Turing Monkeywrench

This is an essay I began a very long time ago. It still rambles, but I wil get around to printing it out and revising it. I’d like to take the language a notch down, and address it to normal people, but at the same time, normal people don’t really read things like this, so maybe it’s not worth losing the language to reach an unreachable audience. I think it may count as preaching to the converted, but sometimes that’s all one can do… leave a footprint behind to later generations so they know there were people in the past who were not outright mad. In any case, it’s about Nerds, tolerance of difference, and contemporary American politics.

Any comments offered would be helpful for later revisions of this post, which are necessary because, as I say, it meanders. It only really gets strong later, I think. But I wanted to post it today, on the anniversary of the event that sent the American Republicans down the road they’re still on today, as dividers, exilers, hate-mongers, and sowers of intolerance.

These days, with the American political spectrum divided basically down the middle, the smallest issues seem to have taken on crucial importance. Whether or not the state recognizes gay households the way it does straight households (even those lived out of wedlock) seems to have been an important factor in the recent (as of a year ago) elections which put Bush back at the helm of the United States.

I’ve had the argument dozens of times with people who usually provide the same support for their side of things. It usually goes this way: gay marriage is bad, it’s evil in the eyes of God, it’s not something they believe in, it harms the sanctity of the institution of marriage, and so forth.

Of course, you can remind them that America is not a theocracy, and was never set up to be one. You can remind them that in this they have far more in common with Islamic fundamentalists than they ought to feel comfortable with. You can even argue that America is, as a whole, protected from theocratic rule by the very same religious freedoms that allow them to practice their choice (or, their parents’ choice) of sect and faith. Ask them, “Would you like to be forced to convert to Scientiology when they buy themselves a majority? Or what about when the Mormons take over?”

Some people will listen to you, of course, and some people might even try to respond to these reasoned arguments. As well they should: they’re observations about how North American society is supposed to function, how democracy is supposed to work, and about philosophical principles of freedom and justice.

But most people respond with what they believe is their understanding of universal truth. For someone like that, the will of God trumps our frail secular systems of justice and equity. There is no equity for the sinners. (Never mind that it was taught by Jesus that all people are sinners and that none is so free from sin that he ought to feel comfortable casting the first stone.)

You’ll never get through to these people if you try to get them to understand that their understanding of the Bible is subjective, or selective. You can point out there are more far more explicit arguments against the wearing of blended fabrics or of mixing milk and meats in a single meal than there are about homosexuality. You can point out the crucial point of Jesus’ teaching, which was that it superceded the Old Testament and boiled down morality to loving one another, and loving God, and meanwhile castigated moral legalism and Pharisaical politicking… but very few people will do more than silence their criticisms momentarily.

Christianity has been a powerful organizer of people. It’s been a powerful tool of the civil rights movement, as well, used by Martin Luther King Jr. and many other black rights acitivists to great effect. Christianity has been a great organizer of ideology, and a powerful force for mobilizing people against what they believe is wrong.

Christianity has not been so much of a powerful force in making people change themselves. It’s much easier to criticize other people than to gaze at oneself honestly. It’s easier to crusade against gay marriage than to ask oneself why one fixates on the apparent sins of others instead of worrying about their own behaviour. From the Pauline Epistles to the writings of C.S. Lewis, the warnings are clear everywhere that people are much happier pointing fingers at others than sorting out their own cruelties, hatreds, and selfishnesses.

Don’t expect Christianity to suddenly make Christians more humble, more self-critical. Don’t expect it to start working against bigotry on its own. The Christians in India had to be shamed by nonviolent resistance before they would surrender their imperial holdings. The Christians in America had to be shamed dreadfully before they would allow the law of the land (and its enforcers) to recognize blacks as equal citizens of America. Plenty of well-meaning Christians even worked against womens’ suffrage and against the various feminist movements that have come and gone in the last few centuries.

Christianity cannot, at this point, be expected to do anything good for gays, however. Unlike with race, with sex, with political power, this bigotry is too deep-seated, too irrational, and too naturalized into the culture for Christianty to do much good for it. Christians may be shamed for many of their hatreds, pushed so hard that they cannot help but reassess most of their bigotries, but I believe that their hatred for gays cannot be helped by any Christian group.

The bigots shall have to be shamed by other means.

