Jan. 9: Nerds-to Rule them All

GabeAmerican History(BR), Bell Ringers

Jan. 9 is World Nerd Day.

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have placed an ever-higher premium on intelligence. But it was not always and everywhere that way. In the Killing Fields of Cambodia during the 1970s, the communist Khmer Rouge government sought to destroy intellectuals – professors or those who spoke a foreign language, for instance. Even looking smart put you at risk – such as for wearing glasses!

The theory that society could be changed through genetic manipulation (often vast slaughter) was given “scientific” credence through a theory called Social Darwinism, developed in the 19th Century. Cambodia is just one place where it has been applied in practice.

While intellectuals have never been as valued in the U.S. as in many other regions, nerds have a special place in our history. Think, for instance, about the role of journalists in the Wild West, or in American cities. Or think about the privileged place in our history for inventors, such as Thomas Edison, or “smart” entrepreneurs, such as Billy Beane of Moneyball fame!

The early years after the civil war were times of great invention, where the future “robber barons” were developing their inventions, methods, or processes which made them fabulously wealthy, and which changed America, and the world.

  1. How are nerds treated in your school? Are they looked up to? Or are they ostracized? How might this be a form of Social Darwinism (perhaps in reverse!)?
  2. What role do you think genius has played in the creation of our society today? Which genius do you think had the biggest impact? Why?
  3. Why do you think “hipster” fashion mimics some of the features of the “nerd” look from earlier times? Are we seeing a revenge of the nerds?


Carradine, Robert, performer.  Lewis Skolnick: Revenge of the Nerds.  Directed by Jeff Kanew, 20th Century Fox, 1984