Miss Manners and playing the victim

By skepticlawyer

Since we no longer live in an age defined by Debrett’s, etiquette is turning into something of a minefield: it is difficult, even impossible, to work out exactly what one should do in many situations. This seems to apply particularly to matters of romance, which perhaps accounts for at least part of the boom in online dating. However, I did think that one immutable universal in all versions of the dating game was that the refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer marked a man out, for all time, as ‘not a gentleman’.

I am not, here, referring to criminal offences like rape or sexual assault. That point is very important. A refusal to take no for an answer in those circumstances marks a man out as a criminal, a very different proposition. Criminals, in so far as it is possible to do so, belong in gaol, not on online dating sites or in pubs offering to buy you a drink or [insert social activity here].

What I am referring to is social etiquette, courtesy, manners and the like. It is possible to be an ill-mannered oaf and spend one’s entire life out of gaol. It may not, however, be possible to be an ill-mannered oaf and maintain gainful employment for a lengthy period, a long-term relationship or even decent social ties over time. This appears, to me, to be fairly basic: manners cost nothing, as my father used to say, and may smooth one’s path through life considerably. It is worth investing in them. If you don’t understand what amounts to good manners, then buy the Debrett’s guide linked above. I’m sure there are American and Australian equivalents.

Why a ‘Miss Manners post’, I hear you ask, when this blog has been sticking to its legal knitting of late?

I have watched, over the last few months, various online communities explode over what amounts to bad manners. One of those communities is one in which I have had long-term involvement. The other is one where I have only ever had observer status. At first I put it down to the nature of the internet, where people feel they are free to write things they would never be able to say in person (at least not without serious social, and perhaps even physical, consequences). However, I am starting to think that I’m engaging in a little ‘excusitis’ of my own, and I’m reminded of another piece of advice from my father: only a bad tradesman blames his tools. The behaviour, too, is starting to bleed out beyond the internet, into regular social activities.

There are various manifestations of these atrocious manners, but they seem (to me, at least) to boil down to an inability, on the part of certain men, to take ‘no’ for an answer. I think this is tied to participation in various ‘geek’ subcultures (both on-line and off-line, so while it may be convenient to blame the internet, blaming the internet is unfair). Participation in these varied subcultures is seen to give people something of a pass for rudeness. The justification proffered is that participation in the subculture resulted in bullying when the man in question was young, conferring victim status on him as an adult. And, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, wrapping oneself in victimhood is often a way to avoid having to take personal responsibility–for anything.

Of course, it remains true that the sine qua non of much dating and romance involves men making the first move. This is probably unfair, but as it has biological origins, I doubt it’s going to change very much anytime soon except at the margins. That means men are stuck with getting a lot of ‘noes’. Accepting a ‘no’ with courtesy has always been something I have admired in my male friends and colleagues, including men with whom I disagree on just about everything else. These men marked themselves out to me as gentlemen by accepting a rejection with good grace and moving on.

Until very, very recently, I had never met a man who handled a rejection–whether for cause or when no reason was offered–without courtesy. I have had my share of messy break-ups (haven’t we all?) but even the worst of them (it involved the male in question turning up to denounce me and all my works and all my ways on national television, as in, The 7.30 Report) never, ever presumed that he had a right to keep dating me after the relationship was over, as though my objections to him didn’t count. He moved on and found someone else.

However, of late I have started to encounter ‘geeky’ men (I’m sorry for this appallingly inexact term, but that’s all there is, alas) who demand–even when others find their geek-activity completely boredom-inducing or otherwise irritating–that women date them. This is like women who demand that their large dogs complete with muddy paws be allowed to take up residence on sundry boyfriends’ beds. It is rudeness, pure and simple. Just as the woman in question needs to find a dog-loving boyfriend who doesn’t mind muddy paw-prints, the geek needs to find a girlfriend who shares his interest in whatever geekiness happens to be his passion. And if he finds that men outnumber women in his particular geek environment, then I suggest he learn a little bit about the law of one price and modify his behaviour accordingly.