Other Means

It’s quite surprising to note how quickly American moralists are willing to give up all kinds of basic rights and democratic freedoms. As one of my friends astutely put it a few nights ago (and yes, this is a paraphrase),

The idea of what government is, and ought to be, and can be, changed a lot in the last forty or fifty years. And the people in the White House now are dismantling all that, and burying it, forever. They’re undoing it all, going back to just after the war. They want us to forget all of that. Forever.

So Presidential candidates were refusing to allow people holding potentially opposing opinions attend their rallies and appearances. So the incumbent was demanding Loyalty Oaths from American citizens—when, I thought, citizens were supposed to be loyal to America, not to a particular president. So the debates were heavily mediated. So the dirty politicking and smear campaigns. So the outright lies to the ignorant public, and the problems with all the voting machines, and so on.

As long as it’s the people who are against gays and abortion, that’s alright. As long as it’s not the damned bleeding-heart liberals—liberals being the people who fought for civil rights (even when, yes, it was the Republican party that was more liberal and the Democrats were the right-wingers). Even though it’s the Republicans who are giving tax breaks to the rich and screwing most of the people who voted them in. Even though, rhetoric aside, it was the Republicans who lied about the war, went in without a plan, have spent more money than anyone before them on a ramshackle and increasingly fascist-looking security bureau… all for what?

Well, but the Red team is winning. It’s all about which Team is winning, don’t you know?

So let’s think about teams and winning. What was the most important “team” victory of the 20th Century?

No, not any sporting event. Not any election campaign, not the civil rights movement. The most profound “team” victory in the 20th century was when the Allies defeated the Axis at the close of the Second World War.

If the Allies had failed, the world would have been an utterly different place, a thought so horrifying that few can contemplate the idea without a sense of dread. Just imagine it: Nazi offices in New York, in Toronto. Italian fascists running the fashion business.

No Jews in the world (except a few isolated individuals or pockets of people living in hiding). No gypsies. No homosexuals. No political dissidents, no “perverted” artists. Most of Asia under brutal Japanese rule. Africa and India probably used as toxic waste dumping grounds. Central Asia mostly dead. Eugenics programs weeding out the dark-skinned and dark-haired. Preferential hiring practices benefitting Aryans.

That was what the Allies were fighting against. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that bad, of course. Maybe. But if you know anything about Auschwitz, Birkenau, and the other camps, and think about the fact that people actually built them and kept them running, pretty much out of ideological willingness and devotion to the cause, you’ll see the world could very easily have been turned into a living hell.

But the Allies won, thank God. The boys that were sent to die, eventually brought us the victory. This is the story of World War II: young men being sacrificed in tremendous, horrific numbers to hold off and finally destroy the horrifying war machine of the Axis.

Isn’t it?

A Spook Is Never Thanked Enough

It would be untoward to say that those boys in the trenches, the millions of men (and women) who lost their lives in the war, did so unnecessarily. Of course their sacrifices were important; when they held lines against the Axis, they did something very real, and crucial, and something that needs to be remembered and respected.

Something they deserved to be thanked for.

But one thing many people don’t realize is just how important spooks have been in war. By spooks, I don’t mean the derogatory term for black people, of course. I mean information and intelligence officers. Spies, operatives, geeks, techno-wonks, consultants.

These are the kinds of people who tip the balance between superpowers or super-alliances, and effectively win and lose wars for us. Geeks holed up in back rooms of secret complexes, building strange machines that can count and apparently break code a hundred, or thousand, or million times faster than a human could. Weirdoes who know fifteen languages. Oddballs who know how to build machines that keep information secret and safe.

One book that really opened up this part of history to me was Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. I know it wasn’t written as a history book, but it really does, in a fictionalized way, tell the secret history of the War. We know the stories of the boys in the trenches; we’ve seen them recounted in movies, heard interviews, read endlessly about this and that Theater of War. But how often does someone bring up someone like Alan Turing?

Ah yes, Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, the master cryptanalyst; the man who was destroyed by a government that didn’t know how to respect a genius.

