A few people have forwarded me MIT professor Scott Aaronson’s post about nerd trauma and male privilege .
It’s part of a larger discussion about sexism in STEM subjects, and its essence is simple. Aaronson’s position on feminism is supportive, but he can’t get entirely behind it because of his experiences growing up, which he details with painful honesty.
He describes how mathematics was an escape, for him, from the misery of growing up in a culture of toxic masculinity and extreme isolation—a misery which drove him to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The key quote is this:
Much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my ‘male privilege’—my privilege!—is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience … I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me ‘privileged’—that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes—is completely alien to your way of seeing things. I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not ‘entitled’, not ‘privileged’, but terrified.
I know them feels, Scott.
As a child and a teenager, I was shy, and nerdy, and had crippling anxiety. I was very clever and desperate for a boyfriend or, failing that, a fuck. I would have done anything for one of the boys I fancied to see me not as a sad little boffin freak but as a desirable creature, just for a second. I hated myself and had suicidal thoughts. I was extremely lonely, and felt ugly and unloveable. Eventually I developed severe anorexia and nearly died…
From the link about Aaronson, “I don’t know anything about what happened beyond the terse public announcements, but those who do know tell me that the charges were extremely serious, and that ‘this wasn’t a borderline case’.”
Indeed, from the quoted paragraph he sounds like an unhappy man. Then again, the writer of the TNR piece sounds like she had serious “issues” herself. Such people exist everywhere, in every walk of life. Building an entire article around a sample size of two plus boilerplate leftist whining is not very convincing.
Comments are trending negative, but as with the piece complaining about the supposedly racist ballet “The Nutcracker” these may just be a reflection of older readers from before the sudden change in editorial direction.
As for myself, I always thought the Dilbert cartoons captured my work situation well: the cube farms, the endlessly annoying pointy-haired boss, the boring meetings with business fad talk and of course Catbert, the evil Human Resources Director. It is exaggerated, but only to an extent. At work, many people had their favourite Dilbert cartoons tacked to the side of their cubes.
I do not identify with the writer (although like the entire population, I had moments of unhappiness as a teen-ager) and I met no men like Aaronson is my career.