In an efficient market, all identical goods must have the same price; however, when there are fewer women than men in a given market (and assuming that most people in that market would like either sex or a relationship), then their relative scarcity presents women with an arbitrage opportunity. In financial markets, if the price of a security, commodity or asset is different in two different markets, then an arbitrageur will purchase the asset in the cheaper market and sell it where prices are higher. Women, when they have scarcity value in a given market, do not have to tolerate bad manners. Similarly, the male who shows that he is not ‘an identical good’ by exhibiting courtesy and charm will be able to make the most of the market in which he finds himself, always acknowledging however that arbitrage profits will persist until the price converges across markets (something that may never happen; it is often argued that perfect competition and efficient markets only exist in economics textbooks).

In other words, geek boys, smarten up your act. I mean, really smarten it up.

While doing the research for this post, I found that the largest gaming convention in North America has to remind attendees to wash daily and use deodorant in its program. I’ve seen a man who a woman rejected on the basis of his online gaming hobby tell her she ‘needed a good raping’. And there was worse than that in some places, which had to be closed down on the basis that they had reached the incitement stage. Incitement, in case you didn’t know, is a crime, and I’m afraid saying ‘it was only on the internet’ will not impress any judge of my acquaintance.

There’s another element to this ‘I’m-a-victim-so-y’all-hafta-feel-so-sorry-for-me’ dance, and that concerns an inability to draw meaningful distinctions. Lawyers have worked hard for many years to teach the general public how to draw a distinction between crimes and torts/delicts. As I’ve pointed out before, torts and delicts are civil wrongs, which means they are generally disputes between two private parties and are constructed in such a way as to permit the apportionment of liability (fault, or culpa). Both Roman law and common law have relatively few strict liability torts or delicts, and where they do, these tend to involve things that are ‘inherently dangerous’, like an explosives factory or water-filled mineshaft: Rylands v Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1. Scots law manages to do without strict liability entirely.

This means that while you have indeed been run down by a motorist, the fact that you were staggeringly drunk and weaving across the road at the same time may mean that you contributed to your own harm. Various factors come into play, of course: was the motorist speeding? Did the publican continue to serve you after you were visibly inebriated? How busy was the road? Was there a pedestrian crossing? And so on and so forth. The point is that a person may well be a victim, but it is sometimes entirely appropriate to ask whether that victim contributed to his or her own loss. This is known as contributory negligence, or (in attenuated form), comparative negligence.

By contrast, when it comes to crime, then no matter how stupid the victim was, no matter how much he or she contributed to his or her own loss, the state must punish the offender without any discount based on the victim’s behaviour (there may be discounts for other reasons, but that is not relevant here). This was the common sense of the Roman jurists 2000 years ago when it came to rape, and is something that Anglophone sexual assault law has developed both on its own account and as a result of Roman influence, as I discussed in my post on the DSK case. That is why the Crown prosecutes crimes, not private individuals: we all have an interest in preventing crime, while only victims and insurance companies have an interest in preventing torts/delicts.

In other words, there are relatively confined circumstances when an inquiry into the victim’s behaviour must be ruled out of court ab initio, as it were. Most of the time, an exploration of why an individual is a victim (of a chronic inability to get a date, say) is an interesting and illuminating exercise.

Just on that last issue, before writing this post, I had a chat with my partner about some of the things I planned to discuss. He made the very good point that–when it comes to ‘geek’ cultures and the social ineptitude often on display therein–there is a problem of causation involved. Are many geeks socially inept and ill-mannered first, so they bury themselves deep in subcultures where obsessiveness and ineptitude are rewarded, or does the participation in obsessive subcultures facilitate the (later) development of social ineptitude?

My suspicion is that the social isolation antedates the subculture participation, and may indeed have a biological basis in some of the conditions on the autistic spectrum, but I’m a lawyer, not a neurologist, and I really don’t know. I wonder, too, at the extent to which some manifestations of ‘geekiness’ represent an inability to progress beyond emotional adolescence; one account of a man in his mid-twenties still obsessed with Pokémon along with ten-year-olds really disturbed me. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m quite happy to make criticisms of taste based on what I think are fairly objective standards of excellence. I do this not only because I have considerable expertise in cultural pursuits, but also because I think that a given individual’s cultural pursuits and political beliefs are separable, and that heeding the former at the expense of the latter is deeply patronising, as I argue here.

I’m curious to learn more,  because if nothing else, the recent exercises in geekish manners blindness–both online and off–show that at least some victims are contributing substantially to their own losses. And because we as a culture valorize victimhood, they are being allowed to argue that they don’t have to change their behaviour.

As someone else once remarked–in an entirely different context–‘it’s a funny old world’.

