Why Nerds Should Be Subsidized

surrounded_by_nerds_by_earthvsthederek-d631bnbAssume that nerds essentially have “Autism light,” i.e., high intelligence and low social skills.  If so, then while nerds can reason and sympathize well, they are less able to read the acts and expressions of others in order to infer their states of mind.  Nerd social behavior could then be as strategic or altruistic as anyone else, but it couldn’t as subtly depend on reading social cues.   Distinguish two key social effects of these lower social skills: effects on cooperation and on conniving.  If low social skills makes it harder for nerds to cooperate, then we should find that groups of nerds are less able to coordinate with each other to achieve common ends, such as managing large projects together.  There may be an effect here, but if so it seems weak; nerds cooperate pretty effectively all the time on large software and other engineering projects. The other social effect is on Machiavellian conniving.  Nerds should be worse at judging which coalition to join when, which associates may betray them or have done so, when and how to betray associates, what lies to tell, what threats will be credible and appropriate, and so on.  These low conniving skills should make nerds less attractive as coalition partners, at least for helping each coalition deal with other coalitions.  It seems pretty obvious to me that there is a large effect here.  Now compare the social versus the private costs of these social skill deficits.   While a reduced ability to cooperate might hurt society even more than it hurt the nerd, a reduced ability to connive should hurt the nerd more than it hurts society.  Poorly cooperating nerds would tax society, giving a reason to shun nerds, but poorly conniving nerds would mainly be preyed upon by those with better social skills, and be victims worthy of social sympathy.  Spouses could more easily get away with cheating on nerds, and business partners could more easily get away with reneging on implicit understandings.  If, as it seems to me, nerd social handicaps reduce nerd abilities to connive far more than their abilities to cooperate, then people should try too hard to avoid being exploited nerds, relative to a social optimum.  If so, we have too few nerds, and all else equal we should want to subsidize nerds, to get more of them. –Robin Hanson, Nerds As Bad Connivers

Some folks are both unusually smart and unusually conscientious about their ideals. More than most people, these folks notice their hypocrisy, and try to avoid it. And since far ideals tend toward incoherence and impracticality, this has led smart sincere folks to invent a wide range of “ideologies” to substitute for their jumbled intuitions-Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias, The Smart, Sincere Syndrome

Most people like to make fun of and laugh at nerds. Why? You might assume we like to laugh at people with low abilities, to emphasize our superiority. But there are plenty of folks with mostly low abilities across the board, and they mostly aren’t considered funny. So why are nerds, who at least have some strong skills, especially funny? I think the essence of humor is our sheer joy at playing homo hypocritus well. We just love to see the juxtaposition of two communication levels, an overt and a covert one, especially when this helps “us” take advantage of “them.” Homo hypocritus pretends to mainly value overtly useful skills, while really greatly valuing covert conniving skills. Nerds tend to be much better at the former than the later, and are often unaware that the later skills exist. So the fact that nerds think well of themselves for their overt skills, but are largely unaware of how poor they are at covert conniving, is just hilarious.Robin Hanson, Why Laugh At Nerds

In general people do quite well by copying the right other people’s behavior in some kind of clever, intuitive, context specific way. Nerds are terrible at this though (either because they fail to copy at the outset, or because they can’t do the social interpretation necessary to correctly generalize). So they have the choice to copy other people badly, or try to reinvent a lot of things from scratch. So experimentation is much more useful for nerds. Coupled with the premise that I’m a nerd, this explains the observations and has some intuitive appeal. If something like this is true, there seem to me to be traits beyond lack of copying skill that incline nerds toward working such things out from scratch. In general if you are already unusual on many axes, copying others on a particular one is less good, so you will have to figure things out for yourself more. Once you have determined to sleep in the daytime and practice radical honesty, the usual answers about how to improve your mood or attract a partner may not apply as well. Nerds are also more likely to have the quantitative skills to do experiments well. And nerds seem more unsettled by adherence to traditions handed to them without explanation or instructions. These things might explain enthusiasm for explicit experimentation and innovation, but the reasons experimentation seems worth it didn’t make reference to enthusiasm. Non-nerds may copy one another fine, but there seem to be better things to do than copying. It could also be that experimentation is not worthwhile, and nerds just tend to over-rate it. But fits nicely into a category to be explored later: ‘I’m wrong’.-Katja Grace, Overcoming Bias

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