Comments on “Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution”

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Cultural evolution

Josh 2015-05-30

Hi David,

Really enjoying this recent series.

Do you think it is inevitable that globalised culture will move towards the complete stance? Is this due to cultural continuity allowing gradual assimilation of nebulosity? Could anything halt or reverse this process?

Perhaps I’ve read your thoughts on these questions previously and have forgotten, or perhaps you plan to address them later, so happy to be directed.



Is it inevitable?

David Chapman 2015-05-30

Hi Josh, thanks for the comment!

I wouldn’t ever want to say that anything was inevitable. But in a sense, I think we’re already there; where “we” means the cultural cutting edge in rich countries. Understanding that neither eternalism nor nihilism is workable is the postmodern condition, pretty much. There is growing tacit understanding of nebulosity. We’ve lived with that for a quarter century, and are gradually figuring out how to make it workable. What’s missing is (1) a clear articulation of the issues and (2) reliable practices for making it workable, i.e. stabilizing the complete stance. I hope to provide (1). The second is harder; there are methods I’ve observed and/or figured out, but what I can say will be vague and incomplete. It’s a job for a whole culture, not one person.

In terms of “global,” though, it’s much harder to know. I do plan to write about this. Much of the Islamic world is struggling to transition from the choiceless to the systematic mode. That’s mostly not looking good; but apparently Iran is moving pretty smoothly from the systematic into the countercultural mode, so there’s hope. China transitioned successfully into the systematic mode; aborted a nascent counterculture in 1989; and shows some signs of increasing tolerance of certain subcultures (notably Buddhism).

Not just sub-cultures

404 Not Found 2015-05-31

Interestingly, I can see parallels with other areas too. I’ve interacted with dozens of small cliques, & what you say is true. But what you say also relates well to traditional tradespeople. Key cutters were for years independently minded - the geeks, if you were. Same with plumbers and blacksmiths. Now, in the UK at least, these small groups are being ‘rolled up’ by the sociopaths that are big business, exploiting the decades of knowledge made freely available online.

It is a sort of merger of the Gervais Principle & what you are saying here about subcultures.

Thanks for the article.

Thanks, I enjoyed this

Greg 2015-05-31

Thanks, I enjoyed this analysis! A quibble, but perhaps a few illustrative examples would have been helpful.

Been there

Jack 2015-06-02

Star Wars…

Not quite dead

mtraven 2015-06-03

I question whether subcultures are dead. Certainly the dynamics are different. Personally I feel too old and out of touch to pass judgement on whether the kids today are doing subcultures right or not.

Or maybe you are positing a rather narrow definition of what subcultures are, if they are limited to a small period of time. As you say later, subcultures still exist but without the same cultural force. Maybe…maybe Facebook has lowered the barriers that grouplets form all the time without much effort or meaning.

I did stick a foot into Burning Man culture recently – which is sort of a conglomerate of hundreds of little subcultures. It used to have a pretty high barrier to entry but that doesn’t stop the mops from showing up (I suppose I am one of them). There’s an active controversy about how to deal with the wealthy moving in :

On the same note, I notice that Rave/EDM doesn’t show up in your chart under music – whatever you think of it, it definitely is a subculture (or possibly many).

Not dead yet

David Chapman 2015-06-03

Yes, “dead” is partly hyperbolic. Hyperbole is a bad tendency of mine. Clearly there are still subcultures, and new ones are invented still.

However, I’ll spell out what I mean by “dead” when I write the main section on subcultures (“Real Soon Now”). Also what I mean by “the subcultural mode,” which is somewhat non-standard (as you suggest).

Subcultures are no longer the primary drivers of cultural development, I think. And, it’s not possible for intelligent people to relate to them in the same way we did in the 80s and 90s. It will take 15,000 words or so to explain this… I’m trying to write a book about practically everything, breadth-first, and it is going slowly.

Subcultures are the “native mode” for Generation X, and many in that generation remain committed to them—the same way many Baby Boomers remain committed to the countercultures of the 60s-80s. (There are even vestiges remaining of the “mainstream systematic mode” of the 1950s.) For Generation Y, my claim is, subcultures are not the native mode—atomization is, instead. When Gen X gets old and feeble, subcultures will mostly vanish.

Personally, I am a fanatic in a defiantly subcultural brand of Buddhism. I am also a mop in the ancestral health (“paleo”) subculture, for instance.

