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.)