Five Geek Social Fallacies

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Within the constellation
of allied hobbies and subcultures collectively known as geekdom, one
finds many social groups bent under a crushing burden of dysfunction,
social drama, and general interpersonal wack-ness. It is my opinion
that many of these never-ending crises are sparked off by an assortment
of pernicious social fallacies — ideas about human interaction which
spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and
to each other.

Social fallacies are
particularly insidious because they tend to be exaggerated versions of
notions that are themselves entirely reasonable and unobjectionable.
It’s difficult to debunk the pathological fallacy without seeming to
argue against its reasonable form; therefore, once it establishes
itself, a social fallacy is extremely difficult to dislodge. It’s my
hope that drawing attention to some of them may be a step in the right
direction.

I want to note that I’m
not trying to say that every geek subscribes to every one of the
fallacies I outline here; every individual subscribes to a different
set of ideas, and adheres to any given idea with a different amount of
zeal.

In any event, here are
five geek social fallacies I’ve identified. There are likely more.

Geek Social Fallacy #1:
Ostracizers Are Evil

GSF1 is one of the most
common fallacies, and one of the most deeply held. Many geeks have had
horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and
the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant
to them.

In its non-pathological
form, GSF1 is benign, and even commendable: it is
long past time we all grew up and stopped with the junior high
popularity games. However, in its pathological form, GSF1 prevents its
carrier from participating in — or tolerating — the exclusion of
anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web
forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the
prospective excludee may be.

As a result, nearly
every geek social group of significant size has at least one member
that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate. If
GSF1 exists in sufficient concentration — and it usually does — it is
impossible to expel a person who actively detracts from every social
event. GSF1 protocol permits you not to invite someone you don’t like
to a given event, but if someone spills the beans and our hypothetical
Cat Piss Man invites himself, there is no recourse. You must put up
with him, or you will be an Evil Ostracizer and might as well go out
for the football team.

This phenomenon has a
number of unpleasant consequences. For one thing, it actively hinders
the wider acceptance of geek-related activities: I don’t know
that RPGs and comics would be more popular if there were fewer trolls
who smell of cheese hassling the new blood, but I’m sure it couldn’t
hurt. For another, when nothing smacking of social selectiveness can be
discussed in public, people inevitably begin to organize activities in
secret. These conspiracies often lead to more problems down the line,
and the end result is as juvenile as anything a seventh-grader ever
dreamed of.

Geek Social Fallacy #2:
Friends Accept Me As I Am

The origins of GSF2 are
closely allied to the origins of GSF1. After being victimized by social
exclusion, many geeks experience their “tribe” as a non-judgmental
haven where they can take refuge from the cruel world outside.

This seems
straightforward and reasonable. It’s important for people to have a
space where they feel safe and accepted. Ideally, everyone’s social
group would be a safe haven. When people who rely too heavily upon that
refuge feel insecure in that haven, however, a commendable ideal
mutates into its pathological form, GSF2.

Carriers of GSF2 believe
that since a friend accepts them as they are, anyone who criticizes
them is not their friend. Thus, they can’t take criticism from friends
— criticism is experienced as a treacherous betrayal of the
friendship, no matter how inappropriate the criticized behavior may be.

Conversely, most
carriers will never criticize a friend under any circumstances; the
duty to be supportive trumps any impulse to point out unacceptable
behavior.

GSF2 has extensive
consequences within a group. Its presence in substantial quantity
within a social group vastly increases the group’s conflict-averseness.
People spend hours debating how to deal with conflicts, because they
know (or sometimes merely fear) that the other person involved is a
GSF2 carrier, and any attempt to confront them directly will only make
things worse. As a result, people let grudges brew much longer than is
healthy, and they spend absurd amounts of time deconstructing their
interpersonal dramas in search of a back way out of a dilemma.

Ironically, GSF2
carriers often take criticism from coworkers, supervisors, and mentors
quite well; those individuals aren’t friends, and aren’t expected to
accept the carrier unconditionally.

Geek Social Fallacy #3:
Friendship Before All

Valuing friendships is a
fine and worthy thing. When taken to an unhealthy extreme, however,
GSF3 can manifest itself.

Like GSF2, GSF3 is a
“friendship test” fallacy: in this case, the carrier believes that any
failure by a friend to put the interests of the friendship above all
else means that they aren’t really a friend at all. It should be
obvious that there are a million ways that this can be a problem for
the carrier’s friends, but the most common one is a situation where
friends’ interests conflict — if, for example, one friend asks you to
keep a secret from another friend. If both friends are GSF3 carriers,
you’re screwed — the first one will feel betrayed if you reveal the
secret, and the other will feel betrayed if you don’t. Your only hope
is to keep the second friend from finding out, which is difficult if
the secret in question was a party that a lot of people went to.

GSF3 can be costly for
the carrier as well. They often sacrifice work, family, and romantic
obligations at the altar of friendship. In the end, the carrier has a
great circle of friends, but not a lot else to show for their life.
This is one reason why so many geek circles include people whose sole
redeeming quality is loyalty: it’s hard not to honor someone who goes
to such lengths to be there for a friend, however destructive they may
be in other respects.

Individual carriers
sometimes have exceptions to GSF3, which allow friends to place a
certain protected class of people or things above friendship in a
pinch: “significant others” is a common protected class, as is “work”.

Geek Social Fallacy #4:
Friendship Is Transitive

Every carrier of GSF4
has, at some point, said:

“Wouldn’t it be great to
get all my groups of friends into one place for one big happy party?!”

