Whimsy sciences philosophy and moderation policy

What, another stupid forum?

Yeah. Here’s a little story about the kind of culture I’m hoping this could host, whether you might like to join.

The website finishing.com (all about plating, coating, and painting metal) has crystallized something for me. It is a living demonstration that it’s totally possible to keep a high quality of discourse, over decades, with good moderation and a respectful, well-meaning group, especially when conversation can be focused around a niche subject.

8 years ago, when I was 16, my parents dragged me to a hackerspace in my local town. The only venue they could afford was a dingy basement down a 20-foot concrete staircase with no railing that flooded every month. They taught me Linux, they talked about books, they talked about turning a payphone into an art project, how the world didn’t revolve around me, how to listen.

I met weekly with them for more than half a decade. Here’s a really interesting and special thing: I know fairly little about the people. For instance, I don’t know what religion any of them subscribe to - not once did it ever come up. I think this is partly how we managed not to splinter. We just talked like friends about cool tech - the dynamics just worked.

Here, like there, topics like today’s news cycle aren’t going to be discussed - not because they aren’t important, not because they don’t form and destroy people’s lives, not because the moderator needs to step in, but because we’re just so darn excited about these other things we want talk about right now, like giant squid. Plus, we like each other, and we just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings!

The hackerspace dissolved a few years ago. I went to university, some of the founders had to move for work, the space was rented out. I have not yet found a place - online or offline - with the same atmosphere. But I think there are little places - the computer group, the chess club, where pure, unbridled nerdiness can still thrive. I won’t define nerdiness; you just know it when you see it. Like Julia Stiles in Ghostwriter. It’s a little bit cringe, but it’s wholesome and genuine and soft.

Of course, if you look hard at the real manifestation of totally nerdy groups, you also find a lot of unpleasantness. Discussions of computer science laced with analogies to gangbanging. And there’s a deeply troubling reason why the prototypical ‘computer group’ doesn’t have women (our group was blessed with - nay, self-selected for - only dudes with good behavior, so we had a decent ratio).

But I think the platonic ideal of nerdiness can avoid this.