“Subcultures are dead” implies that my involvement in those subcultures has to be somewhat ironic. It’s not possible for me to take them as defining who I am and how I live, in the way that I might have 30 years ago.

I also have some, ambiguous, relationship with “Unaffiliated Smartypants Twitter.” I think it’s fair to call that a scene. It’s a scene that cannot develop into a subculture (as it might have in the 80s). It’s a scene that is overwhelmingly aware of its own atomization by twitter dynamics. So, there is literally no one (so far as I know) who will admit to being a member of UST; and it explicitly, officially, does not exist. This is an ironic stance.

(You likewise appear to have some ambiguous relationship with UST. Perhaps 30 years ago, you would be a “member” of it. You are, to some degree, a co-creator of it—but I would guess that you would not want to admit that, any more than I do!)

I’ve followed your posts from Burning Man with great interest (and the tweets of @sfslim, who is a creator there). I wish I had been to it, but have no desire to go to it!

A major regret in life is that I didn’t participate in the rave subculture at its height. My impression is that it is over—and has been for 10-15 years. There are still EDM concerts and festivals, but it no longer functions as a subculture (in the sense I’m using the term).

I did spend three months, pretty much full-time, educating myself about EDM, about five years ago. I’m very glad to have done that; I hope to write about it someday.

Doors close too

Judi 2015-06-04

My experience is that also once the sociopaths get involved, new creators are shut out from the subculture, that also stilts growth. It becomes too Pro for new Creators to involve themselves and only Creators chosen by the Sociopaths are “allowed” in. In effect, it becomes a closed club where only the worthy are allowed in.

The only time I haven’t found that to be the case, is if the original Creators and Fanatics work their butts off to make sure that new Creators are let in in spite of the Sociopaths.



Anna Fischer 2015-06-04

I’d like to strongly, but respectfully disagree with a broad swath of premise of your analysis. The role of creator, fan, and casual consumer are not sharply defined or fixed. To treat them as if they are some kind of ridged cast structure is a disservice to the people who occupy it.

For example, I have worked in a professional (paid) capacity for a few fairly large geek conventions, I’ve created tons of content consumed by fans, but there are a number of geek curtural artifacts I only consume casually.

Dose having done a couple of variant covers make me a creator? Dose having a relatively short attention span for superhero franchises on television make me a mop?

I think you are discounting a progressive evelioution of involment. People might be introduced casually to subculture, but become more involved over time. They might also become less involved or drift away because of changing circumstances in their life. Or simply because they got bored with the cultural object they were consuming.

I think the idea that there should be any kind of attempt at gate keeping, or even the idea of a true fan offensive. As a creator, fan and consumer I’d like to see the thing I made, enjoy, purchased enjoyed by as many people as possible regardless of their level of involvement. I love that one of costidans at my building has a metal gear solid text alert sound- even if he dosent know who Kojima is. We both like this thing, and it’s a touchstone for us to relate to each other across other social, economic, linguistic and cultural divides. I think that’s rad, even if he never goes back and plays Snatcher.

The notion of the “true” fan leads to some pretty ugly places (gamergate, sad puppies, etc). Let’s be super good to each other instead of having a nerd dick measuring contest.

Scenes and ironism

mtraven 2015-06-04

I suppose it՚s not that scenes and subcultures have inherently changed that much; it՚s that the mainstream culture has fragmented, so it՚s no longer possible to define a subculture by its relationship to the mainstream. Alternative scenes have less to work against, which weakens them.

Interesting observation about UST, which I am indeed connected to. I feel like I would like it to be more of a scene, or more something, than it is, even though it wouldn՚t work as anything but what it is. Deeply ironical, as you say.

Ribbonfarm too is a scene and not quite a subculture; there, it deliberately cultivates what Venkat calls “illegibility” as an organizing principle. This is another form of ironism, a way of escaping labels and achieving a kind of fluidity of meaning.

Rationalism and Burning Man are two bigger subcultural worlds I am kind of hovering around the edges of thanks to my current job, which whatever else I can say about it has hooked me up with some interesting younger people.

Both groups demand participation – you can՚t be a passive consumer. Well, you can, but it is discouraged and in some deep sense means you are missing the point. They both provide a template for identity, a set of values, a social milieu, a range of possible projects and ways to earn credit. The people who are into the are way into them.