[Note: This post was inspired by this lengthy thread on a blog that I don’t typically read; it would not normally be the sort of commentary with which I have a great deal of sympathy. However, the quality of the discussion is both excellent and–particularly in the comments–psychologically very revealing.]

[UPDATE: I have discovered that the non-washing, non-deodorant problem is far more widespread than I feared, as PZ Myers points out in his commentary on this post. If what he says is true–and I don’t doubt him for a moment–then prisoners are better turned out than some of the people he describes. I saw a goodly bunch of them on Monday, in point of fact, just for recent confirmation].


  1. Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    If I could add something to the interesting points made by RipleyP, it would be about the impact of political correctness. The attention that sexual harassment has gotten has made any sort of romantic or sexual advance towards anyone within the workplace (or really any social situation not related to such activities) seem totally out of the question, particularly to those who already find such advances daunting. Even among many of those I know who are in relationships with people they met at work, there’s often an acknowledgement they were doing something wrong (or at least unwise). This attitude has blocked off a significant portion of the people we do get to meet in day to day life, meaning we have to resort to rather artificial means of meeting romantic prospects such as going out to clubs or on-line dating sites.

    I think it also plays into some of the frustration that produces the conflicts referred to in the original post, and is something I’ve seen discussed quite a bit in certain forums. Even those who do attempt to read and follow lots of advice, end up encountering that much contradictory and judgemental content that the end impression is there’s actually an awful lot of truth behind this. If politeness is going to be perceived, interpreted or responded to as if it were impoliteness, then it does raise the question of “Why bother?”.


    There is also a larger problem of relativising when it comes to knowledge or achievement.

    It’s interesting that you use the word ‘achievement’ there. One of the elements that has become almost standard in modern computer games is a large set of ‘achievements’ the player can gain through playing the game in certain ways (many of which are only achievable through sheer obsession). I think a lot of modern geek culture (computer games, card games, etc) actively seeks out to exploit a certain psychology in its target audience, by providing positive feedback and social status to players who become more and more involved in the game. I imagine the merchandising and marketing of other forms of media attempts to do something similar. I wonder how much this is replacing the usual sources (social interaction, having useful skills, etc) of positive feedback and social status, resulting in a perception that such things are no longer important.

  2. Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Permalink


    Someone once tried to teach me to flirt. It apparently involved agreeing with what the guy said regardless of how stupid it was, and pandering to his ego. Naturally I decided that flirting was not for me after about five milliseconds.

    I find this amusing as one of the key pieces of flirting advice I received as a guy was to just talk to the girl and spin whatever crazy bullshit I could come up with. It certainly didn’t take long to figure out such methods weren’t for me either.

  3. Kirth Gersen
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Some of the issue may be one of perception, rather than actuality. Research shows that a taller, more attractive man can say or do things — and be perceived as “just kidding” or being “witty” — that would instantly brand a shorter, less attractive man as a “social basket case.” Case in point: when a tall, good-looking guy plays video games all day, it’s because he’s “easy-going” and “likes to take some time for himself to de-stress.” When an ugly guy does it, it’s because he “has no friends, and is into all kinds of geeky activities.” Same activity, same length of time, totally different perception.

  4. Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I actually know Jon Finkel personally, he’s a good friend of mine. Apart from being the ex-world champion of Magic: The Gathering, he also made millions as a member of the MIT blackjack team and from playing professional poker.

    He also has a lot more class than the woman who wrote the blog post smashing him for nothing except being a geek.

  5. Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    As an ex-MTG pro tour player, there aren’t that many girls who find Magic: The Gathering attractive.

    However there are a lot of girls who find multi-millionaire hedge fund managers attractive, so Jon will be fine.

    He actually doesn’t look very geeky at all when he shaves the beard. It would be a betrayal of trust to share facebook photos, but as a world famous MTG and Poker Player, there are plenty of pictures of Jon available on google image search to satisfy your curiosity.

  6. Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    PS on a related note, the picture of me in my gravatar was taken by a professional photographer as part of a promo shoot for a professional Magic: The Gathering tournament in Hong Kong, Circa 2000. I should probably update it since I’m 10 years older now, but I don’t know how.

  7. Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    There was also a book written about Jon a few years ago.


  8. CJ
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I primiarily came to respond to the quote that PZ posted. If I’m right in thinking that the gaming convention you are referring to is PAX, I have some input.

    I am female. I attended PAX.

