of having to painstakingly hand-hold them through things which SHOULD be part of EVERYONE’S basic skill-set.


Some gems from the above-linked article:

Don’t assume your user is stupid. While it’s probably a safe bet that they don’t have a degree in computer technology, they may be able to make your eyes glaze over with their grasp of the stock market, publishing or machining. Don’t think less of them for a lack of interest in what interests you. Your skills and knowledge are likely no more important than theirs – they just apply toward a different goal.


When it comes to helping less technologically minded folks understand some of what you do, what you don’t say is probably as important as what you do say. Avoid trying to impress people with your knowledge. Instead, use your skill like an artist to paint a clearer picture of the basic structure of the technology you’re helping them to understand. More than likely, they don’t need or want to know every little detail anyway. They just want to feel like they understand the basics of what just went on.

In short, the idea is to keep it digestible. You didn’t develop your understanding of routing or TCP/IP in a few minutes (and you were likely intensely interested in the subject!). Don’t assume your listener has an interest in understanding the intricacies of the technology, but don’t assume they don’t have the brain capacity to get it either. Start broad and simple and be prepared to leave it at that if it meets the need. And if they ask for more, give them a helping hand. Technology is amazing and everyone should get a glimpse of that.

In short: there is NO excuse for being a condescending, snotty douchebag, gloating about how “3l33t” you are in comparison to the “st00pid N00B”.

IF that’s who you are: FOAD (Fuck off and die), because you’re making the world worse.

You’re not only TAKING PLEASURE IN ANOTHER PERSON’S IGNORANCE, but you’re ALSO doing your part to make sure that your victims hate/fear whichever subject you’re gloating about.

If you wouldn’t go up to someone unlucky enough to be illiterate and say “Ha-ha!  I can read, but you can’t!” — then why do the equivalent?  It’s vicious, counterproductive, and most of all DISHONEST:

Whatever your current level of “expertise” happens to be: YOU had to learn it, too.





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