Wikipedia sums up his career:

Alan Mathison Turing (June 23, 1912 – June 7, 1954) was a British mathematician, logician, cryptographer, and is often considered a father of modern computer science. With the Turing Test, he made a significant and characteristically provocative contribution to the debate regarding artificial consciousness: whether it will ever be possible to say that a machine is conscious and can think. He provided an influential formalisation of the concept of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, formulating the now widely accepted “Turing” version of the Church-Turing thesis, namely that any practical computing model has either the equivalent or a subset of the capabilities of a Turing machine.

During World War II, Turing worked at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers and became head of the section responsible for German Naval cryptanalysis (Hut 8). He designed the bombe, an electromechanical machine which could find settings for the Enigma machine.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, creating one of the first designs for a stored program computer, although it was never actually built. In 1947 he moved to the University of Manchester to work, largely on software, on the Manchester Mark I then emerging as one of the world’s earliest true computers.

It is worth noting that Turing’s time at Bletchley Park was taken up, basically, finding ways of having computers break apart and decode the Enigma-encoded messages of the German army, navy, and air force. Enigma was a horror of a code-machine, and the messages that were decoded by Bletchley Park were crucial in terms of Allied information. They knew when supplies were being moved, where bombing raids were scheduled; they had access to a wealth of information—so much that they had to conceal through inaction the fact that they actually had that much information. It was because of the team working under Turing’s leadership and direction that this information was available to the Allied forces at all.

Which makes Turing’s death all the more tragic. Again, from Wikipedia:

In 1952, Turing was convicted of acts of gross indecency because of his homosexuality. He was placed on probation and required to undergo hormone therapy… Turing died in 1954; the inquest found that he had committed suicide after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Now, surely I am not arguing that Turing’s homosexuality and his genius in mathmatics and computer were linked, am I? Well, no, not directly linked. But you have to understand that Turing was, first and foremost, a Nerd.


Now, here’s the thing. Nerds are often very poorly adjusted to social life. They don’t fit in. They do weird things. They develop unusual obsessions. Nerds often admit this themselves, and go to great lengths to explain why it is so, as Paul Graham does here. Why? Is Graham right in his argument that basically, nerds have better things to do with their minds?

There is probably some truth to that, of course. But the whole conception of “weird”, “strange”, “unusual”, or “odd” habits and interests is something that warrants analysis. When we go to a foreign country and find people are adamant in their refusal to eat some thing that we consider quite edible and delicious to boot, we don’t immediately declare them “weirdoes” or “freaks”, do we? After all, it is normative in their society not to eat this or that thing; since so many people refuse it, it’s not weird at all, but normal. It seems strange to us, but for them, it’s normal.

Now, map that back to the Nerd. The only difference between a Nerd’s unusual preferences, interests, and fixations is that they stand unsupported by a culture of foreigners. A Nerd dares to differ alone, if daring even has anything to do with it. The Nerd is idiosyncratic in a way that it just seems most people never even feel an urge to be. And so the rhetoric of weird, unusual, and strange arises. Yet I argue that Nerds are no more objectively weird that foreigners, and I would further argue that their obsessions, their interests, their lifestyles aren’t objectively weird either.

Now, the fact that Richard Feynman was crazy about bongo-drumming, smoked pot, and had a fascination with the country of Tuva and its capital, Kyzyl, does not take away from his outright genius as a physicist. The man was a giant, and no matter how many nudie bars he went to, he remained one. But look at what he advised young scientists starting out in their profession:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

It could very easily be argued that, like in his professional life, Feynman operated this way in his personal life, too.

This is the thing about nerds; they usually just don’t have the time and patience to pretend that the boring, stupid shit that fills up most peoples’ lives interests them in the slightest. Nerds are interested in things that surprise them, and if you’ve been around people a lot, you’ll see that beyond a certain point of growing up, nothing much surprises you anymore. There’s a point you reach where someone’s behaviour can move them from one pigeonhole slot to another, and then you even grow up beyond that and reach a place where whatever wonderful or depraved things people do don’t even incite you to categorize anymore. Human behaviour is just so quaint, so predictable, so… so boring.

So-and-so cheated on his girlfriend? Yeah, okay. She jumped off a bridge? That was stupid. So-and-so embezzled millions? Ha, you mean you’re surprised?

