More about anointed princes and gatekeeping culture

Ok, gonna brain dump a little because I got excited about some synergy! Maybe I’m just really starting to find some peeps in the trillicon valley zeitgeist.

Gee Paw Hill published a blog a few days ago that retrospects on geek culture gatekeeping (I think we can basically proxy software industry for geek culture here). He presents this notion of our geek culture as “thin culture”; boundaried, exclusive. Lo and behold I was pleasantly surprised to see him use the phrase “anointed princes” to describe the folks – “they’re usually men” – who perpetrate the thinness. Yay because this is nearly identical language I used in my last post for analyzing the behavior I saw in some other internet writing that made me feel poopy. I feel validated.


I like that he backtracks the finger-pointing though; like, a fire with fire counter is a non-helpful meanness here. But also, I’d argue some anger first is ok. “Anger is clarifying” – as Fleet Maull once told me many years ago. Or maybe a tool. Today during the Human Dimension of Business training at work we practiced the art of the rant – privately journal your story of blame – as a bridge step to toward truth and clarity; and as a way to measure and check our extra assumptions against the NVC-like framework (“The facts are…”, “I feel…”, etc…).

There’s some interesting stuff in Gee Paw’s reflection. I feel armed with richer clues about where gatekeeping culture is inherited from, and inspired again to work with it in my own being.

Loneliness, isolation, computer as friend, for some of these guys. I mean these are kind of obvious origin story props that will perpetuate harm and abuse across generations. It also may be a narrative setup for geek thinness that Gee Paw warns us to see for fiction.

But I think, bringing his frame of three gatekeeping behaviors that keep our culture narrowly defined – “badging, self-blindedness, atemporality” – to any reading or conversation with the anointed princes in our industry will likely save us from feelings of smallness. (Those of us who came in through the side door; ie not academia). And to my fellow white dudes, it will help us break the cycle of abuse.

Lets freestyle this a little bit:

  • Not badging. “I look like an eningeer.” “You look like an engineer.” Ugh, let’s not deploy the informal logical no true Scotsman fallacy to move the goal post for what an engineer means. There’s so much more to coding than producing code artifacts in a text editor.
  • Self-awareness. “My story is not the only story.” Am I projecting my loneliness and sense of scarcity? Lately I’ve really been feeling the idea that patriarchy teaches that there is a scarcity of power. If only there was someone capable of wielding the power that’s there for the taking; then, then real change could be achieved. Why do we use an authorative voice in technical writing? Software is always so messy. Mastery should not be tied to self-worth.
  • Historical. There used to be more women in tech but men kicked them out. Hidden figures. Our industry was born out of cold war-time fear. Our interview practices were designed to select codebreakers. Our greatest successes have created more work, not less; have created the perfect, legal, capitalistic social engineering appliance for foreign powers to influence our democracy.

Ross Chapman @internetross