Wheaton’s Law

There are many immutable laws in the universes:  Newton’s Laws, Murphy’s Law, etc. In geek culture there is one law that stands above all others, Wheaton’s Law. For those who are unfamiliar with Wheaton’s Law, it’s rather simple: “don’t be a dick.” While Wil Wheaton may have expressed this in the most succinct way possible, this is an ages old idea that we geeks need to do a much better job of embracing.

Yup, this guy.

Yup, this guy.

Geeks have an often well deserved reputation for being rather harsh toward one another. This probably comes from the fact that we are passionate people. We love and are protective of the things that we are interested in. When someone makes changes to them or insults them, the immediate, gut reaction often involves aggravated outbursts that may or may not involve creative use of colorful adjectives and less than flattering comments about someone’s mother. While I can sympathize with these feelings, I also realize that they are anything but helpful. Every video rant on YouTube does considerable harm to both to its subjects, and the larger geek community.

The beauty of Wheaton’s Law is its simplicity. Don’t be a dick is a universally understood phrase not just in geek culture, but also in much of society as a whole. Whether it is used in a friendly game of flag football or playing Call of Duty over Xbox Live, reminding a player to not be a dick is pointing out that he is being overly aggressive and out of line.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea by any means. Two thousand years ago the Bible told us, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This idea is so widely accepted that people universally refer to it as The Golden Rule. There have been plenty of other takes on this concept, including Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, with its admonition to “be excellent to each other.” Since this idea is already so pervasive, it is almost incomprehensible to me that geeks don’t do their best to abide by it.

Now to be sure, there are more people who are genuinely nice to each other than there are people who aren’t, but the response to those who choose to not be courteous is equally important. Obviously responding in kind only perpetuates the behavior. I think the best way to go about it is to either respond to angry jerks kindly and rationally, or to just ignore them. Often times ugly, inflammatory posts and videos are made simply to draw attention to the creator (the ubiquitous troll). This in and of itself is kind of a dick move. Attention seekers as a general rule are far less concerned about the content and quality of their product and more interested in putting on a cheap spectacle to attract viewers. It doesn’t required being a dick to lodge a legitimate complaint on a blog or in a video. In fact, being a jerk simply sidetracks the conversation.

Things are truly getting better in the geek community, though, I believe. Even as geeks beat up on each other less, we are also finding more public acceptance. Some of this stems from geeky things becoming more pervasive in society as a whole, but it also has to do with people, geek and otherwise, embracing Wheaton’s Law. The behavior that Wheaton’s Law describes is becoming more and more unacceptable and that’s a good thing. The better we treat one another, the better others will treat us.

One of the things Therefore I Geek has prided itself on is attempting to stay positive about those topics we choose to discuss. We don’t pull punches, but at the same time, we don’t go out of our way to piss people off or break Wheaton’s Law. There are enough other people in the world who are dismissive of geeks and the things we love that we don’t need to add our own internal negativity to their condemnation.

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Filed under Andrew Hales, Geek Life

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