For me, I find I have strong (if inchoate) desires to be more a part of the scene (or whatever it is) than I actually am, and various competing repulsions, not least of which is my incompatible default world identity as aging family man. So I՚m not exactly a mop vis-a-vis these groups. A mop, I assume, hangs out without contributing and is satisfied with that. My position is that I would really love to contribute, and try in a sort of half-assed fashion, but not sure if I have much to offer. I feel nonetheless that they are scenes, even if they aren՚t quite my scenes.

Closing doors

David Chapman 2015-06-04

Hi, Judi, yes, I think that’s an insightful observation. I’ve seen the same dynamic.

The value of permeable barriers

David Chapman 2015-06-04

Anna Fischer, thank you for the comments! I went and looked at your site, btw, and loved the photos.

I agree completely with your first four paragraphs.
Everyone’s degree of involvement is nebulous—always somewhat ambiguous, and necessarily changing over time. And my four-way categorization is necessarily somewhat arbitrary, and like every categorization does violence to nebulous phenomena. (On the other hand, a categorization is useful to the extent that it does point at real phenomena—which I think this one does.)

These were points I certainly had in mind while writing the blog post; I omitted them because it was already much longer than I wanted. I’ve added a footnote now.

Your last two paragraphs point at a central problem for all subcultures. (I plan to write much more about this.) If barriers to entry are too high, it becomes a sterile, snobbish in-group, which eventually becomes toxic and irrelevant and collapses. But if the barriers are too low, the subculture may be overwhelmed by an influx of people with different values, who wind up diluting, dumbing-down, and eventually erasing what made the subculture so valuable for earlier participants.

Ideally, the subculture provides a gradual on-ramp, allowing for progressively greater involvement, and for enculturation; and that on-ramp does require progressively more costly demonstrations of commitment to the subculture’s values, in order to maintain a reasonably cohesive system.

I think understanding this dynamic is helpful for keeping a subculture vital as long as possible. However, it is difficult to construct barriers that let people in at the right rate, and that are selective enough to prevent total values dilution, but permeable enough to allow in the diversity needed for creative ferment.

So far, in fact, it seems that this always fails, and that we all understand that it always will fail, which is why the “subcultural mode” no longer has the power it did 25 years ago.

One last thing. I’m not sure, but it sounds like you think of geek culture (sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, etc.) as a single subculture? Whereas I would consider it a general orientation, within which many specific subcultures have risen and fallen.

Strong (if inchoate) desires

David Chapman 2015-06-04

Mike, what you said in that comment poignantly summarizes my own feelings too.

Probably that’s a major motivation for my writing the “history of meaningness.” At a personal level, it’s an attempt to understand why I can’t believe in subcultures any longer; how I relate to (e.g.) UST (atomization); and what I would like to see happen next, and want to contribute to if I can (fluidity).

It might be more useful to help start a new scene, or strengthen an existing one; but thinking abstractly is a compulsion for me!

Subdividing the monolith

Anna Fischer 2015-06-04

Hey, thanks for responding. I do think all geek subculture is connected. When you asked if I thought that, I immediately though of a moment on trip to Cali last month where I was eating ice cream late night with a successful vinyl toy designer, a professional cosplayer, and a Capcom executive (visiting from Japan). We were chatting about the merits of marvel subscriptions as scaled to periods of comic nostalgia.

Kotaku (a video game blog) writes about my anime Cosplay photographs, but it’s table top gaming that (barely) pays my rent. I love to read so I hang out with a lot of genre fiction authors. We’re all appearing at the same big tent shows. Sure, there are out croppings and fragments. Toy collectors are kind of on their own little island of pop culture. But the larger activities, the main stays, they’re consumed by the same audience.

Like if you drew a vendigram of people who had seen at least one avengers movie and people who had played at least one assassins creed game the overlap would be pretty deep.

Not that there are no divisions with in geek culture, but I think these are more generational then topic specific.

If you look at the history of fan conventions this is born out on a really trackable way. How worldcon was originally the Mecca of geek culture, but then younger fans (who wanted to stay up late and talk loud) split off into media conventions. These scifi cons started running anime tracks, which eventually reached critical mass of younger (and more female) fans and left to establish their own homes. Video gaming and anime are still linked at many conventions because it’s the same generation consuming them.

The 4th generation is still living with the 3rd (anime) but I think in the next few years we will see internet based fandoms strike out on their own. They’ve already made a few shaky steps. And although they’ve yet to be really successful, I think that’s because the participants are to young/ inexperienced.

So it might be changing forms of media as a content platform that makes it look like different animal. But video games are books you can walk through. Webcomics are TV shows with a very slow broadcast rate.

