Subject: Re: who should read comp.lang.lisp? /civility From: Erik Naggum <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: 03 Oct 2002 23:36:14 +0000 Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp Message-ID: <email@example.com> * Richard Fateman | I am not advocating external censorship, but just a realization on the | part of the contributors that their messages are perhaps widely read (and | certainly archived for future readers). For some reason, you appear to believe that it is OK to be an idiot and not OK to ask people to think. Your students should instead learn that it may be OK to be an arrogant ignorant with a chip on their shoulder among "friends" who "tolerate" you, but out in the big wide open where monsters roam, you get eaten alive if you (1) act like an idiot, (2) do not accept criticism of your actions but take them personally (and see point 1), and (3) defend /yourself/ instead of trying to understand the technical points raised against your position or claim (and see point 1). The purpose of a newsgroup is not to prove oneself worthy or to make people feel validated or to approve of someone's position. The purpose of a newsgroup is to let people share experiences and knowledge and even wisdom, to give those who want to learn an opportunity to save themselves a lot of trouble by listening to the experiences of others instead of going through the costly process of learning everything by doing. People who share their experiences tend to socialize, as well, and a community of people who have experiences worth sharing can be both extremely rewarding for its members as well as appear exclusive to people who have no experiences to speak of, yet. But the key is to acquire experience, not to criticize those who have it for having it. This goes to "respect for your elders", which all to few brights students have because they have been able to learn from the great minds that went before them tens, hundreds, if not thousands, of times faster than these predecessors learned it. Of course you get cocky and arrogant when you spend a few months at most on all of the works of Aristtotle, summarizing his entire life in the week or so it takes to read it all. Of course you get cocky and arrogant when you enter a world of mathematics that has taken hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of man-years to develop and you only spend half a dozen years to a decade before you "improve" on it with your own doctorate. The enormously exaggerated pace of the student through people's minds, as it were, causes the first meeting with Reality to feel like a screeching halt or a massive chain collision with the rear end of the much slower pace of today's practiioners. It is when you realize that while you could learn about everything people have done in your narrow field of study, doing enough to be worth learning /about/ by somebody else later on will take the rest of your life and you might end up with a one-line reference to your entire life's work in the next generation's textbooks only if you are /really/ good, that you also should realize that your own advanced education included only the highlights of other people's life and that the researcher's /real/ life is completely, utterly unglamorous, but for some strange reason, bright students acquire this arrogance that they present to the world in "oh, shut up you old fart, I can summarize your 50 years of experience in a poorly researched term paper", but not the humility that goes with it, that 50 years hence, some arrogant snot will summarize /their/ 50 years of experience in a poorly researched term paper. This brutal meeting with Reality is often excruciatingly painful for the bright student who has breezed through course after course with an attitude like "I'm so smart, I don't need to study this". And sadly, the brighter, the more arrogant, despite their staggering ignorance of the issue at hand. Therefore, it is the dury of every practitioner in a field to hold up a huge "STOP" sign for these arrogant ignorants and to show them that it takes /years/ of concerted effort by lots of people to actually improve on anything at all. Those who come to a newsgroup with people who have a decade or two of actual experience with an "I have this neat idea", get a priceless favor for free when they are told it was rejected 30 years ago. The arrogant snot who has read some Scheme and thinks he gets it, is done a tremendous favor by being told to go stuff it when he argues against a feature in Common Lisp. In both cases, people who have their nose broken by running headlong into a door while in an /inconsequential/ setting like Usenet are both saved from embarrassing themselves in their first job, and save their employers the cost of teaching them this lesson. Nothing short of a first, harsh brush with Reality will tell the arrogant and /relatively/ ignorant student (despite his inflated self-image) that he is mistaken in his belief that other people's efforts do not matter, that they can be taken for granted. Just because he has spent the last half dozen years pushing the proverbial lever and getting the proverbial pellet of food from his professor or supervisor does not mean that anyone else is under any obligation to give him any pellets no matter how hard he pushess his lever. Just because he has spent the last half dozen years with a very simple, very restricted effort-reward system and has learned to excel at this game, does not mean that he can play this game anywhere else in the real world. Most of the time, people who excelled in something so narrow that only their professor can really value it, are tremendously ignorant of things outside that narrow field and people outside their narrow field have an alarming tendency to go "so what?" if they attempt to flash their credentials. For many a bright student, this amounts to nothing short of a total reversal of their entire value system. | It is in many peoples' nature to try to get in the last word, or the | ultimate zinger. Surprisingly often, those who enage in this petty game are those whose weltanschauung has been threatened and they are desperately trying to recover the ground that vanished beneath their feet. It is the obligation of those who actually know better to deny them their security blanket and force them deal with a reality they do not know. | I think it is possible to be civil even in the face of incivility, | ignorance, or malice. But to what end? The arrogant and