Nerds acquire a kind of been-there, done-that relation to the standard behaviour around them very quickly; not only the actions themselves, but also the standard reactions. When everyone gasps in astonishment, the nerd is shaking his or her head and saying, “Of course the minister’s daughter is pregnant, she’s been sleeping with the altar boy for three years now!” That’s not to say nerds are amoral, or immoral, but their moral codes are usually a little more sophisticated, for better or worse. Whether they want money or not, they see capitalism for what it is; not a shining bastion of good, but a way of extracting profit from other human beings via control of their labour. They see religion as an inherited set of values that most people seem, inexplicably, uninterested in questioning. They understand nationalism in a way that few of their countrymen do.

Not to make the nerd a kind of Uberman, or anything. The nerd is not perfect. The nerd can fall prey to greed, can get sidetracked by useless things—Newton and Kepler are major examples—but the thing is, Nerd stands in relation to society in a different way that others do. And Nerd stands in relation to the world in a different way than others do.

And I suspect the major difference is at the level of fundamental response. A normal person tends to look at the world with an assertive mindset. If there are grey clouds on the horizon, the Normal asserts to himself or herself, “Ah, it’s going to rain today.” If a web page installation breaks down, the Normal tends to fiddle a little and then assert, “Yup, the website’s broken. I’ll have to get someone to fix it.” Now, that’s not to say that the Normal is unable ot assuming an inquisitive stance; it’s just that the Normal tends to stand in inquisitive relation mainly with other people. The Normal calls up tech support, explains the problem, and asks “What’s wrong with it? Can you fix it? Or how can I fix it?”

The Nerd differs. The Nerd looks at the gathering clouds and acknowledges that of course it will rain, but more foremost is, “When will it rain?” or “Why will it rain today?” or “Why does it seem that it rains here every third day? Is there some kind of pattern to this?” The Nerd calls tech support and explains in detail what he or she has figured out about the problem, and asks, “Does that sound like a sensible explanation?” Which means that before calling tech support, the Nerd engaged with the thing itself in a kind of implicitly inquisitive mode: “If I adjust this line of code, will it reset that variable? Will that fix my bungled page?”

The thing is, the Nerd’s brand of inquisitive stance is not the same as the Normal’s. The Normal asks another person—an authority-of-the-moment, you might say—a question that he or she believe has a very definite and obtainable answer. The Nerd sometimes does this too, but more characteristic of his or her relation to the world is the inquisitive stance in which questions are posed to the thing itself… or, so it seems. In fact, the questions are posed to the Nerd’s self. “How can I tweak this web’s design?” “How is it that birds can fly and we can’t?” “How is it possible that it can rain only a few minutes after such a blue and sunshine-filled sky was overhead?” Some of the questions are readily answerable, but many of them take work and time to figure out. But all of them require a kind of honesty with the self.

A Nerd has a different kind of relationship to the Self from a Normal. It is a fundamentally honest, a fundamentally inquisitive, and a fundamentally tacitly-agnostic one. Normals, if you recall, tend to grasp for the declarative: “The sky is blue because God made it that way,” they say, and move on, satisfied. They don’t even stop to ask themselves, “Wait, do I know that’s true? How do I know that’s true? It still doesn’t explain the real question, which is in all events how the sky happens to be blue in the day time, grey on rainy days, and dark and starry at night. Ah, I wonder if anyone else has asked himself this?” And that’s leaving out the most important step in the Nerd’s thought process, which is to analyse the source of the suggested answer. “Why is the sky blue? Well, mother says that the sky is blue because God made it that way. Does Mummy know? I don’t know, but Mummy seems to answer an awful lot of questions using this God fellow, and I’ve never seen Him about. Maybe there’s some other, more tangible answer that Mummy doesn’t know?” And then it dawns on the Nerd that Mummy is not an authority, that anyone who is spinning off blithe and easy answers may not have asked himself or herself, “But how do I know this answer is correct?” as a Nerd so reflexively does.

[Edit:This is not to imply that no religious people are Nerds, nor that all Nerds are atheists. It’s just that Nerds tend not to be willing to accept the simple answers offered to them, most of whic, among human beings, are watered-down supposedly religion-based answers. There have been radical thinkers and iconoclasts in the theistic tradition, as any Nerd religionist would point out; Luther, for example, believed in a God, but it just wasn’t quite the God that the Catholic Church was (literally) selling, nor even a God on the terms that most people bothered to believe in. A similar point could, I imagine, be made of Kierkegaard’s thinking and religion. Or, for that matter, that of the man they held to have been the Messiah. No hardline conformist was he.]