Two senses of “geek”

David Chapman 2015-06-04

Your comment made me realize my post was unclear in another way, due to the ambiguity of “geek.” I was using “geek” there to mean “someone fascinated by the details of a subject most people don’t care about.” There’s another sense of “geek,” the one we’re discussing here, meaning the sort of person you’d expect to find at a science fiction convention. There’s significant overlap, but in the first sense there are gardening geeks and golfing geeks, and most probably aren’t geeks in the second sense. They might create gardening subcultures, though. I have added another footnote, which probably isn’t helpful, but makes me feel better.

I’ve been a mop in the general geek world—in the second sense—for 40 years, and your observations about that ring absolutely true. (I’ve never actually been to a science fiction convention, but most of the people I’ve slept with have!)

I’m gradually thinking through a theory that there is a mismatch between the optimal size for a culture and the optimal size for a society (or community). A healthy culture needs at least a few million people, in order to provide the breadth and depth of meaning its participants need. The geek agglomeration of subcultures and subsocieties has persisted, and functions reasonably well, because it does have that critical mass.

A “subculture,” in the somewhat non-standard way I plan to use the word, doesn’t the necessary heft. I love steampunk, for example, but it’s not functional as a way of life, which a “subculture” (in this sense) tries to be.

The optimal size for a “subsociety” is dozens to a few thousand people. More than that, and few individuals can feel like they are fully contributing, valued members.

I think part of why “subcultures died” is that the 80s-90s model was that subsocieties and subcultures coincided. You got your social relationships from your cultural tastes. This didn’t work because either the group was too small to provide enough meaning (steampunk for example) or too large to provide solid social relationships (the ’60s counterculture for example).

He's the one

danbk99 2015-06-14

He’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
and he likes to sing a long
and he likes to shoot his gun,
but he don’t know what it means.

LOL mops.

Who are the sociopaths?

Tim Hall 2015-07-06

I think you’ve spot on with Geeks and Mops. Some of the commenters on File770 who linked to my blog post insisted that there’s an important distinction between creators and curators, but I don’t find that meaningful; they’re different roles, but they’re the same sorts of people (and there’s often an overlap; many creators are also curators).

What you don’t mention is that it’s possible for Mops to morph into Geeks as they get drawn deeper into a subculture.

Sociopaths, though, I’m not convinced. I recognise that sociopaths are a destructive force in any community (See the damage wrought by Requires Hate in SF fandom), but people like her aren’t necessarily predatory outsiders. In many cases they’re geeks-gone-bad.

Have you got any examples of how outside sociopaths have destroyed subcultures?

Naming names

David Chapman 2015-07-07
people like her aren't necessarily predatory outsiders. In many cases they're geeks-gone-bad.

Well… as I said, to gain power in the subculture, a sociopath has to act just like a geek (only better), and keep that up for probably several years at least. So it is difficult or impossible to know whether a particular person is a “genuine geek gone bad” or an “outsider pretending to be a geek.” Also, there’s no reason an outside sociopath wouldn’t also genuinely enjoy the subculture (before destroying it).

After considering “examples of how outside sociopaths have destroyed subcultures” for a day, I’m reluctant to name names, for several obvious reasons.

What you don't mention is that it's possible for Mops to morph into Geeks as they get drawn deeper into a subculture.

I did, in a footnote, actually:

There is no “fact of the matter” about whether someone is an unusually enthusiastic mop, or a fanatic who is less committed than some other fanatics; nor whether someone who creates occasionally but mainly acts to support the subculture counts as a fanatic or creator. Anyone may shift roles, too.

It's a Devolving Cycle

LS 2015-10-26

“Culture Vultures have always been with us, but now we have Cultural Cannibalism – hipsters who binge on the art and music of others yet don’t do the proverbial homework, resulting in massive amounts of content-less effluvia. There’s a reason why those Man-Purses are so big – they’re colostomy bags.”

Add a couple decade/cycles of this and the cultural output is the equivalent of Mad Cow.

On Geek Subculture

Eric Christian Berg 2016-07-18

I know I am really late to the discussion here, but I wanted to suggest that the sci-fi/fantasy geek community is more like a tribe as Scott Alexander discusses at It started as a series of sub-cultures build around New Things. Read the history of TSR for a fine example of your progression of the downfall of a sub-culture. However, the various sub-cultural products (anime, RPGs, video games, etc) have become rallying flags for a tribe whose interests, as Anna points out, have deep overlap. Involvement in the various rallying flags varies:; often, members of the tribe are fanatics for one or two, casuals on several others, and have some they don’t care for. As Scott points out, though , it is the broader cultural and ideological overlap which cements the tribal identity.