    I encountered a few odd people here and there who obviously had not showered, changed clothes, etc. But the overwhelming majority of my fellow attendees were reasonably well-kept, odor-free, and not swarming with disease or committing gross social contract violations. The “reminder” in the program was meant to be taken sardonically: we all acknowledge that some convention-goers do not seem to be well advised in the hygiene department; the rest of us will tend to get a bit sweaty over the course of the day, and it can’t be helped. But really it’s more joke than literal advice.

    Are some gamers sexist? Absolutely, and I’ve encountered my fair share. But for the most part (I even overheard a security guard at the convention center remark about it) they are polite and respectful not only to women, but to everyone. PAX has made a lot of effort to keep the convention female-friendly despite the demographic it mostly caters to. Most notably they have a policy against “booth babes,” attractive women in skimpy costumes kept near or at the booth to draw more customers. If the booth hosts are good-looking, they must also be knowledgeable about the product they are advertising, and there is a skimpiness limit to the costumes. I even witnessed enforcement when booths violated this policy, and saw a public apology from PAX about it. Overall, I’d say the policy has been very successful in making the environment seem safe and friendly for women…at least the women who like video games.

    Civility: it exists. Even among nerds.

  9. Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    They both attract the same kind of people (i.e. nerds) because they are both games that are based around maths. There’s also the fact that when you’ve become used to playing cards for money as we did with Magic, making the leap to playing poker for money isn’t that big.

    A huge amount of professional poker players got their start from playing Magic: The Gathering. One of them, David Williams, finished 2nd in 2004 the World Series of Poker, winning $3.5 million.

    Poker was a popular pastime at professional magic tournaments. Even before internet poker. In fact, that’s where I learned to play Texas Holdem around 1998-2001. Previously I had only played 5-card draw with my parents.

    When the first online poker site launched in 1998, Magic players were lining up to deposit while everyone else sat around to see what happened.

  10. Posted September 10, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Makes sense, Yobbo. If you can figure out all those probabilities so fast, you’re home and hosed with poker. I rather enjoy watching those televised poker championships because of the psychology of it – trying to see if people have bluffed successfully.

  11. Movius
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “The problem with men is that they all…”, “If only women would …”, “Players of Enchanted hog wanderer VII are all…”

    It’s like nobody ever socialises with individuals outside of their demographic of choice anymore

  12. Posted September 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating details, Yobbo — and please don’t change your pic! I use a picture of a dog I not only no longer own but that has in all probability gone to the big dog kennel in the sky…

    But he was a cool dog, whose name, incidentally, was ‘Texas’, on the grounds that he was a long, long way from home.

  13. Posted September 11, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I was never a role-player/gamer, but I was role-player compatible, because a long-term housemate was seriously into it and I was cool with my house being gamer central.

    He hated “Magic: the Gathering”. He had jokes such as:
    “Magic: the Gathering, crack for role-players”

    Q: why is crack better than Magic: the Gathering?
    A: because crack will eventually kill you.

    (And I am not disclosing how out of date my gravatar pic is 😉 )

  14. KLar
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink


    When dismantling the privilege and entitled, self-congratulatory mentality of others, avoid statements like:

    I’m quite happy to make criticisms of taste based on what I think are fairly objective standards of excellence. I do this not only because I have considerable expertise in cultural pursuits…

    Unless that expertise transcends a blue ribbon for “year’s best paen to Australian folk-ways.”

  15. Posted September 11, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo, interesting to see the addiction image coming to the fore again. I know both LE and Yobbo have had a meaningful encounter with the WoW time-sink (and have written about it here and elsewhere), while I struggle to exhibit any long-term loyalty to things like tv series or even books by the same author (this after I’ve read one that I think is good, which means I should read another; most other people do).

  16. Posted September 11, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Gaming can be an addiction indeed: friends have suffered the WoW time-sink. (My experience of WoW is mainly limited to WoW porn–remembering that the internet is for porn.) A friend of a friend basically reduced his life to WoW. There are many positive reinforcements involved, after all.

  17. Posted September 11, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    For those interested, my main source of WoW porn is here (not worksafe).

  18. Dude
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve never been here before and I’m also not sober (though I shan’t say what on), but I staggered over here from Pharyngula.

    All of these things bother me for various reasons, notably that I’m in somewhat of an existential crisis regardless… and then these posts pop out at me from the blog I go to in order to get some semblance of peace and/or amusement from watching my religious counterparts flail terribly at all possible opportunities.

