These are not the nerds you’re looking for.

Great & funny piece on “America’s nerd problem” by Charles C. W. Cooke, who says we’re “blurring the lines between politics, scholarship, and culture – thereby damaging all three.”

(T)he fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up “nerd” culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.

One part insecure hipsterism, one part unwarranted condescension, the two defining characteristics of self-professed nerds are (a) the belief that one can discover all of the secrets of human experience through differential equations and (b) the unlovely tendency to presume themselves to be smarter than everybody else in the world… really, anybody who conforms to the Left’s social and moral precepts while wearing glasses and babbling about statistics.

The pose is, of course, little more than a ruse — most of our professional “nerds” being, like Mrs. Doubtfire, stereotypical facsimiles of the real thing. They have the patois but not the passion; the clothes but not the style; the posture but not the imprimatur. Theirs is the nerd-dom of Star Wars, not Star Trek; of Mario Kart and not World of Warcraft; of the latest X-Men movie rather than the comics themselves. A sketch from the TV show Portlandia, mocked up as a public-service announcement, makes this point brutally. After a gorgeous young woman explains at a bar that she doesn’t think her job as a model is “her thing” and instead identifies as “a nerd” who is “into video games and comic books and stuff,” a dorky-looking man gets up and confesses that he is, in fact, a “real” nerd — someone who wears glasses “to see,” who is “shy,” and who “isn’t wearing a nerd costume for Halloween” but is dressed how he lives. “I get sick with fear talking to people,” he says. “It sucks.”

Which is to say that the nerds of MSNBC and beyond are not actually nerds but the popular kids indulging in a fad. … In this manner has a word with a formerly useful meaning been turned into a transparent humblebrag: Look at me, I’m smart. Or, more important, perhaps, Look at me and let me tell you who I am not, which is southern, politically conservative, culturally traditional, religious in some sense, patriotic, driven by principle rather than the pivot tables of Microsoft Excel, and in any way attached to the past. “Nerd” has become a calling card — a means of conveying membership of one group and denying affiliation with another. …

Thus do we see unexceptional liberal-arts students lecturing other people about things they don’t understand themselves and terming the dissenters “flat-earthers.” Thus do we see people who have never in their lives read a single academic paper clinging to the mantle of science as might Albert Einstein. Thus do we see residents of Brooklyn who are unable to tell you at what temperature water boils rolling their eyes at Bjørn Lomborg because he disagrees with Harry Reid on climate change. Really, the only thing in these people’s lives that is peer-reviewed are their opinions. Don’t have a Reddit account? Believe in God? Skeptical about the threat of overpopulation? Who are you, Sarah Palin?

For all of the hype, much of the fadlike fetishization of “Big Data” is merely the latest repackaging of old and tired progressive ideas about who in our society should enjoy the most political power. Much of the time, “It’s just science!” is a dodge — a bullying tactic designed to hide a crushingly boring orthodox progressivism behind the veil of dispassionate empiricism and to pretend that Hayek’s observation that central planners can never have the information they would need to centrally plan was invalidated by the invention of the computer. If politics should be determined by pragmatism, and the pragmatists are all on the Left . . . well, you do the math.

This is nonsense. Progressives not only believe all sorts of unscientific things — that Medicaid and Head Start work; that school choice does not; that abortion carries with it few important medical questions; that GM crops make the world worse; that one can attribute every hurricane, wildfire, and heat wave to “climate change”; that it’s feasible that renewable energy will take over from fossil fuels anytime soon — but also do their level best to block investigation into any area that they consider too delicate. You’ll note that the typical objections to the likes of Charles Murray and Paul McHugh aren’t scientific but amount to asking lamely why anybody would say something so mean.

Perhaps the greatest trick the Left ever managed to play was to successfully sell the ancient and ubiquitous ideas of collectivism, lightly checked political power, and a permanent technocratic class as being “new,” and the radical notions of individual liberty, limited government, and distributed power as being “reactionary.” A century ago, Woodrow Wilson complained that the checks and balances instituted by the Founders were outdated because they had been contrived before the telephone was invented. Now, we are to be liberated by the microchip and the Large Hadron Collider, and we are to have our progress assured by ostensibly disinterested analysts. I would recommend that we not fall for it. Our technology may be sparkling, but our politics are as they ever were. Marie Antoinette is no more welcome in America if she dresses up in a Battlestar Galactica uniform and self-deprecatingly joins Tumblr. Sorry, America. Science is important. But these are not the nerds you’re looking for.

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