Myles Davidson 2016-10-12

Fantastic description of what happened to the ‘rave’ scene (which IMO ended round about 2000AD). As a 90’s ‘rave’ geek, I personally witnessed what is described here, play out. Right on the money (so to speak).

Rave scene

David Chapman 2016-10-12

The rave scene is the subculture I most regret having missed. I was too busy running a tech company to get involved—but it sure looked like fun from a distance!

Could it be said that the

Armot 2017-01-27

Could it be said that the geeks who were Libertarians and Anarchocapitalists when those were New Things are now moving into the Alt-Right since it is the new cool New Thing?


David Chapman 2017-01-28

I don’t follow these movements closely, but, fwiw, my impression is that Neoreaction did grow out of libertarianism/ancap/Objectivism. It appealed to many of the same people, in part because they came to understand why extreme libertarianism can’t work; and probably also, as you suggest, because it was the Cool New Thing.

My understanding is that Neoreaction has gone through a typical subcultural cycle (overwhelmed with mops, exploited by psychopaths, lost its cool) and is now dead.

The alt-right is much more an atomized phenomenon (where Neoreaction was subcultural). It doesn’t make any attempt at conceptual coherence. It’s structureless emoting and pose-striking. It mostly doesn’t appeal to the same audience, and mostly doesn’t have historical or conceptual roots in ancap/etc.


mscot 2017-06-13

…that you spent “three months, pretty much full-time, educating yourself about EDM” which is a supreme example of sociopaths having ruined something.
Luckily, house/techno/breaks is a musical passion for enough people and varied enough in terms of regionality and scene that it is able to continuously go back underground and rebuild itself in smaller communities, even if it will never be what the rave scene of the 90s was - primarily due to the quick exposure of new sounds by internet and the general awareness of it.
Which leads to it having become enough of our cultural fabric that sociopaths are just as quickly incorporating the “new” sounds and watering them down into mainstream EDM crap.

sorry, that was a half

mscot 2017-06-13

sorry, that was a half thought from this morning.
was trying to get to the point that new scenes/subcultures are difficult to foster and grow now more than ever b/c of media - specifically the internet at this moment.
before, scenes were able to really find themselves and let the creatives build their talents and create better and better art (or whatever they are creating) before they were exposed outside of the immediate region of their birth.
now, as soon as something gets the smallest amount of attention it gets exposed nationally, if not internationally - or, at least, it has the opportunity to. And this, as much as sociopaths, waters down that art as people outside of that scene/region take its influences and mesh it with their own or whatever may be more mainstream.

Subcultures, atomized by the internet

David Chapman 2017-06-13

Yes, I think that’s right. Internet exposure was one of the major drivers of the shift from the subcultural mode to the atomized mode.

In the last very few years, I increasingly hear about subcultures moving onto closed internet infrastructure (e.g. Slack), as a way of dealing with that. It will be interesting to see how effective that can be.


Sasha 2017-08-28

Why do you use the insulting term “geeks”?
Why not a positive or at least neutral term for those who know a subject in depth…like “experts”, perhaps?

Interesting essay, but I do

hjk 2019-03-01

Interesting essay, but I do wonder to what extent ‘sociopath’ isn’t just code for ‘people who have skills that I don’t’ eg people skills, marketing skills etc?

Geeks against sociopaths

David Chapman 2019-03-02

Venkat and I have both semi-regretted using the word “sociopath,” even in a vernacular, non-clinical sense, because it’s not exactly accurate. On the other hand, neither are “geek” or “mop” or “fanatic,” and there’s no other word for what we called “sociopath.”

What’s distinctive is not the skills difference but a motivational one. The goals of the sociopaths are not aligned with those of the geeks. They want to extract resources and don’t care if they destroy the subculture in the process.

Concretely, “Be Slightly Evil” means learning people skills, and in particular the people skills needed to neutralize, defeat, or work around opponents in a complex social environment. (That’s what Venkat’s book is about, anyway.) You also need cooperative and charismatic people skills, but subculture leaders already have that, almost by definition, so it’s the slightly evil ones you need to brush up on.

