Geek As Citizen: Should Geeks Get Political?

Capitol BuildingShould geeks – both in the general definition I postulate (applied intellectuals and enthusiasts) and by geek culture (the interlinked subcultures of technology, games, comic, films, cosplay, etc.) – become involved in politics? It’s question I dare ask, and explore.

Should Geeks Get Political?

And the answer is yes.

Unfrotunately I’d like to think the reason for my answer is obvious, but frankly this isn’t the case and it’s impolite to give a one word answer. So I’d like to explore the reasons I say this.  Four reasons, actually.

Reason One: Everyone Should Be Involved Anyway

First of all I think everyone should be involved in politics in their societies. Yes, we may remark that some people are distinctly people we don’t want involved in politics, our life decisions, or even driving a car or operating simple machinery. But you take the questionable with the good, and given the sweep of human history, I’m disinclined to try and regulate who gets a say in politics.

Being involved in the political process of your city/state/country is part of being a good citizen, period. Geek or non-geek, lage collection of “Transformers” figure or a person that thinks Optimus Prime is an antidepressant, being involved in your society is part of citizenship. If you care, you get involved. I could rehash this endlessly, but it basically comes down to “participation is citizenship.”

Now I’m not going to say it’s easy. Or not disturbing. Or not confusing. It takes work – work that at times I’m not sure *I* do all that well. But participation is citizenship.

Besides, facing the insanity of politics – and trust me, I’m sympathetic – is educational. You get better at it over time just by dealing with the limits you find in the process and in yourself.

(As an example? I found myself at one point following national and state politics and more than a bit ignorant of my local politics, so I changed how I got my news. Yes, it took a major revelation to add three things to my newsreader. No, I’m not perfect).

Reason Two: Our Perspective Is Important

Geeks have an important perspective.

Now i should note everyone has an important perspective. In the Academic-Geek-Aplied model that I’m so fond of and hope is useful, no one person on that scale is more important than another. We need academics deeply involved in their specialties, obsessed geeks tooling around, and people applying knowledge and skill to definite goals. I just speak on geeks because that’s my specialty since, hey, I am one.

So where do we geeks bring a useful perspective on politics? Because we’re kind of in the middle here’s the specific advantages we have:

  1. We are good at being “bridges” between knowledge and it’s application. We get how things get done and become – it may be awful obsessive, or specialized, but it is what we do. Geeks and their counterparts “in the large” on my scale are excellent middlemen/women – in a good way.
  2. We’ve got a perspective in the middle as well. Most people who are “wonky” are pretty good at seeing how things run – though often from a limited perspective, moreso than they realize. Reaizing this perspective – and your limits – lets you use it. Not realizing your limits, well, I’d point to many an economist with his head thoroughly up his own backside, so let’s not be like then.
  3. We’re experimenters. It’s hard to stop us from experimenting. We’re good at coming up with things to try out. Sure some are possibly bad ideas, but a least we’re thinking them up.

That’s what we contribute – we’re an enthusiastic (if hyperactive) bridge in the middle of it all who have all sorts of wild ideas.

Reason Three: It Prevents Unrealism

Remember when I noted that our advantage as geeks – enthusiastic creators and appliers of knowledge – sometimes means we don’t see our limits? Yeah, well that’s the third reason we should be involved in politics.

To stay grounded in real issues and real results.

Every now and then I stumble across political thoughts from one of my geeky fellows that, to put it civilly, is ungrounded in reality and at times common sense. Now, being in Silicon Valley I may get to hear some exceptionally unrealistic ideas because we’re always making ideas here, but the fact is sometimes our fellows get a little off kilter. Just scanning a message board on technology news, geek culture, gaming, etc. is likely to yield a few cases of political theorizing that make you desperately hope someone is trolling – and you know they aren’t.

Being involved in politics keeps us realistic. In turn, that lets us leverage the advantages we have as detailed above, and be good citizens.

Also it keeps us from those embarrassing message board posts, TED talks, and blog posts where we espouse a theory we will be deeply ashamed of a year later.

Reason Four: To Be Known

Finally, I think we should be involved in politics so we stay a known demographic people think about.

Right now we’re talked about, we’re hip, we’re happening. But except for technical PACs, big name involvement, and of course the occasional oddball theory mentioned above, I don’t think people think about we geeks politically. Here we are in the age of geek, but people don’t think about us, what we know, the good we can do – if anything they just know the bad or the odd (see above)

Being involved reminds them to be aware of us, talk to us, and take us seriously. We could use more of that because then we can be more politically involved.


Geeks should become appropriately political. It’s what a good citizen does, it lets us leverage our specific advantages, it keeps us grounded, and reminds people we’re here so they work with us.

So there you have it.  That’s my reason for “yes” and one I’m pretty confident in.

Of course this could open many other cans of worms about what is appropriate in geek politics, but that’s for future discussions perhaps . . .

– Steven Savage