site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of October 3, 2022

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Please just tell me where you think white people are supposed to live

A friend of mine (white, very left-leaning) recently made an offhand remark that the large US city they live in is has "sooo many white people" upon discovering that said city is roughly 50% white. By the way they said it, it was clearly meant as a complaint. Knowing this person pretty well, this was about par for the course for them so I just ignored it, but I've heard similar things from other friends and it seems to be a general theme on the left in the US lately that there are too many white people everywhere, in a country comprised of 60-75% white people (depending on how you define it) as of the most recent census estimates [1]. I've heard this about cities, and I've heard it about rural areas in the form of "Yikes, I'd never live in {rural area}, too white". Importantly, I often hear the claim absent any other explanation of why that is intrinsically bad. Being somewhat progressive myself, I definitely recognize the impact on city demographics of slavery and redlining inflicted by white populations. I just don't see why the remedy is then to complain about the actual number of white people themselves, since in cities people in general are more progressive and therefore likely to vote for policies that work to alleviate long-lasting effects of racial injustice.

As someone who doesn't have a preference for an exact racial makeup in the place they live, but generally likes places that embrace multiculturalism like many large US cities do, I don't know what the reasoning behind such a complaint is, or what anyone who takes it seriously would like to see done about it. I'd like to hear from other progressive people what the steelman version of this is. For one thing, it is a basic fact of statistics that with a population of 60-75% white people, you shouldn't be surprised to find a city with roughly 50% white people. Second, do these people realize what scenario we'd end up in if they were to get what they seem to be advocating for (have all the white people move out of whatever area they're in)? Taken to the extreme, you get one area with all the white people and then 0 white people everywhere else, by definition what white nationalists advocate for, not to mention something I and everyone else who isn't a white nationalist finds detestable. This becomes even more confusing when the person complaining is white, by I'll chalk that up to just plain old stupidity.

More concretely, if a white progressive like my friend wants to act on their dissatisfaction and move to a place with far fewer white people, they are increasing the new place's white population and becoming part of the problem that made them relocate in the first place. What is the reasoning here? They get a pass on being white due to their progressive bona-fides? What are they even trying to signal? If we chalk it up to virtue signaling, why not just advocate for better/more just zoning and housing policy? I realize this post is heavy on me sharing anecdotes from my friend group, but I've heard it enough times now that I felt like I had to finally ask.


Maybe it’s just me but I think the right to exist should not be a trivial part of one’s political identity. Enoch Powell, an ultra-conservative politician famously said he’d fight for his country even if it were communist (politics come and go, people remain). If it’s become casual to bemoan your existence among your faction, maybe you should consider defecting?

Have you considered that there may simply not be a coherent theory of mind behind the complaint "too many white people"? It's a socially acceptable(to extreme progressives) way of phrasing several different complaints, which could be "place is boring and needs better food or nightlife", "place is full of red tribers and I don't like it", or "place is too expensive to afford".

I just had a conversation like this with a friend. She was convinced the city she's lived in for years was 90% white. Spoiler: It was less than half (non-Hispanic) white. I think she was used to being in Southern cities which are plurality black, but still; that is an impressive amount to be wrong by.

I think black populations punch above their weight in terms of making a city feel diverse, if that makes sense.

Diverse might as well mean 'has lots of black people' at this point; but, no one wants to say the quiet part loud.

That would mean that California isn't considered diverse, which doesn't seem to work.

It depends also how whiteness is defined, which can be anything but straightforward. You can probably double your white population just by relaxing a bit the criteria of who is white.

I used to hear it a lot, enough to consider it a symptom of profound memetic infection, and to distance myself from the people who say it.

I'm not a progressive but I suppose the steelman would be that in the progressive view, white people are intrinsically racist and possessed of certain unconscious biases and living in an area with a lot of white people would lead someone to encounter these instances of racism and bias more often, which isn't pleasant even if they aren't directed towards them. It may also lead white people in these areas to vote for less progressive policies and make the place less progressive as a whole. Even if true though, I suspect some other demographics may hold non-progressive sentiments at an even higher rate. I'd expect a city with a large urban black population or many devout Muslims to have more sexists and homophobes for example, although admittedly that's a guess.

Anyway, if you don't mind me asking have you ever asked your friend if they can see how this sort of rhetoric would turn people away from progressivism? It just baffles me how progressives will say things like this and then wonder why people become "anti-woke" or put it all down to them being racist and too attached to their privilege, not wanting to give it up.

I’ve heard this a lot as well. I think in some sense it makes sense if you aren’t white and want to be around a decent amount of other people who aren’t white. But it’s uncomfortable and an example of why I find progressivism problematic that saying things like this are normalized. I live in a very progressive area of a very progressive city and, as a white guy, it’s weird and uncomfortable to hear shit like this and I don’t know how to respond to it, but have gotten ripped for responding nonetheless.

Doesn’t entirely answer your question, but I think the answer is that many people on the far left are straight up more than a bit self loathing. I recently read a study that studies partisans based on different attributes and that was one finding, but I can’t find it. In this case my best guess is it was nothing more or less than a virtue signal in the purest sense.

I think the fair response here is to ask your friend something along the lines of 'exactly what percentage of white people would be ideal for this city?'. And if you're feeling trollish, ask if they would apply the same percentage to, say, Tokyo or Kinshasa. Would be interesting to hear what the response is - at best you'd get them to articulate their reasoning.

White people move in - Gentrification

White people move out - White Flight

White people stay where they are - Segregation/xenophobia

White people move somewhere else - Colonization

Few progressives will say it, but 'ol Willy Ockham's shaving implements point to a direct and explanatory answer.