And it would definitely help to have marketing skills, as you said, and a basic knowledge of finance, and contract law, so… maybe it would be good to get an MBA in your spare time while your band is touring. If you really want to make it!

What are the primary drivers

Lulie 2019-04-06
  1. What are the primary drivers of cultural development, if not subcultures?

  2. What about the YouTuber subculture? Would you argue this is atomised? (If so, what does atomised actually mean, when people are referring to the same media content and using the same tropes etc.?) Or not a “way of life”?

  3. Will there be no new religions in the world?

  4. Is academia a subculture? (Why not if not?)

Why is it that academia seems immune (?) from some of these problems, even as new fields get invented? (E.g. nanotechnology, constructor theory, etc.)

  1. Regarding the last paragraph of Aren’t there plenty of groups that are small yet provide meaning (rationalists, EAs, various types of spirituality and self-development groups, etc.)?

An aside about Landmark/est

Lulie 2019-04-06

Landmark/est is an interesting example of something that started in the 70s and is going stronger than ever today. (Its original founder is still living, however, so I’d expect it to eventually fade out when he’s no longer around. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were basically entirely run by Sociopaths at this point. Though it does seem to be improving in some ways, like far less pushy these days.) It’s a subculture for people who are really into it, but its lifeblood is mops — in a very obvious way: the fanatics are explicitly and continually encouraged to recruit more mops, and mops often become fanatics by being asked to recruit more mops!

It’s fun to look at the logic of what you describe in this case, because Landmark is so explicit about its functioning, and what counts as recruitment is very transparent (it in fact works based on this principle: if you get it enough to convey its value to others, and they register for the course, you’ve passed ‘mop’ level and qualify as someone who can have “enrolling conversations”, aka a fanatic).

After subcultures

David Chapman 2019-04-06

Unfortunately I had to set this writing project aside for a couple years due to family responsibilities, and when I started to get time to write again, other projects seemed more important. (My current priority queue: #1 meta-rationality; #2 nihilism; #3 the recent history of meaning, including subcultures.) So I never clearly explained even what I meant by “subculture.”

I would recommend Ross Haenfler’s Subcultures: The Basics as a good brief academic-but-accessible overview. I’m using the term in more-or-less the same way he does, which is more-or-less standard now in sociology. He distinguishes subcultures from fandoms, lifestyles, social/political reform movements, new religious movements, hobbies, gangs, and various other categories that have something in common with subcultures but are not the same. (And he acknowledges also that there’s overlap and the category is inevitably somewhat nebulous.)

A subculture is thematically coherent. “Youtubers” are not a subculture because their production is diverse. (Or maybe there’s a small subset of people doing Youtube stuff who are called “Youtubers,” and their work is cohesive as a group? I don’t know, I don’t look at Youtube much.)

Youtube is pretty much the textbook example of atomization; I used the Youtube Gangnam Style video in my intro page for that.

Subcultures still exist, but most advanced-mainstream cultural production is now atomized. (By “advanced mainstream” I mean that there’s still lots of stuff produced in other modes, but it’s mostly kitsch for old people or slow people or something.)

New religious movements (NRMs) can function as subcultures, although Haenfler explains why in general they aren’t the same thing.

Ross Douthat has an excellent piece called “The Cult Deficit” in which he notes that NRMs seem to have mostly disappeared, and he wonders why. I think the answer is that they were a subcultural thing, and the subcultural era has passed, and in the atomized era it’s mostly too hard to hold a cult together. From his essay:

The cult phenomenon feels increasingly antique, like lava lamps and bell bottoms.

The decline of cults, while good news for anxious parents of potential devotees, might actually be a worrying sign for Western culture, an indicator not only of religious stagnation but of declining creativity writ large.

Academia is not a subculture; it’s a modern institution (and therefore falling apart, because modernity—the systematic mode—no longer works).

Aren’t there plenty of groups that are small yet provide meaning (rationalists, EAs, various types of spirituality and self-development groups, etc.)?

Yes, there are still subcultures; they mostly don’t have the cultural impact they did during the subcultural era. The “Berkeley rationalist” subculture fits the classic pattern very well. And, it’s… kinda dysfunctional, I gather? I mean, apart from their ideas being somewhat wrong, the social structure appears not to work well, from what I hear. The leadership complains that their would-be fanatics are too personally incoherent to contribute. Maybe it would have worked better 25 years ago.