Time passes, and since the Nerd is a product of a literate, library-using culture (which includes an internet-using culture, now), the Nerd learns very early in life that other people have posed to themselves many of the same kinds of questions that Nerds pose to themselves. The Nerd begins to realize that there is a repository of knowledge out there, and discovers that this repository is called Knowledge. And the striking thing about it is that it is not absolute, not full of final answers, but full of provisional answers, unexplained observations, a myriad of pleasures and truly surprising ideas unseen among one’s fellows, and—most important of all—reams and reams of more questions.

And this, you see, is the society that proves the Nerd is not weird. The Nerd naturally finds his or her fellow-Nerds distributed across human history, in the books they left behind, the questions they bequeathed to any of their kind who would listen. The Nerd looks about the library and sees a multitude of spiritual kin, all of them speaking aloud what are, essentially, conversations with themselves—of a kind that most people never seem to have, and are perhaps incapable of having—and finally knows he or she is not at all weird, but finally home, at his or her true home, among the Inquisitives.

And yet, the Nerd must live in society. And so they do.


Camus was a great Nerd, a ponderer of ultimately gigantic, unanswerable questions. He asked questions most of us have never bothered to think up, let alone ask. And it’s not an accident that Camus was fascinated with the idea of Sisyphus endlessly engaged in a hopeless task of rolling a rock uphill. For Camus was describing the life of any thinking person. Camus was describing the life of the Nerd.

Nerds have always been among us. They have written books, taught in the street, but they have also done things of great practical value. They have built aqueducts and sewage systems. They have figured out for the rest of us how to make bridges, and how to use the structure of a wheel to good purpose. Levers, pulleys, braces… these are the invention of Neolithic nerds. You didn’t imagine that the whole tribe thought these things up, did you? No, Nerds have ever been our engineers, our architects, our strategists in hunting and in fending off our foes. Perhaps warriors got all the credit and the pretty cavegirls, but without the Nerds we would never have come as far as we have, or perhaps even survived as long as we thus far have done. If you want the primal Nerd Myth, it’s the Myth of Prometheus. The man stole fire from the gods—we might as well say, from nature—and tamed it. The Greeks had a myth about the invention of fire, man. Those people knew how to celebrate their Nerds. (Well, except when they just killed them off.)

Most societies have had a place for these people, these oddities who give them so much wonder and neat stuff. They have often been celebrated, feted, rewarded with patronages and given space to work. They have been given space.

Imagine what would have happened if Turing had lived. Imagine what would have happened if Turing had been given space to be himself, even if it did mean having consenting relationships with other men (why this would ever be objectionable is beyond me, but it seems it was unquestionable then for the majority of people).

Now, imagine all the other Nerds out there. Not just the homosexual Turings and Derridas, but the porno-addicted Feynmans, the slightly-mad Teslas, the dream-drunken Keplers and the occult-fascinated Newtons. Think of all that these oddballs have given you: the Morses, the Meuccis, the Franklins and Westinghouses and Bells. The nuts who spent hours and hours gazing through microscopes to bring you… modern vaccines. The slightly mad fools who insisted that water could be pumped into houses. The crazy people who, at the end of the 19th century, started talking crazy stuff about how soap was important for keeping clean, and how hygeine and disease were linked—or better yet, the weirdoes who built businesses manufacturing the stuff.

Nerds have always been the builders of our world; for the last few hundred years, they have in fact been the foremost architects of the human world as we know it, and they will continue to occupy that role for a long time to come. The more kind we are to our Nerds, the more they will give us. The more we overlook their apparent unusualness, the more they will flourish and the more they will bring to us the kind of progress that makes us Normals comfortable, happy, stable, and secure. Sure, sometimes we will find ourselves oppressed by Nerds, sometimes we will find that they have declared themselves Nerd-Kings (like a certain software company CEO has done in the world of computing); but the ranks of the Nerds themselves are the least likely to tolerate a tyrant, whether or not that tyrant comes from among them, and they are the best equipped to lead any revolt against such a tyrant.

