August 5, 2012 by Ish
So ever since Julia approached me with the concept of this blog: exploring geek and nerd culture from the perspective of our right-wing politics, and contrariwise, exploring right-wing politics from the perspective of nerds… I’ve been stuck on what to write for my very first post. I wanted something punchy, something pithy, and something that would also lay the groundwork for what I will write in the future. The most obvious topic was to write something of an answer to the immortal line of London police work and Monty Python sketches: “So, what’s all this then?”
What is all this? What is the Ministry of Nerd blog, and what do I want to do with it? Well, I sort of gave it away with my opening line: explore nerd culture from the perspective of a conservative, and examine conservatism from the perspective of a nerd. But what is a nerd? What does it mean to be conservative?
I’ll leave the definition of nerd or geek for another day… although I really don’t think it needs much of a definition. As Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote, he might not be able to define obscenity but “I know it when I see it.” I think that’s all the explanation of nerd culture that we need.
But what does it mean to say that I am conservative?
Dozens, of not hundreds, of books have been written on the subject. Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions (1987), Peter McWilliams’ Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do (1996), Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons (2006), and — believe it or not — Barrack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (2006) are probably some of the books that have most refined my thinking and form the intellectual basis for my conservatism. (Obama’s book being a counter-example, and catalyst to stop just talking about politics, and start acting.)
But, that’s the intellectual basis. All those books and a hundred more besides make the logical, philosophical, and even ethical sales pitch for my particular blend of libertarian conservatism far better than I could. So instead, I want to address my deepest, most primal, and most powerful reason for being a conservative: Bullies.
I was a nerdy child long before I was a political adult, and as much as I love politics and law and government and the whole universe of things that come with being a “policy wonk,” I would drop it all in a minute for a few extra hours on the weekend to play Dungeons & Dragons. If the Presidential Debates are on opposite a particularly good re-run of Star Trek, I’m going to watch the Romulans, not Romney. I am a nerd… that means I got bullied.
Mike Krahulik, co-creator of the incredibly influential Penny Arcade recently had a famous run in with a bully. He summed up a lot of my own life in his response:
I have a real problem with bullies. I spent my childhood moving from school to school and I got made fun of everyplace I landed. I feel like Paul is a bully and maybe that’s why I have no sympathy here. Someday every bully meets and even bigger bully and maybe that’s me in this case. It’s the same thing that happened with Jack Thompson. It might not always make the most business sense and it is a policy that has caused us some legal problems, but I really don’t give a shit about that. When these assholes threaten me or Penny Arcade I just laugh. I will personally burn everything I’ve made to the fucking ground if I think I can catch them in the flames.
Getting made fun of, being picked on, and sometimes getting beat-up… these might not be universal parts of the childhood of every nerd, but I’m willing to bet they probably are. I don’t have the fame or the influence of Mike Krahulik, but I share his sentiment: I will burn everything I have to the ground if I can burn a bully with the flames… and that, in a rather roundabout manner brings me to what it means for me to say that I am conservative.
There is a school moral philosophy, known as the Non-Aggression Axiom or the Non-Aggression Principle, that is a basic tenant of Objectivism, Libertarianism, Minarchism, and a whole bunch of other -isms that all kinda huddle together in the corners of the greater American Conservative movement. It was one of my favorite bloggers, Marko Kloos, that first introduced me to the Non-Aggression Principle in 2008. I still feel it was Marko that best summarized my guiding principle:
If you want to know what I think of a certain law, or government action, or social interaction between people, my answer is very easy to predict. All you have to do is ask yourself whether that law or action or interaction is consistent with the [Non-Aggression Principle]. Does it involve the initiation, or threat of force or fraud against someone’s person or property? Then it’s immoral. Does it involve consensual interaction between individuals, and no coercion is involved? Then it’s moral.
To a nerd like me, I see things in an even more simple light: using violence, the threat of force, or fraud to force a person to do something they don’t want to do is being a bully. The bigger kid pounding the smaller kid on the playground for his milk money, is no different from the federal agents opening fire on the tax protestor. The pretty, popular cheerleader mocking the overweight girl in the marching band, is no different from the Hollywood celebrity who lectures the hoi polloi in flyover country on their moral failings.
I suspect that my stance against bullying becoming the cornerstone of my political philosophy isn’t nearly as off-the-wall as it might seem. I think that the rest of the conservative movement has the same basic understanding. Consider the recent Chick-Fil-A mess. At first, it was a fairly simple case of a religiously traditionalist COO, Dan Cathy, making a series several public statements supporting what he believed to be “the traditional family,” saying about same-sex marriage that those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about” were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation”. The reaction from supporters of same-sex marriage (myself included) was predictable and swift — Cathy was called nasty things all across the internet, people vowed to boycott the chain, other corporations pulled out of marketingdeals, and so on. It probably would have been just another national chain making a PR blunder, but then the politicians got involved. Not content to merely express disapproval in a speech or an editorial, characters like Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno said they would use the force of law to block franchise expansion into their cities. Led by bloggers like Instapundit, a movement soon formed among conservatives to take to the streets (well, drive-thrus and foodcourts) in support not so much of Chick-Fil-A as in support of free speech. Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy might be an asshole, but we wouldn’t stand for bullying.
This is no new trend. The conservative role in the gun rights movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the abolitionist cause, the drafting of the Constitution, and all the way back to our Revolution… in each and every period of our history, I see people standing up to whatever bully thinks they can rule the playground. In 1776, the declaration of Independence was brought to a close with the Founding Fathers pledging their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor to its support. Now, think back on the way Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik responded to the bullys he encounters… he might not be a Founding Father of nerd culture, but he’s probably one of our leading voices: I will personally burn everything I’ve made to the fucking ground if I think I can catch them in the flames.
His life, his fortune, his reputation… he has pledged it all to oppose bullies. I can hardly think of a more noble sentiment or a better explanation of why I am a conservative nerd.