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.


Letters To A Young Programmer: 2

In youth, I perceived many traditions, policies, mores, taboos of the past as quaint. Maybe necessary when people were more primitive. Now we are wiser, and don’t need them.

Neoreaction: Replacing the inner voice that says “we are wiser and don’t need them” with another which says “we are no wiser, and still need them.” My previous letter stated that it was once the case that discussing politics in the workplace was unwelcome. If asked in 1990 why this was true, I’d have said “People would get into pointless fights.” (Pointless primitives!) In the present I know the answer:

“Because one side will win.”

And one side has won. Let’s be very clear about this. At my place of employment, things have gotten to the point where someone who objected to affirmative action, in the mildest and most polite manner, was viciously abused and reported to both Human Resources and his manager. We have now reached the point where a Social Justice Warrior said, in perfect seriousness,

“Some people do not understand when to keep their beliefs to themselves.”

How did this happen?

Belief systems, political and otherwise, can be thought of as pathogens which seek to spread in prospective hosts — human societies and institutions.

Corporate America has a grave defect which makes it an ideal host for progressivism: The white collar social contract. It’s assumed that you will treat your fellow employees with respect. Disagreement must be expressed in a respectful manner that assumes good faith.

But there are many ideas that are best met with mockery and dismissal. The white collar social contract allows progressives to sneak awful ideas and awful behavior into the workplace. So if Nancibald says that the Super Bowl is an attack on the transgendered, and you retort “are you on crack?”, expect someone in a position of authority to tell you to knock it off. And to call Nancibald “xe”.

Will your Human Resources department help to sort things out? Human Resources is part of the problem. HR possesses neither the ability nor the desire to make rulings on ideological disputes. (Any such resolutions would tend to be in the progressive’s favor anyway. Contrast the likely amount of progressive indoctrination that a soft science or liberal art major received in college, to that of an engineer.)

Political tendencies aside, Human Resources will be biased in favor of the employee who brought the complaint — because in doing so, that employee implicitly recognized the importance and worth of Human Resources.

You took neutrality and courtesy seriously. Progressives proselytized their ideology at every opportunity without shame. They won, you lost. Was it fair? No. But so what? Is it fair when you catch a cold? Do you rage at your rhinoviri as you toot your nose?

Also, Santa Claus is not real. Do you need a hug?

You want to be healthy, in body or organizational culture — develop a good immune system. To be sure, “political discussions should be conducted fairly and dispassionately” is a possible component of an corporate immune system. Just not a very good one. Have you ever met a progressive who was not wholly convinced of his or her own decency and fairness?

Enough pathology. On to diagnosis. My advice for dealing with social justice warriors at your job: Don’t.

Progressives have power. You lack power. To engage progressives in debate is to assume equality with them. They won’t like it, and will step on your face. (Which was the whole point of obtaining power.)

Disagreeing with progressives fulfills their need to defend their religious beliefs with zeal — and fulfills their fantasy of being the underdog, of bravely fighting for truth and justice.

Do not imagine that liberal reverence for “free speech” will keep you safe. This is like someone with ebola saying “I won’t die, the virus wouldn’t want to kill its host.” Free speech allowed progressivism to infect corporations. Now progressivism can mutate further. The strain that would put free speech above all else just isn’t as virulent as Social Justice. (Again, you can rage at the hypocrisy of it all — and it is monstrously, absurdly hypocritical — but what’s the point?)

And please, please do not become some pathetic creature, like a “men’s rights activist”, who thinks it’s clever to turn the tables on progressives by using their own rhetoric and institutions. Progressivism is conspiratorial, but it’s not a conspiracy whose purpose is to benefit one person. If you make one social justice bully apologize because he committed, say, “ageism” against your middle aged self — you’ve enrolled, unwittingly, as a foot soldier in the progressive movement. The battle you won was meaningless, the person you defeated cannon fodder.

Letters To A Young Programmer: 1

It was inevitable that you would come here. The Internet is vast, this is a small corner of it, but the whole is connected. Facebook? Twitter? Chasing down strange links after midnight? A word from a fellow at a party, after a drink too many? It doesn’t matter.

You remind me of myself because: I used to be you. Computer programmer just out of college. Hard working, intelligent. Middle-class American.

So this series of letters is to you. Anyone is welcome to read them. But they are for you.

This blog, and this series, is not about technology. It is about politics, which is to say it is about people. We are geeks because we’d rather deal with a computer than people. But people are important. If I did give technical advice, it would be: People are important! Organization is important. So are decisions. The ability to write clearly.

You might ask, is this a tradition? The hoary-headed engineer passes wisdom onto the neophyte? No. One reason is that the accretion of skill in our profession is not linear; if you’re a budding superstar, you’ll bud by the age of 27 or so. And of course technology changes so much. If a grizzled veteran had taken me aside in 1997 and said “I always tried to have some paperwork to do when the mainframes were taken down for preventative maintenance”: I’d appreciate the sentiment but would be able to do little with the information.

But politics is people, you say. Surely people are unchanging, you say.

It’s interesting that when we use the word politics to refer to a specific environment, it’s easy to apply the proper qualifier. “Office politics”. “Corporate politics.” The politics of your organization you will always have with you. No advice to offer on that. I’m speaking of the generic “politics”, which I shall refer to as “power politics.”

My next letter will give you advice on how to cope with the manifestation of power politics at your workplace. I believe my advice to be sound. But I admit: it does not derive from long experience. When I was in your situation, two decades past, power politics were not welcome in the office. It probably seems odd to you, but there were many situations in which your opinion on Donkey-versus-Elephant, gay rights, the inheritance tax — all were considered out of bounds and likely to lead to pointless trouble.

I shall close with a provocative statement. In Isaac Asimov’s wonderful Foundation Trilogy, Hari Seldon says during his first prerecorded posthumous speech:

Somewhere in the fifty years just past is where the historians of the future will place an arbitrary line and say: “This marks the fall of the Galactic Empire.” And they will be right, though scarcely any will recognize that fall for additional centuries.

Somewhere in the ten years just past, or the next ten years, is where historians will place an arbitrary line and say: “This marks the end of freedom in the United States of America.”

The Socialism of Idealism

A lot of good stuff in Henry Dampier’s article on left entryism and libertarianism.   Perhaps the most interesting of his thoughts was in the comments:

Libertarianism is a rearguard action attempting to save the enlightenment from itself. It appeals to reason over tradition, even to people incapable or disinterested in reason.

I was a Libertarian.  And I tried to save progressives from themselves, all the time:
* “I’m the one who’s pro-poor because my economic policies help the poor and yours keep them from getting jobs.”
* “I’m a racist?  After decades of your policies, black ghettos look like the KKK bombed them.”
* “You’re the sexist, not me, because I believe that women can be responsible for their actions.”

Which is dumb.  It’s an error reminiscent of Transactional Analysis; the libertarian is discussing theory, but the progressive is interested in power and self-regard.


Trying to save an ideology from its consequences … is un-libertarian.  To summarize an aphorism of Milton Friedman:

* When you spend your money on yourself, you spend it wisely.
* When you spend others’ money on yourself, or your money on others, it is spent less wisely.
* When you spend others’ money on others, it is spent badly.

Well guess what, improving other peoples’ political beliefs … is something that you will do badly.