In fact… it did. There was essentially the same subculture in Berkeley in the late 80s/early 90s, centered on the BSD unix development team. I used to go sometimes to their weekly meetup at a Japanese restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. It was called “Kabuki West” because it was started by migrants from MIT who used to meet at a Japanese restaurant on Mass Ave called Kabuki.

The Berkeley restaurant wasn’t called Kabuki. I went by there recently to look for it, wondering what its name was.

It is gone now. Sic transit gloria subculturarum.

Or maybe there’s a small

Emanuel Rylke 2019-04-07

Or maybe there’s a small subset of people doing Youtube stuff who are called “Youtubers,” and their work is cohesive as a group?

Years ago I stumbled upon a youtube video of someone complaining about other youtubers not being real youtubers because they don’t even go to the meetups. From this I gather that there is indeed a subset of youtubers who understand themselves as a cohesive group. However while most youtube-creators I follow acknowledge that they upload their videos in the context of youtube virtually all of them are either unaware of or uninterested in this supposed “core”.

What defines a 'sociopath'?

P.L.T. 2019-07-14

I feel like I can understand what you mean when you refer to ‘geeks’ and ‘mops’ (though I do think those are noticeable overgeneralisations), but a ‘sociopath’ as described here feels more vaguely defined. I understand that naming specific examples of people and their actions may be undesirable, but could you give an example of what role one may appear in and what they do to the subculture? I feel like it would help me better understand your point.

The SCP Foundation’s core

Alyx 2020-05-29

The SCP Foundation’s core writing community was destroyed by an invasion of mops followed by the Sociopaths taking over - who, as you chillingly predicted, began exploiting the mops for social and sexual favors. Only recently was there a crackdown on child groomers in positions of power within SCP - general consensus outside of SCP believes this was more an attempt to save face and publicity than to actually punish those sex offenders.

Fittingly enough, “Be slightly evil” has turned out to be the RPC Authority’s (a splinter site of the SCP that intends on producing written content free of Current Year politics) greatest defense against a mop invasion - their politically incorrect environment combined with the SCP Sociopaths’ moral grandstanding about how SCP is “politically correct”, free of “nazis” (a common insult against RPC members) and hence “superior” has helped keep many mops away from RPC as well.

I’d sooner take my chances with a group of potty-mouths over a cabal of pedophiles.

Thank you for the well-written article, and for expertly putting these thoughts into words.

Situation is far worse, totalitarianism is almost here

J. Michael Hudson 2020-06-16

I read this article with interest after hearing about it at saidit, a subculture I was just recently excluded from for daring to question the obviously shifty moderation decisions of its founder. This stuff is very much happening in real time.

Someone like myself, now watching on revvedit as accounts I posted to reddit on for over 10 years are being ideologically trimmed, history erased, my work erased. I fled to from slasshdot after the microsoft sale, I learned the same apple banana( ) style moderation happened there. Then steemit, saidit, now notabug.

The same happened to me IRL, I spent 3 years in hollywood doing free open mics, got invited to a single party at the house of an aging near-extra from caddyshack.

I am an outsider, a nobody, someone who probably should not even exist, and there is a real system that makes it that way. I have heard here and there about SCP, and it is not my genre of writing, but to come across it again in this context and find this culture facing the same....containment procedures on....itself....yeah things have gotten weird.

I recently showed True Romance, Tarantino’s first written feature, he probably sold his soul to get this made now that I look back on how awful he has become, slinging race war propaganda. In the final scenes, Alabama keeps saying Clarence is so cool. So cool. You’re so cool. And Clarence was just trying to impress Elvis.

Maybe you didnt watch the PBS frontline “Merchants of Cool” in the late 90s? You can still find it and torrent it. How woodstock 69 became woodstock 95. How the rainbow gathering still exists, but it is 90% cops entraping people.

That is what Mr. Thompson meant when he saw the high tide of the 60s, and the death of the american dream. Something powerful took over the united states and western civ, and people like me only fully realize how bad it is after we look back over 20 years of failure and realize much of it was fake.

That at least I really did encounter dozens of undercover agents pretending to be civilians, and I never once thought about terrorizing something or using violence to achieve my means.

It is totalitarianism, and not a classic form, a new thing under the sun, or to our history. Every work of intelligence, every intelligent person every group of 2 people, is a threat to this system if not carefully watched. Yet cults of wealthy people like mr. epstein and NXVIM still operate with impunity and then only a handful of people get slaps on the wrist.

“They get anything they want” Julia said to Winston, and somehow everything they said in the woods was recorded. That is where we are at.

