The New Witch Hunts

In April 1999, a couple of psychopathic teenagers in Littleton, Colorado, went to school and killed 13 of their schoolmates before killing themselves. As a kneejerk reaction, schools all over the US participated in what Jon Katz of dubbed "geek profiling," the persecution of those intelligent outsiders that are present in every school. This was my contribution to the flood of email that hit Mr. Katz's emailbox. Note that I most assuredly DO NOT identify teen psychopaths with guns as "misguided" or "misunderstood." They are responsible for their actions like any other human being,

Dear Mr. Katz:

I, like so many of your respondents, was a nerd in high school, subject to a constant barrage of peer abuse. Fortunately, the most physical it ever got was a snowball to the face which broke my glasses, but the verbal sexual terrorism I went through was of a variety for which, had it happened to me in an office as an adult woman, I could easily press charges.

How did I survive those years? I cried every night for a long time on my father's shoulder that I didn't have any friends. My mother fought tooth and nail for me every time she saw something that she could do (which is how it came to pass that the thrower of the snowball paid for my new glasses himself, out of his weekly allowance). My parents motivated my schoolwork, enforced my high achievement, and defended me from underachieving teachers and stupid administrators (of which there were and are, sadly, many). When I wasn't being challenged by my work, they pushed, pulled, and shoved until I was put into a better academic situation.

There were the other nerds, the girls and boys too intelligent and unathletic to be swept up in the popular crowds.

There were books and roleplaying games, which saved my sanity.

Despite all this, I was depressive. I was suicidal. I developed an eating disorder. I know from experience that the best home life in the world can't make up for the damage done on a daily basis by one's peers when you're an outcast. My parents did the absolute best they could, and their best was saintlike compared to the vast majority of people's parents. They still couldn't save me from the shattered self-image that took me into an abusive relationship that stretched from my last year of college to only a few years ago.

Why don't most of us go postal, like the kids in Littleton? Well, why don't most mundanes turn into rapists and murderers, like so many of their peers? Because the vast majority of people, for all our little flaws and foibles, are not sociopaths. Unfortunately, the sociopaths that stick out in the glare of the media's light are incredibly vicious, frightfully intelligent, or both.

People hate and fear that which is different, because it might threaten their security. We are a minority; vocal, erudite, but still a minority, and minorities are, historically, the perfect scapegoats. For anything.

Children are being persecuted and abused by a fascist educational system that claims to have their best interests at heart. They are being bullied, by ignorant peers and adults alike, into line with the monoculture that epitomizes this country as the twentieth century draws to a close.

The best and only solution to the problem is educating the educators. Real information, not media hype, is the only thing that can remove the layers of mystique that have veiled our subculture -- and all its related subcultures -- for so long. And we can't keep it isolated to our medium, the Internet. The people perpetrating this abuse are not people who cruise the 'Net nightly; in fact, they are people steeped in technophobia. We have to take this information into their arenas, their offices, their homes, their faces.

In doing so, we risk mainstreaming ourselves, yes, and most of us have grown to a point where we revel in our strangeness. But what can we accomplish? We can save the kids the hell we went through. We can give them a world that accepts their strangeness, and lets them revel in it without taking them to task for it.