Ursula Le Guin wrote a line in The Left Hand of Darkness that’s quite striking. “Joy, which is so different from laughter.” That’s true. I laugh a lot but joy is rare recently. It’s making me rethink my life – what it should be doing is making me act to change. But, too human, I find I have ingrained defenses against change.
I also have a particular habit of laughing when I hurt. Le Guin has another line, that we should find our selves moved to “cry as easily as laugh”. This doesn’t feel right. People will use your laughter against you but far easier and far worse to use your tears. We don’t cry because we don’t want our problems to get worse because crying is a signal that we’re near the brink. Crying let’s your opponent know that you are more tired than them. There’s an awful trust in tears.
If I believed the Internet were a safe place…
I woke up this morning feeling worthless. There was a hole in my life that I couldn’t ignore. The curious fact that I produce nothing of value and no one would really miss me if I were gone. Perhaps for a while but they’d get over it. I told myself it wasn’t true but that didn’t feel very convincing. I told myself that it didn’t matter but it felt as if it did. I told myself I could change and do many things of great worth and it felt, skeptical, a worn out formula covering for the inescapable truth that none of us really change. We just keep treading the same ground and making the same promises and, look, you’re a few years older. The hole in your life will always be there.
I woke up this morning with a particularly neurotic obsession. For some reason, pieces of my mind were trying to convince me that people have ‘worth’. Despite being relatively easily dismissed as a childish fear, it incessantly returned. The notion is absurd, what measure could reduce any person’s life to a single metric of value when doing so must necessarily compress all the myriad values of life into one form? It doesn’t mean anything to say the life of a 12 year old Bavarian school girl with good grades is worth more than a Canadian pilot who enjoys cooking Bolognese. That’s the grand lesson of existentialism. So the correct approach to my obsession is to deflect it like an annoying dog, offer it neither love nor hate and it will go away.
Value is a legitimate output of your social-moral framework. If you’re proportion oriented then you believe that we can compare any two objects and probably believe that money is the ideal tool for the task. If I could calculate how much money would be paid for my life, I could know my value. To the hierarchy oriented then my value is my status. To feel better about myself, I should contemplate the group with whom I hold the greatest status. To the unity oriented, my value to my main group is the most important. This is different from rank in a hierarchy as the value tracks how well I carry out the rituals of the group and police its boundaries. Perhaps my feelings of worthlessness stem from being apart from my family and weakly obtaining social approval from a comparably tight knit group. To the equality oriented, value is meaningless! I don’t have to justify anything here. That’s implicitly what I’m invoking above and, you’ll notice, the only framework that I could have done so in. Lucky for me that my culture doesn’t encourage the other frameworks more aggressively.
There are two things you should get out of these links and three very reasonable critiques of the software industry that can be made.
The most common complaint I see in the news is the lack of diversity. This is true. The pathologies in the demographics of its population are well known. It’s not quite a mono-culture but it’s certainly less internally complicated than the metal scene. The citizens are defensive and still unready for it to be eternal September. Others can talk about this, I find it mostly uninteresting.
A better complaint is that everything built with software is broken. Talk to anyone involved and they will have a horror story. You barely have to go looking, it’s right in front of you. The drive for new features that you can sell trumps the solid work of fixing bugs and improving stability. Old code survives but the people who understand the it age out. Can’t replace it, can’t shut it down, can’t do anything but keep running the same rituals to buy as much time before the eventual end. New bugs will continue to appear, security holes will proliferate, but software will continue to spread and assume more control. I have little trust that the future will be significantly different.
Consider, at last, that there’s no union for software engineers. There’s no coherent professional organization with any great clout. Instead, it seems that everyone is out to grab as much money for themselves as possible and screw the rest. Perhaps not surprising given the amount of money being thrown around. If you’re expecting to find any great solidarity, forget it. There’s only the solidarity of the trenches and when everyone moves every two years, even that is thin. The kind of cultural coordination I’m looking for is not cheap. My guess is it only appears under extreme stress applied from outside but my imagination does not extend to picturing the particular beginnings of that kind of scenario.