I have put a lot of it together, but everyone who is interested in this article should listen further to what I have to say, you do not have to be famous or popular or powerful or rich to have agents mess up your life. The police are not enforcing the law against wealthy or connected(to aipac) abusers.

It is the wild west out here, and it is a crime to throw the youth into this maw of unreality. Maybe that is the point of Catcher in the Rye, that Holden is like “how can things be this messed up?”, like his entire life is a trap. And that is why Phoebe is ready to go with him at the end, she had it worse.

THEY were in their own special containment procedures, I have been in my own special containment procedure, the SCP subculture was put in a SCP. It is, I now realize, a core operational pattern of totalitarianism, a form of governance where freedom cannot exist.

There is a benevolent way to imagine this sort of thing, but given epstein, at least as of this date, I can hardly call the evolution of the United States a success. I would like to be proven wrong. Maybe all of my work is a chance to eek some change out of this thing, or to say at least I will not help build this, whatever it is.

But I have been hurt by it, and I am a real american, and I will try to make America something good or die trying. For what it is worth, and not much, I do not believe the agents doing this are all meanspirited or evil, but they are tentacles of the same beast.

When you set out to contain an entire culture, entire generation, entire species, it seems to me that is where you risk creating the real monster. It seems in some of their efforts to limit themselves, remain unseen, and in rare glimpses behind the curtain(watch The Day Shall Come for some of this), they know the danger of the fire they are playing with and have some sense of moderation.

Perhaps the next generation of agents will not turn it absolutely dystopian but if you are looking to a guy like Kushner to shepherd in some improvement, some freedom, I would give up on that now and live in reality and make some real plans for how a real human being should respond to this elaborate form of bullshit slavery.

At least that is what I am doing.

The answer is always good writing. The answer is to refuse slavery or die trying. The answer is reality.

Be bold and powerful forces will come to your aid. The prayer of the righeous avails much in the eyes of God. Seek ye out the best books.

If you build it, they will come.

The truth is out there.

Do your work. (archive:


Spot on...

Dj Joyrider 2020-08-21

Chapeau…this is a pretty accurate description what happened to the Goa-Scene. It was extraordinary resistant, so the sociopath takeover took about 10 - 15 years, but now it’s just a shadow of it’s glory days in the beginning and mid 90th, completely striped from it’s fertile creativity.

Nobody Here Will Like What I Say...and That's OK.

Dave 2021-02-02

Cute modern-day sociology essay. Of course, as I read through the nicely laid out analogies and metaphors, I can only see the creators, geeks, mops and sociopaths driven by either greed, envy, selfishness, lust or power; and in some cases all. Then we get to the answer for the issue; the creator should ‘be slightly evil’ or be ‘a bit like the sociopath’. And there you have it…an answer that might actually be worse than the issue. I would rather the answer turn to the Ten Commandments and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. But, that just aint gonna happen; now is it? Especially when the title of the essay contains the word ‘evolution’ :-)


Rob 2021-02-05

Watched the last stages of this take hold in the “comics” industry. At that point there were still a few pros keeping their heads down and cashing their checks along with some indies huddled about scraping by month to month. We were constantly having new members join the board and post “look how diverse this is” comics as well as passing around literal “draw comics for change, join Antifa” fliers around. Soon after the last of those capable of going solo jumped to greener pastures and the rest sank with the ship…

A slightly different take from a fanatic...

Chris Blarsky 2021-02-12

I find that mediocrity is accepted by the group. A half assed effort is always accepted by the group.

Put more actual effort into it and you might end up LEADING the group.

Do even more work and you will LEAVE the group behind and no longer need them. But early on in your initial joining of the group you feel comfortable and accepted. That is usually based on the perceived mediocrity, that you feel… your center are better than. Fanatics will find a way to the top, but rarely will stay there.

By the time we reach the top of the mountain, we are already ready to climb the next one, and mostly forget about the last ones. It’s about the journey not the destination or the politics.

As Riddick says, “I’m just passing through!”

Science as a subculture

SusanC 2021-07-27

Hi David,

The idea (on your twitter) that science is suffering the same demise as subcultures is pretty provocative!

On the question of why mathematics doesn’t have an equivalent of the reproducibility crisis in psychology, let me offer the example of the four colour theorem. Now, of course, we still think the theorem is true. But there was a whole succession of alleged proofs that turned out to not be proofs, until George Gonthier did a machine checked proof.

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