Subject: Re: who should read comp.lang.lisp? /civility
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 03 Oct 2002 23:36:14 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* 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.