Shy Male Nerds and the Bubble Strategy: Reply to Scott Alexander
By Bryan Caplan
Even on the purely academic/intellectual level, this [Caplan’s Bubble stategy] is difficult. I have got a bunch of programs that filter the input I get from social media and the news, I’ve blocked all of my friends who reblog the worst stuff, and I still can’t really get away from it.
With all due respect, this is hard to believe. I’ve been a nerd for decades. 95% of my friends are male nerds. My friends tend to be unusually young and single because many of them are my former students. Yet Scott’s pieces on feminist abuse of nerds are virtually my sole exposure to the problem. This isn’t surprising when you look at the data: Feminism is a minority position, even among women.
In any case, Scott, how can you claim you “can’t really get away from it” when you go out of your way to read and critique hostile feminists? Consider this paragraph from “Radicalizing the Romanceless.”
We will now perform an ancient and traditional Slate Star Codex ritual, where I point out something I don’t like about feminism, then everyone tells me in the comments that no feminist would ever do that and it’s a dirty rotten straw man, then I link to two thousand five hundred examples of feminists doing exactly that, then everyone in the comments No-True-Scotsmans me by saying that that doesn’t count and those people aren’t representative of feminists, then I find two thousand five hundred more examples of the most prominent and well-respected feminists around saying exactly the same thing, then my commenters tell me that they don’t count either and the only true feminist lives in the Platonic Realm and expresses herself through patterns of dewdrops on the leaves in autumn and everything she says is unspeakably kind and beautiful and any time I try to make a point about feminism using examples from anyone other than her I am a dirty rotten motivated-arguer trying to weak-man the movement for my personal gain.
This doesn’t sound like it’s written by someone trying to minimize negative interactions with hostile feminists. At all.
My choices are either to abandon my entire friend group, live in a cave, or accept a leaky bubble.
Taken literally, you’re right. Your options are, roughly, to “abandon your entire friend group,” “live in a cave,” or “accept a leaky bubble.” But that’s an odd way to slice your options. I freely admit that my Bubble strategy is never a 100% solution; all Bubbles leak to some degree. Can you admit that a leaky Bubble is far better than no Bubble at all?
But the purely academic/intellectual side of things isn’t really the issue here. My complaint is that feminist shaming traumatizes shy male adolescent nerds. They’re too young to have built a bubble or even realized it’s an option, and part of the way the malice works is by convincing them that doing this makes them evil people and they’re morally obligated to take all the abuse (this strategy is very successful if they get to people early). Other people are going to be exposed to them whether or not I am, and I don’t feel like throwing them under the bus is the right thing to do.
Neither of us is “throwing anyone under the bus.” Like you, I’m publicly offering solutions to anyone with a search engine. I just think my solution is much more effective than yours. I’m telling shy male nerds (SMNs) – including shy male adolescent nerds – how to build a Bubble to have better lives. You’re telling hostile feminists to stop traumatizing SMNs. My approach will work if we get the word out to people who are suffering. Your approach will work if you persuade a subculture you deem morally reprehensible to repent.
Finally, insofar as I have non-optional interactions with people outside my bubble – anything relating to employment, housing, or even friends and romance when I don’t have 100% ability to customize my friends and romantic partners – the zeitgeist is going to determine whether they treat me well or poorly… And again, even if I miraculously manage to optimize every single life interaction to be 100% free of people outside my bubble, other nerds are going to run into this same problem.
You are making the best the enemy of the good. If 50% of SMNs can use my Bubble approach to reduce their suffering by 50%, it deserves high praise – not criticism that it’s an incomplete solution. Why do you hold my remedy to a vastly higher standard than you hold anti-depressant drugs?
Scott does have one much better argument against my view. He thinks I’m urging Shy Male Nerds to free ride to the detriment of Shy Male Nerdkind:
If all the non-feminists retreat into bubbles and leave the field to the worst feminists, then their voices will be heard unchallenged, and then as soon as people notice I’m a nerd they’ll ignore me or hate me.
And this is the purely social failure mode. Even worse is if the bad people can get their hands on the levers of government, or affect the people who do)
What Trotsky said of war – you may not be interested in it, but it’s interested in you – seems true of politics as well, especially identity politics.
Is it possible that the long-run aggregate effect of the Bubble strategy will be precisely what you say? Sure. But this is the Real World, not a homework problem on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the Real World, waging war – hot or cold – often backfires.* You hope that if you stand up for yourself, your detractors will back down. But it often spurs them to redouble their efforts. As the author of “The Toxoplasma of Rage,” I don’t see how you can dispute this point. If SMNs unilaterally stop arguing with hostile feminists, I say there is a good chance that hostile feminists get bored and move on.
Tell me I’m wrong, Scott.
* Trotsky learned this the hard way; if he’d remained a journalist in New York during the Russian Revolution, he wouldn’t have become a mass murderer or been assassinated with
an ice pick.