    For a profound lack of ways to describe how I feel at the moment… see also: confused.

    Last night, I had a ‘threesome’ with two older women. I’m 21 and they’re 27 and 29, respectively. It was a thrilling time, for certain, but I never really progressed towards overtly sexual things. It was more about … kink … than sex-related things. Prior to this, I’d had sex four times between two different girls, one which traveled 800 miles to stay with me for an off-week.

    This morning, I was asked if I had sexual intimacy issues. Of course I had been considering that all night anyways – from the moment I started lightly theorizing on the nature of religious repression of sexual/free thought.

    The bizarre part isn’t merely my apathy during the whole thing, but the apathy thereafter. Tonight, I could have been in the same place, doing the same thing. I should have several opportunities during the coming weeks. Yet… I’m uninterested.

    To be sure, I spent a long time as the fabled ‘nice guy’, that one who’s too nice trying to ‘get pussy’ or what have you and failing miserably, growing in bitterness the whole time… actually, ’emotional pussy’, we’ll say, as I was never really too interested in just casual sex. So… rejections built up, and I’m still bitter, and still lonely…

    …but I obviously do have the capacity to get people interested (in various ways).

    I was one of the referenced ‘geeks’, at one point. Anime, action figures, trading cards, videogames, countless amounts of money spent on shit that was absolutely worthless and useless (I have nothing to show for buying Dragonball GT on VHS – that series sucked and who the hell uses a VHS now, only eight years on?) during my teenage years. I caught the metal disease and turned into a metalhead (which I still am, by the way) but could never have been suspected for the part (I don’t dress very ‘metal’), and ended up detesting anime by the time I made it to college in fall ’09.

    The first two semesters I spent at college were made of both isolation based behaviorisms, and an ever increasing thought that I could very well be a ghost who didn’t really exist to anyone anymore.

    That summer, antidepressants saved me from myself, sort of. I’ll just throw it out there that I was still learning during fall ’10, and I’ve learned pretty well. Not so many videogames anymore, now I do a lot of intoxicating substances (or a couple, anyways), play a lot of guitar, talk a lot, play comedian frequently, daydream continually, and just try to be myself.

    There are conflicts and I do lapse into social ineptitude, but it’s always when I literally have nothing to lose from situations. I mean that in the best way possible. I wouldn’t have been invited for a second round with two women that are known for being ‘difficult’ if I were as socially inept as the ‘gamers’ they consider their (permanently virginal) friends.

    If it weren’t for my profound lack of self-anything, I would probably be successful with relationships (I’ve never been in anything but an internet relationship, sexcapades aside)… I have opportunities now. I know there are people who want me. I can count at least three for sure – two of them being what I consider ‘good’ options – and there’s at least one who could be interested.

    Women think I’m funny, attractive, charming, witty, knowledgable, interesting, chill, and whatever else. I’m lonely. I hate being alone. Why am I not moving in? I’m not afraid to. I’m finally wanted because I’ve long been on a path of self-improvement, but now I’m totally apathetic to everyone. I do still desire a relationship, but I’m apathetic about actually acting on it.

    I don’t get it. I shouldn’t be like this.

    Don’t forget about people like me. Those of us who have finally gotten over social ineptitude in the public (real life) sphere, those of us who are new people but don’t feel like it. I know I’m different, but the bitterness and apathy I developed over the long period of time are just… eating at me tonight.

    [EDIT BY ADMIN: we wouldn’t normally let this through, on the grounds that it’s unfair to expose vulnerability in quite this way, however this comment seems genuine; so if you choose to response to ‘Dude’, please be gentle–SL].

  19. RipleyP
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    @Kirth post 50, I do like your observation on perception rather than reality.

    I am not overly well positioned in the market re looks so have had to rely on wit and carefully chosen words. I was always jealous of those more socially positioned than I for the perceived ease they experienced.

    I have to wonder if maybe my shade of green may influence this perception. Something for me to think about though and that is always a happy thing, thank you.

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  1. By Sharing the love « The Lady Garden on September 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

    […] Skeptic Lawyer on dating geeks In an efficient market, all identical goods must have the same price; however, when there are fewer women than men in a given market (and assuming that most people in that market would like either sex or a relationship), then their relative scarcity presents women with an arbitrage opportunity. […]

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