Not only that, but Nerds understand the Normals. They understand them in a way that approximates their understanding of, say, zoo animals or mothers-in-law, in that it’s a kind of alien consciousness that needs to be emulated, modeled, and handled carefully. When Normals start agitating about things like Genetically Modified Foods, a few Nerds get haughty, but a lot of them also understand you cannot force a society to accept progress. And since their thinking is as different from Corporate thinking as it is from Normal thinking (however much those differ), a few Nerds also understand that what is new and profitable is not always progress, especially when it might be dangerous, might bring a backlash, might cause unforeseen side effects that could be avoided with a few more years of study. Nerds are always up for a few more years of study, if you give them a good enough lab. They love it. They’ll take a pay cut if you throw in a really good lab.

We owe it to ourselves to make sure these people are happy, that they feel some fealty to us, the Normals, over and above whatever loyalty the Corporations manage to buy out of them. We need to make sure they have a sense of connection with us, a feeling of respect. We had better let them know we appreciate them.

But go back to the small picture. The small picture in this essay is Alan Turing. Alan Turing, in the kitchen—if he was indeed in the kitchen, rather than on his bed as I seem to remember him being in the biopic Breaking the Code— chewing on an apple laced with strychnine. Thinking of… who knows what? His embarrassment? Of mathematical projects he left undone? Of his desires and their unalterability? Wondering, “What is it that shall come when I die, will it be silence? Pain? Relief?” Was he pondering the way society had betrayed him?

We can never know what he was thinking, of course. But we can and must acknowledge that he was profoundly betrayed by a hypocritical, controlling, and violent society. The society took a man whose greatest achievements were wholly bound up with the self-critical, ever-questioning stance which almost certainly led him to question the received ideas about sexuality that were not only current but legislated as the only acceptable ones in his society. The society that not only rewarded him but also depended on him for life and death because of this temperament, punished him because it defined him as a person, a man who—unlike many other homosexuals at the time, it is almost certain—could not stand to pretend because polite society insisted he do so.

It’s easy to see Turing as a tragic figure, and as the life passes out of him in the biopic I mentioned before, it’s extremely hard not to do so. A great man fallen by a tragic weakness? No, a great man destroyed by an insane society. An evil society.

Evil is like art; it’s hard to define exactly, but when I see it, I usually know it for what it is. The evil, in Turing’s case, was that he was severely punished for something that mattered a great deal to him, and about which nobody else ought to have cared. And so, this wicked society tore from the grasp of another society—that of the Nerds—a genius and master, because he liked men instead of women. Oh, for shame, Britain. You didn’t just betray Turing; you betrayed yourselves, and robbed yourselves of a really great man, an architect and one of your true saviours in the 20th century, because you insisted on knowing what happened in his bedroom. Your descendants will know you for idiots, and revile you as so many revile the Church for what it did to Galileo.

And oh, for shame, America. You were once, not long ago, at the height of your power; you were poised to truly become a land of liberty and perhaps even justice, perhaps, perhaps, if you’d worked hard at it. But no, you are plunging yourselves back, into that, once again; you are plunging yourselves backwards to ignorance, intolerance, to dictating to others how they may live, to robbing them of freedom. You are day by day making yourselves even less accommodating to your geniuses and cranks. Geniuses and cranks are the frogs of the noosphere; just as worsening climate/ecological conditions are signaled by the global dieoffs of amphibians, geniuses and inventors disappear in a society without liberty. They go underground, into hiding; they fight back by giving you nothing. They leave for greener pastures, either in drug abuse, or lives abroad; the abandon you to whatever fate you are buying yourselves.

If you don’t watch it, your Nerds will leave you. Maybe they will all gather on one coast and secede. Maybe they will take jobs abroad, where they can live free. (I have met in my travels many people who, in other conditions, could have been nerds fueling the economic/social/technical powerhouses of their homelands, but for the poor educations and the conditions of life there.) Your Nerds shall leave you and you shall realize too late that it was them upon which all that you had depended.

And if you think they can be replaced by those from within your own ranks, you are sadly mistaken. None who could be so unreasoningly punishing of difference could ever ask the right questions to be even half the Nerd you’ll need. If you think this has never happened before, you will be sadly mistaken. It was not so very long ago that the Muslim world led the planet in terms of science, and we of European blood marveled at their advances, envied, and attacked. It was not our attacks that destroyed their lead, but a number of factors including colonialism and, most importantly, the rise of highly conservative ideologies in Muslim societies. It can happen to you; it has already begun.

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