Letters to a Young Programmer: 4

Let’s talk about UFOs.

Once upon a time, nearly 40 years ago, Steven Spielberg made a movie. Not his first movie, but I think the one that put him on the map as a director. Its somewhat ponderous title, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, referred to categories of contact with aliens, as devised by a UFOlogist.

Yeah … people were really into this shit. Amazing, no? The craze seems to have died down in the past few decades. But throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, people were seeing UFOs, seeing aliens, even supposedly having devices implanted down their throats or in their butts or whatever, and needed to specify three levels of intimacy with huge-eyed space beings.

Let’s talk about Catholic Saints!

There are thousands of saints. Beatification and canonization each require a documented miracle. Two miracles times thousands of saints equals a lot of miracles. People were really into saints. Maybe even more so than UFOs.

Us software engineers aren’t wired to understand this. Engineers, scientists, want to know the truth, even though truth is often a pain in the ass. A real software engineer will be ready to close shop and go home, look at his last test run, see something that looks inconsistent, how could this possibly work, it shouldn’t … and then he realizes that his code has problems and needs to be rewritten.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way. So when the software geek hears about UFOs or miracles, he assumes that the persons responsible are criminal hucksters, or insane.

“Insane” explains nothing, and should be used sparingly. A better explanation: Most people, not being like you, have a facility for believing things. Even improbable things. Why not? You believe the Earth goes around the Sun. Have you, personally, seen the Earth go round the Sun? From a neutral reference?

No. You read about heliocentrism and something clicked in your head. Well a lot of your fellow primates heard about alien visitors, or the blessed of God, and something clicked in their heads, and they were able to believe. And create memories, stories, consistent with those beliefs.

This process isn’t random. Christianity was the animating belief structure for Western society for the better part of two millenia. Ufology ties into the 20th century fascination with science, flight, space, the vastness of the universe.

Let’s talk about feminism and social justice.

Not the dry statistics of my previous letter. Feminist miracles.

Anyone who has contact with the intelligentsia also has contact with a constant stream of stories in which women nobly suffer sexism and harrassment.

There is definitely a shaggy dog quality to these stories. Just the other day I read a Googler post about how men who participate on Hacker News should remember that women are unable to post (you can almost see the lip trembling and hear the quailing voice) because of harassment and threats!

Except that the same person said, in a comment, that the one time she participated on Hacker News — introduced by a (male) coworker … the experience was pleasant and without incident.


So you see how miracles happen. Our social justina wants to believe that women are unsafe online, and it is orthodoxy that women are unsafe online … so she proclaims it happily, and the contrary evidence (which she herself documents) bothers her not a whit.

Does it bother you that the people who are venerated as social justice paragons are extremely disturbed and unpleasant people? I remember one of the first social justice warriors I encountered at Google. (I believe she worked in security and her nickname was a homophone for a Middle Eastern missile.) I remember thinking how *angry* she was, all the time. Her unceasing rage made her appear unpleasant, and stupid.

Once upon a time a certain linguist-cum-leftist wrote a denial of the Cambodian autocide (a denial that he later furtively disowned). One of the people who took him to task was the Cambodian immigrant Sophal Ear.

You can read a sample of Professor Ear here, or his work in full at Jim’s site. One is struck immediately by Ear’s scholarly and reasonable tone. Quite a contrast to the typical angry feminist.

I mean, dude just lost his family.

So what is the chain of causation?

Did the harassment cause the rage?

Or did the person prone to anger look for something to obsess over?

One trope of literature for young Westerners is the obnoxious child who is doted on unjustly by his or her parents. Dudley Dursley is a fat whiny bully, and his parents shower him with affection; his cousin Harry Potter has to live under the stairs.

Well when it comes to the Dursleys of our intelligentsia, who are the Dudleys?

Let’s take the gloves off. So far we’ve discussed the biological fact that women cluster more toward the mean than men, that people can believe what pleases the majority.

There is another reason why you hear about women harassed, put upon, feeling “unsafe”: Women like to complain.

Why wouldn’t they? It makes perfect evolutionary sense. Women who complain: Gain the attention, protection, benefit of the more physically powerful sex. Women who don’t complain: Not behaving sensibly. Selected against.

You know that it is taboo in 21st century America to say negative things against women as a sex. Just reading the words “women like to complain” made you uncomfortable.

