Letters to a Young Programmer: 6

You are probably used to your fellow geeks doing somewhat weird things. Hey: Nobody’s perfect. All of us are on the spectrum, somewhere.

We’ve examined the subject of gender and are ready to tackle race from the safety of The Onion Router.

But not before we detour to examine one of Mencius Moldbug’s many catchy neologisms:

…there was an entire branch of philosophy called theodicy, whose goal was to figure out how God and evil could coexist. Doesn’t it strike you as completely and utterly obvious that the answer is “they don’t”? Why didn’t all these incredibly smart people – Aquinas and Leibniz and Pascal and so forth – just consider the null hypothesis?

I think the answer is that when you really believe in God, the belief that God is good and makes good things happen is completely woven into your cerebral cortex. If you were to stop believing in God, you would instantly solve the problem of explaining all the evil things that have happened in the world. You would also instantly create the problem of explaining all the good things that have happened. For which your present explanation is that they happened because they were good, and therefore God wanted them to happen.

Moldbug then points out that if you are raised with the belief that democracy is the sine qua non of governance, you are faced with a modern version of this conundrum:

Similarly, as a kid raised on the IHT and the Economist and other Georgetownist goodness, I had a simple, pretty explanation of the world. There were two kinds of governments: democratic ones and undemocratic ones. The first kind were good and the second kind were bad. …

And there is an even more upsetting observation, which is that the process of explaining why democracy isn’t perfect is remarkably similar to good old theodicy.

Perhaps we could call it demodicy – the problem of explaining how democracy can coexist with evil.

Progressive techies have their own variant of this behavior. The core progressive tenet is equality of humans. Yet humans of various races, especially blacks, are so unequally represented in tech.

By analogy with Moldbug’s idea, we could call the issue “negrodicy.” This is a terrible word. But it’s a much better analog of the concept of theodicy than demodicy. Demodicy is just an intellectual curiosity. We might get the general sense that democratic Egypt or Iraq or South Africa is badly governed. But Egypt and Iraq and South Africa are so far away.

Equality, on the other hand, is real and in your face and personal. Every day good progressives, who were raised on the Civil Rights movement, the marches through Southern towns, the Great Society: They come to work and see no blacks outside the workers in the bathroom, mail room, and kitchen.

They try to find explanations. Negrodicy. How about racism?

The trope among people not on the left is that progressives lay down the word “racism” like the guy down the street who didn’t know how to build a wall, used way too much mortar, and now has unsightly solidified gunk forever.

Despite my occasional mocking compliments, I don’t think my progressive coworkers are very good people, at least when it comes to politics. They are credulous, mendacious, self-righteous bullies.

But: They are not idiots. Crying “racist” is low class. So low class that there is a stereotype of a dark skinned person saying “thas RAYcis.”

Progressive nerds are the intelligentsia, or a least believe themselves to be. And they seek an intelligent explanation for the lack of black accomplishment in tech. Any article, even an offhand blog post, that provides such an explanation is avidly reshared.

A blog post by Marianne Williamson hit my inbox yesterday, shared with the following quote:

On a personal note, I didn’t even know if I had it in me to continue in this space. I was getting tired of encouraging black people to apply to work at companies that will never, ever, hire them. Tech is looking for a certain type of black person (the perfect description of this person can be found in this clip from Ocean’s 11). The hiring process in tech is all about, “who do you want to have an artisanal, organic, beer with?”. If the hiring manager doesn’t see you as a possible friend, the likelihood of getting hired is pretty slim. Black women aren’t high on the “friend list”.

Like most attempts at negrodicy, this is superficially plausible. Everyone knows Hipster Developers.

But (again, like most negrodicy) … this little anecdote is just ridiculous if you think about it. My own experience provides a forceful retort. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with a boyhood friend. He has a son, a teenager, a real whiz kid. Programs Java in an IDE. Makes awesome animated 3-D models with motion and momentum.

Easy to imagine a bright future in the software industry, which is sufficient to refute Williamson’s explanation. This kid has no discernable social skills. He’s spending his summer in front of a computer.

And of course no one in the Valley will care. They’ll snap him right up, probably give him the hard sell months before he graduates college. (In the actual real world we live in … the hiring process in tech is not about “who do you want to have an artisanal, organic, beer with.” If it were: I can assure you I wouldn’t be the Googler neoreactionary.) *

If you were to raise this point with one of your progressive coworkers, your objection would not receive honest and sober consideration. Which brings us back to Moldbug’s musings about theodicy:

Why didn’t all these incredibly smart people – Aquinas and Leibniz and Pascal and so forth – just consider the null hypothesis?

which is just a little too bloodless and high-minded. Like Isaac Asimov used to write. In Asimov’s books, everyone behaved rationally, and no one ever took disagreement personally, and if you have a good argument you can shut down the mob, as Hari Seldon did in his trial.

Real life is different. You can reason about why Aquinas and Pascal behaved by thinking about the folks you know. Can Yonatan Zunger state in public “ah, screw it, races have adapted in diverse environments for different selection pressures and what ya gonna do, man”?

No, of course not. Equality is the progressive’s creed, and deviating from it will cause devastating negative feedback from one’s superego and from one’s peers.

So if you tweak the progressive’s negrodicy — “hey my friend’s teenager is a computer genius but he’s not so into artisanal beer, would you advise he sell his computer on Ebay” — expect pushback. The progressive may not want to theorize with the single word “racism”, but he’ll happily use it to smear you.

Be careful in the real world. In this world, with a nice little proxy keeping us safe, we’re free to behave as we want.

We’re free to consider the possibility that the emperor is, in fact, naked.

We’re free to consider the null hypothesis.

* The entire article is worth reading. Williamson complains that she can’t get funded by venture capitalists — this at the close of the second decade in which VC funds have desperately thrown money at any semi-plausible entrepreneur.

You may also wonder if aggressively advertising one’s geek credentials (“My dad was a brewery worker who at 36 years old fell in love with C++ … We had a VAXmate in our living room. I was forced to learn basic code at age 8 … so I could publish the weekly newsletter I edited for the other kids in our apartment complex.”) is considered necessary, or good form, in tech circles. It is not.