relataively ignorant punk will not get the lesson he /needs/ if people kowtow to his arrogance and reaffirm his stupid notion of superiority over those who have the actual experience of which he has only learned a brief summary. How many young people have not had to be put in their proper place when they start to do real work? Was all of that from malice? Or was it perhaps instead from love of the field, that although it could be reduced to a paragraph in a textbook for one who does not study it, it is actually the bread and butter of the lives of thousands of people and billions of dollars' worth world-wide? If you take a shower and flushing your toilet for granted, it still means that a tremendous amount of effort went into the science and engineering of water and refuse systems and the arrogant ignorant who thinks it was no big deal to build such an advanced society would literally have no idea what to do on his own. If he ever got to deal with the people who not only made this system work for everyone, every single day, everywhere, but made it /possible/ to take it for granted, which is the ultimate in technological and social achievement -- should he be allowed to take it for granted or should they expect this snotty, arrogant jerk to accept an attitude readjustment? | Often an adequate and civil response is to not respond at all. I suggest | we try to factor such considerations into our participation, with the | intention of making the newsgroup useful to a wider audience and perhaps | more reflective of what lisp is about. Thanks. If you love the work you do, tolerating arrogant ignorants is impossible. If you do not care much about your own work, it is trivially easy to accept that others do not value it, either. If you want high tolerance of arrogant shitheads, the only way to achieve that is to ask people to care less about their work and what other things they value. Perhaps you should just keep your students more in line and prepare them for a world that does not care how smart they think they are? The first thing you should teach your students before they venture out into the real world and the Usenet that is part of it, is this: They are on their own. You will not be there to reward them and neither will anyone else unless they make a /real/ contribution. The /real/ contribution is /not/ being able to think ahead of the educational program and be a lot smarter than expected. The expectations of competency and skill are not set low enough that some fraction of the population is going to excel. They are set so high that if anyone actually excels, it is flat out /unexpected/. Most A+ students get a C in life. How long would the caring professor keep that grade a secret to the student? Or would he let the student know as early as possible so he had a chance to improve his chances? And despite what many believe because they witness only some people's meeting the wall at high speed, is that even though their first lesson may have been extraordinarily painful, they actually /learned/ something of great value to their life. Time and again, people that I have flamed for their ignorant arrogance and who were really hurt by it at the time tell me in private when we meet for the first time that they remember that time very vividly because it taught them something they have valued ever since: that it does not matter how much you think of yourself and how good you are within a closed system of carefully graded challenges and rewards, they have to prove their worth with real work in real life. Is a low grade or a harsh comment a /punishment/ or is it a sign that says you care how well they did and what they need to improve on? Have you had students that you asked not to take your courses? How does that compare to /not/ responding to ilias? How do you feel when you fail a student? Is it any different from telling someone who keeps posting drivel to a newsgroup that he should go away? Your responsibility to care about one of your student's feeling has a limitation: You cannot give a stupid student a good grade because that would make him feel better. That would be disrespectful to all the /good/ students and it would make your grading worse than worthless -- it would reward those who could impose their feelings on you and punish those who took a serious and professional attitude to actually studying. How often do you meet a professional community of people who care enough about their newbies to set them straight and to give them enough feedback to correct themselves and become good members? More often than not, professional communities eschew newbies entirely, demanding completed education and approval of their peers before they can enter. Try being an arrogant student plumber and see how popular you get in their professional circles. If you were a teacher of apprentice plumbers and told old-timers in the field to be nicer to those who ridiculed the profession, thought they could have opinions because they can produce hot air, and thought they did not need to go into apprenticeship just because they got good grades in school, chances are /you/ would receive a pretty harsh treatment, too. You should prepare your students for real life, then let us sort them out before they screw up in a job where it counts and destroy their career. It is, in a word, kindness, not necessarily towards the student, but to the profession. People who make a serious ass of themselves on the Net are noticed by employers. I have met a few employers who noticed that firing somebody for incompetence and their having a track record of fighting with me on Usenet were correlated and thereafter looked for them on the Net and did not hire those who had fought with me. I know I have saved some companies large amounts of money this way, by watching idiots get hired and subsequently screw things up elsewhere. I have made a lot of money by coming in after idiots had screwed things up and cleaning up and even rescuing their operations. It is not that I do not want to make more money that way, but I find it much more rewarding to work with competent people than with idiots. In a professional forum, the idiots are as much in the way as they would be in the workplace. Treating them otherwise tells everyone that you want to work with these idiots, too. -- Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway Act from reason, and failure makes you rethink and study harder. Act from faith, and failure makes you blame someone and push harder.