Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's about how men are deficient

From Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Randy Waterhouse has a conversation with potential girrlfriend, Amy Shaftoe:


“How about this guy we’re going to see in Seattle? He’s a computer guy too? Ooh, you’re getting this look on your face like ‘Amy just said something so stupid it caused me physical pain.’ Is this a common look of your family? Is this a common facial expression among men of your family? Do you think it is the expression that your grandfather wore when your grandmother came home and announced that she had backed the Lincoln Continental into a fire hydrant?”

“I am sorry if I make you feel bad sometimes,” Randy says. “The family is full of scientists. Mathematicians. The least intelligent of us become engineers. Which is sort of what I am.”

“Excuse me, did you just say you were one of the least intelligent?”

“Least focused, maybe.”

“Hmmmm.”

“My point is that precision, and getting things right, in the mathematical sense, is the one thing we have going for us. Everyone has to have a way of getting ahead, right? Otherwise you end up working at McDonald’s your whole life, or worse. Some are born rich. Some are born in a big family like yours. We make our way in the world by knowing that two plus two equals four, and sticking to our guns in a way that is kind of nerdy and that maybe hurts people’s feelings sometimes. I’m sorry.”

“Hurts whose feelings? People who think two plus two equals five?”

“People who put a higher priority on social graces than on having every statement uttered in a conversation be literally true.”

“Like, for example...female people?”

Randy grinds his teeth for about a mile, and then says, “If there is any generalization at all that you can draw about how men think versus how women think, I believe it is that men can narrow themselves down to this incredibly narrow laser-beam focus on one tiny little subject and think about nothing else.”

“Whereas women can’t?”

“I suppose women can. They rarely seem to want to. What I’m characterizing here, as the female approach, is essentially saner and healthier.”

“Hmmmm.”

“See, you are being a little paranoid here and focusing on the negative ttoo much. It’s not about how women are deficient. It’s about how men are deficient. Our social deficiencies, lack of perspective, or whatever you want to cal it, it what enables us to study one species of dragonfly for twenty years, or sit in front of a computer for a hundred hours a week writing code. This is not the behavior of a well-balanced and healthy person, but it can obviously lead to great advances in synthetic fibers. Or whatever.”

“But you said that you yourself were not very focused.”

Compared to other men in my family, that’s true. So, I know a little about astronomy, a lot about computers, a little about business, and I have, f I may say so, a slightly higher level of social functioning than the others. Or maybe it’s not even functioning, just an acute awareness of when I’m not functioning, so that I at least know when to feel embarrassed.”

Amy laughs. “You’re definately good at that. It seems like you sort of lurch from one moment of feeling embarrassed to the enxt.”

Randy gets embarrassed.

“It’s fun to watch,” Amy says encouragingly. “It speaks well of you.”

“What I’m saying is that this does set me apart. One of the most frightening things about your true nerd, for many people, is not that he’s spcially inept - because everybody’s been there - but rather his complete lack of embarrassmennt about it.”

“Which is still kind of pathetic.”

“It was pathetic when they were in high school,” Randy says. “Now it’s something else. Something very different from pathetic.”

“What, then?”

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