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If you call someone a 'nerd' are you a moron? (Part 1)

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk examines what it means to be a nerd in part 1 of his review of David Anderegg's new book, "Nerds."Do you ever take an instant dislike to people, without ever really examining why that might be?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk examines what it means to be a nerd in part 1 of his review of David Anderegg's new book, "Nerds."

Do you ever take an instant dislike to people, without ever really examining why that might be?

In my case, I have struggled to warm to Jerry Rice. Maria Sharapova somehow leaves me dreaming of cough sweets. And I am not sure I could ever enjoy the company of a cellphone salesman.

I've not really considered why. It's just one of those reactions that feels true and real and rather stronger than my average reaction to most elements of humanity.

I was therefore entertained when Andy Berndt, a former ad exec who now heads up Google's Creative Lab, suggested last week that engineers weren't exactly crazy about creative people.

I am assuming he was being a little unassuming.

Most engineers think creative people are dungmeisters of the most exalted caliber.

While engineers deal with the real, the concrete, the precise, creative people are constantly vomiting their warped egos upon an unsuspecting world, propelled by nothing more than the wind of a thousand tornadoes.

And the smell of deceit. I'm clever, I'm witty, I'm pretty, love me, love me, they plead.

While engineers hitch up their glasses and content themselves with using their brains to get all the right answers. Occasionally sneaking a peek at the latest "Star Wars" episode.

We accept these caricatures because, well, that's just how it is, isn't it? Except no one has ever bothered to ask why.

When I say no one, I mean no academic, no student of social science, no professor of humanities has ever bothered to conduct rigorous studies of how these stereotypes came about.

I know this because as the weather has got worse, I have found it harder to be creative (you know, compost mentis) and have resorted to reading books that reek of dangerous facts and truths.

One such book is entitled "Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them" by David Anderegg.

Dr. Anderegg is a professor of psychology at Bennington College in Vermont. As well as a child psychotherapist. Yes, he wears glasses. And, one suspects that in writing this book, Dr. Anderegg also decided to wear a little of his heart on his sleeve. Or at least within these sleeves.

The more he talked to children, and the more he came to realize just how cruel and painful nerdification was in child development, Dr. Anderegg decided to write a book that comes across as a barely controlled scream for a radical attitudinal shift in American culture.

"One of the things that makes kids kids is their lack of self-consciousness," writes Dr. Anderegg. "And one of the things that most distinguishes nerdy kids from non-nerdy kids is exactly this quality."

Nerds are the last to grow up, apparently. Which is strange because I always thought it was politicians. And creative people. "The weird enthusiasms, the willingness to co-operate with adults, the lack of social skills- all these things seem nerdy and pathetic to sophisticated, self-conscious teenagers."

And the sometimes vicious baiting that nerds have to put up with is, to a considerable extent, according to Dr. Anderegg, a symptom of America's ingrained love for sport and brawn over intellectual ability.

He points to "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, which apparently every American schoolkid has to read while hiding his gun under his desk. It's a book in which the clever man is ugly and doesn't get the girl. While the far dumber jock, Brom Van Brunt, can do no wrong.

Dr. Anderegg then positively dismembers Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in an address entitled "The American Scholar," suggested that books were written by sad little men sitting in libraries--Cicero, Locke and Bacon being three alleged examples--and should therefore be ignored.

I hope you are sitting down when you read this, but, having left Waldo Emerson in a pool of his own blood and bile, Dr. Anderegg goes after Superman. He's useless when he's a nerd. But when he's butch and brawny, why, he saves the world. And, most importantly, girls swoon over him as if he were Sting with better lyrics.

What kind of example is this for our children? he asks. Are you surprised that 42 percent of math and engineering degrees given out in America are bestowed on foreigners? I will leave all you brother and sister engineers and mathematicians, to consider, as does Dr. Anderegg, Gore vs. Bush. Apparently a classic example of the nerd taking on the jock. (What do you mean, which is which?)

I also hope you will consider some of your own memories from your childhood if nerd applies. What was it that made you survive being called a nerd? Did you cry yourself to sleep at night? Did you fight back against this characterization? Were you ever charged with assault? Did you have a good lawyer? And, one subject which every psychologist is bound to broach (and Dr. Anderegg does not let us down) how did this affect your ability to attract members of your target sex?

I will look forward to your stories and, as our fifty minutes is up today, I will further explore the topic in our next session.

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