But this is silly. Be honest with yourself. (If you can’t be honest behind a proxy, when can you be?)

Men have lots of bad characteristics. You are free to talk about those.

Does it not stand to reason that women also have lots of bad characteristics?

Here’s a little earworm thoughtcrime, courtesy of Jim:

Women always identify with the conqueror against their own people.

(And if you want to treat that line as a clever quip, be my guest. You would do better to prove to yourself, using natural selection, why that statement is valid.)


Letters To A Young Programmer: 3

It’s easy to make fun of your peers who wax hysterically and indignantly about sexism.

But I can sense a touch of unease. So many people believe in social justice. And they believe in it so very passionately. The fanaticism, the self-satisfaction, the merciless bullying of dissent: Incredibly unpleasant. Yet Silicon Valley is full of unpleasant but brilliant people. Being a jerk doesn’t make one wrong.

It may be helpful to lay out the explicit components of the argument that your workplace is rife with discrimination against women:

1. All humans are equal.

2. Men and women are humans.

3. Therefore, men and women are equal.

4. Therefore, men and women have equal potential for skill at software engineering.

5. Women are not equally represented in the software engineering workplace.

6. Therefore, some unfair nefarious scheme or schemes are preventing women from attaining their just representation in the software profession.

The trouble with this chain of reasoning: Only the second and fifth points are true. Hard to build a good argument from a big pile of false premises — even if the argument is fashionable and its proponents want to believe in it so badly.

I can give you references as to why points (3) and (4) are false. This essay by “La Griffe Du Lion” is an excellent summary of why women are severely underrepresented in fields requiring exceptional mathematical ability.

But I’m going to ask you to do something simpler and braver: To use the evidence of your own eyes.

You’ve seen that the students in your high school who showed promise in math — or just in getting a computer to do what they wanted — were usually boys.

You’ve seen that the science and engineering classes in your university were largely male.

And you’ve met exceptionally talented programmers at your job. Maybe you met them on the way up, during an internship or among your fellow newhires. Maybe you’ve met them when they’ve arrived, after they’ve developed complex and high-performing systems. Those people, without fail, are men.

(Something I hope you will discover in decades to come: People, even progressives, become much more accepting about the innate differences between men and women when they have kids. The adults in my neighborhood may vote Democrat and speak approvingly of diversity. The backpacks their girls carry are adorned with Disney princesses or Hello Kitty.

Children do not need to be taught that the sexes are different; they perceive it themselves. My own boy described one of his kindergarten classmates as “bossy”. I am not Sheryl Sandberg, but the topic of young girl bossiness had never come up in our household.)

You can tell, from the evidence of your own eyes, that explanations by the social justice crowd about why women are underrepresented in tech are bilgewater. Take for instance the claim that male students somehow crowd out or intimdate their female compatriots. 95% of my own computer science curriculum was comprised of:
– Listening patiently to a lecture, writing notes, looking at the clock to see when I would get out of class.
– Sitting patiently at a workstation, writing code, looking at the clock to see if I could maybe get my assignment done before bedtime.

Not a lot of opportunity there for me to discriminate against women or make them feel unwelcome. Also makes you wonder what color the sky is in this world, the one in which males between the ages of 18 and 22 are unhappy in the presence of women. The world in which college boys plan a party and one of them says, “Hells bells, what if girls hear about it? What can we do to prevent women from attending our beer bash?!”

The explanations that pertain to your job are similarly out of contact with reality. White American male software engineers have been hiring on merit, for decades. The engineer/scientist ethos: What you do matters, not what you look like. We happily hire Chinese, Indians, Russians, Israelis. Why would we suddenly get all white male supremacist when it comes to women? Makes no sense. Contradicts observed reality.

You must also be aware, again from the evidence of your own experience, that the reasons proposed for lower promotion rates of women are extremely thin. My own employer has made a fetish of “unconscious bias”, which explains everything and is not falsifiable. (The main purpose of unconscious bias training appears to be to get the attendees to be aware of their unconscious bias. This self-congratulatory recursiveness is a sure sign of the flim-flam artist, of holy rolling.)

Be honest: If there is sex bias in the technical workplace, it is in favor of women. From my own experience, males are slightly more likely to hire women, promote women, celebrate women’s accomplishments.

Whenever you hear extravagant claims about sexism in tech, please keep in mind that the simplest and least complicated explanation is usually best.