If you groaned at that
last paragraph, you may be a recovering GSF4 carrier.

GSF4 is the belief that
any two of your friends ought to be friends with each other, and if
they’re not, something is Very Wrong.

The milder form of GSF4
merely prevents the carrier from perceiving evidence to contradict it;
a carrier will refuse to comprehend that two of their friends (or two
groups of friends) don’t much care for each other, and will continue to
try to bring them together at social events. They may even maintain
that a full-scale vendetta is just a misunderstanding between friends
that could easily be resolved if the principals would just sit down to
talk it out.

A more serious form of
GSF4 becomes another “friendship test” fallacy: if you have a friend A,
and a friend B, but A & B are not friends, then one of them
must not really be your friend at all. It is surprisingly common for a
carrier, when faced with two friends who don’t get along, to simply
drop one of them.

On the other side of the
equation, a carrier who doesn’t like a friend of a friend will often
get very passive-aggressive and covertly hostile to the friend of a
friend, while vigorously maintaining that we’re one big happy family
and everyone is friends.

GSF4 can also lead
carriers to make inappropriate requests of people they barely know —
asking a friend’s roommate’s ex if they can crash on their couch,
asking a college acquaintance from eight years ago for a letter of
recommendation at their workplace, and so on. If something is
appropriate to ask of a friend, it’s appropriate to ask of a friend of
a friend.

Arguably, Friendster was
designed by a GSF4 carrier.

Geek Social Fallacy #5:
Friends Do Everything Together

GSF5, put simply,
maintains that every friend in a circle should be included in every
activity to the full extent possible. This is subtly different from
GSF1; GSF1 requires that no one, friend or not, be excluded, while GSF5
requires that every friend be invited. This means that to a GSF5
carrier, not being invited to something is intrinsically
a snub, and will be responded to as such.

This is perhaps the
least destructive of the five, being at worst inconvenient. In a small
circle, this is incestuous but basically harmless. In larger groups, it
can make certain social events very difficult: parties which are way
too large for their spaces and restaurant expeditions that include
twenty people and no reservation are far from unusual.

When everyone in a group
is a GSF5 carrier, this isn’t really a problem. If, however, there are
members who aren’t carriers, they may want occasionally to have smaller
outings, and these can be hard to arrange without causing hurt feelings
and social drama. It’s hard to explain to a GSF5 carrier that just
because you only wanted to have dinner with five other people tonight,
it doesn’t mean that your friendship is in terrible danger.

For some reason, many
GSF5 carriers are willing to make an exception for gender-segregated
events. I don’t know why.

Interactions

Each fallacy has its own
set of unfortunate consequences, but frequently they become worse in
interaction. GSF4 often develops into its more extreme form when paired
with GSF5; if everyone does everything together, it’s much harder to
maintain two friends who don’t get along. One will usually fall by the
wayside.

Similarly, GSF1 and GSF5
can combine regrettably: when a failure to invite someone is equivalent
to excluding them, you can’t even get away with not inviting Captain
Halitosis along on the road trip. GSF3 can combine disastrously with
the other “friendship test” fallacies; carriers may insist that their
friends join them in snubbing someone who fails the test, which
occasionally leads to a chain reaction which causes the carrier to
eventually reject all
of their friends. This is not healthy; fortunately, severe versions of
GSF3 are rare.

Consequences

Dealing with the effects
of social fallacies is an essential part of managing one’s social life
among geeks, and this is much easier when one is aware of them and can
identify which of your friends carry which fallacies. In the absence of
this kind of awareness, three situations tend to arise when people come
into contact with fallacies they don’t hold themselves.

Most common is simple
conflict and hurt feelings. It’s hard for people to talk through these
conflicts because they usually stem from fairly primal value clashes; a
GSF3 carrier may not even be able to articulate why it was such a big
deal that their non-carrier friend blew off their movie night.

Alternately, people
often take on fallacies that are dominant in their social circle. If
you join a group of GSF5 carriers, doing everything together is going
to become a habit; if you spend enough time around GSF1 carriers,
putting up with trolls is going to seem normal.

Less commonly, people
form a sort of counter-fallacy which I call “Your Feelings, Your
Problem”. YFYP carriers deal with other people’s fallacies by ignoring
them entirely, in the process acquiring a reputation for being
charmingly tactless. Carriers tend to receive a sort of exemption from
the usual standards: “that’s just Dana”, and so on. YFYP has its own
problems, but if you would rather be an asshole than angstful, it may
be the way to go. It’s also remarkably easy to pull off in a GSF1-rich
environment.

What Can I Do?

As I’ve said, I think
that the best way to deal with social fallacies is to be aware of them,
in yourself and in others. In yourself, you can try to deal with them;
in others, understanding their behavior usually makes it less
aggravating.

Social fallacies don’t
make someone a bad person; on the contrary, they usually spring from
the purest motives. But I believe they are worth deconstructing; in the
long run, social fallacies cost a lot of stress and drama, to no real
benefit. You can be tolerant without being indiscriminate, and you can
be loyal to friends without being compulsive about it.

Hey, Are You Talking
About Me?

If I know you, yeah, probably I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you;
most of us carry a few fallacies. Myself, I struggle with GSF 1 and 2,
and I used to have a bad case of 4 until a series of disastrous parties
dispelled it.

I haven’t used any
examples that refer to specific situations, if it has you worried. Any
resemblances to geeks living or dead are coincidental.

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