What’s so weird to me is that everyone I know who complains the most about gentrification lives in heavily gentrified areas.

Why is that weird? I think it's natural that people would complain about a problem that they see around them every day - even if they are part of it. I don't think it's hypocritical to complain about the length of a queue that you're standing in, for example.

The only reason gentrified communities exist is that there is demand for them. In living in one of those communities you are generating demand for them, and thus providing further incentive for communities to be gentrified.

It's like claiming that killing animals for food is unethical but also eating meat regularly.

Complaining about the length of a queue does not imply that the people in the queue are ultimately responsible for the queue. They are only participants as fellow victims, even if literally speaking the queue wouldn't exist without them.

People complaining about gentrification don't think that white people are unintentional victims of gentrification forced to gentrify out of necessity.

I'm sure people who live in areas that are in the process of being gentrified (higher expenses, higher rents) might have a lot to say on the subject.

It would be silly to complain about it if you moved there recently though.

That's what I mean. For the record, I think gentrification is often used as a pejorative for a community being developed, and the issue is a lot more nuanced than it is regarded as being.

As an educated adult, I am required to refer to "projection", but the true underlying principle is "He who smelled it, dealt it".

because they feel as if some wealthy owner of a Midwestern chain of car dealerships (or a UES banker) taking his wife on a shopping trip will disrupt their romantic fantasy of a weekend in Paris?

This is the best reply in this comment thread. A lot of white people (and I'm sure some others) maintain a kind of colonial fantasy about their relations with Black (et al) people. They expect to show up and simply from showing up and being friendly to the Blacks (unlike those other, bad whites) they'll be welcomed as Mighty Whitey From TV Tropes, emphasis mine:

All this is a setup for the white man to adapt to the Native's ways, thereby making him superior both to the natives and the Europeans back home... One particular version has it so that the sympathetic Author Avatar whitey is not only now the Great White Hope for the non-white Noble Savages, but is very often defending them from other evil whites.

The musical Hairspray and the subreddit /r/hiphopheads would be my first cultural examples. Both filled with white characters who think they're special because they really appreciate Black people/culture, in a way other people don't. But that idea only even conceptually works if you're one of a few white American pioneers in your otherwise out of the way ethnic neighborhood/vacation spot. When it starts filling with other gentrifiers exactly like you, you have to realize you're not special. Like if Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai or Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves got to the secret native army to find it filled with dozens of other white dudes doing the same thing. Would really ruin the specialness of the protagonist.

This is insightful, but only part of the larger issue. The upper-middle class has to distinguish itself from the lower-middle class, and spouting racism about what they believe the lower-middle class looks like is an easy way to do it. Of course, the lower-middle class is a lot less white than the upper, so they're essentially slagging the proles for what they themselves are doing.

There is no actionable goal in that statement, particularly not if it's coming from a white person. Your friend was uttering the signals they did in order to remain part of and have high standing in their chosen group. The only useful thing you can take away from this is to know that this belies an inherent resentment to a group you (and he) are also part of.

I've heard this too from my left-leaning friends (complaining that the suburbs and outskirts are disconcerting because they have too many white people and too little diversity) and thought it was... ridiculous. Yes, North America does indeed have a predominantly white population, and any large immigrant population is inevitably going to be in the cities. It's not as if the outskirts are going to be filled with immigrants pursuing the luxurious dream of working on a farm in Manitoba.

While I'm not in the least progressive, you asked for a steelman, so I'll try to provide one. The only possible way I can think of to steelman this and try to defend it as a legitimate complaint is that their surface-level aesthetic objection to predominantly-white areas seems to be based on a deeper underlying belief that areas that are insufficiently diverse are also going to be insufficiently accepting and welcoming, and thus won't align with their values system. Thus they don't like it.

Of course, even if I accept this premise it's not hard to see how this logic is only ever selectively applied against whites - these criticisms will absolutely never be levelled at neighbourhoods made up of black people or Hispanics (who as a group exhibit a more severe racial in-group bias than whites do), and for the most part they won't level this criticism at countries which are more monoethnic than the West either (e.g. China) as long as these countries' populations are primarily made up of PoC especially since going to Asia and complaining about how the demographics are just too yellow is something that would likely make them very uncomfortable.

It's quite clear that many leftists expect whites to take every step conceivable to make sure they are racially conscious and accepting (even if this would entail completely overhauling their countries' demographics in furtherance of this aim), and this onus will never get placed on other races. It's just hypocrisy to the extreme, in my opinion, and their standards for white people are so much more stringent than any other group of people out there it's almost farcical.

these criticisms will absolutely never be levelled at neighbourhoods made up of black people or Hispanics

To be fair, these people never actually live in majority-minority places. I almost never see these people in places like the Bronx that are absolutely dominated by minorities. They just know places like Brooklyn or whatever. I might be damning them through faint praise here. I don't know.

Also, to be fair to these minorities, I actually have lived in the Bronx as a white person, and minorities are generally pretty nice to me. It's other minorities that they are biased against.

Also, to be fair to these minorities, I actually have lived in the Bronx as a white person, and minorities are generally pretty nice to me. It's other minorities that they are biased against.

Well, to be correspondingly fair to white people, I'm an Asian immigrant to a Western country. My assessment is that white people are generally nice to me as well, both in the cities and the outskirts (and this holds regardless of the racial composition of the area). In my opinion, the entire idea of "too white = prejudiced" should be thrown out in the first place, but if we're applying these principles, we should be applying them fairly across the board.

"Yikes, too white" is in fact a dumb meme. By itself, there isn't really a way to steelman it, any more than you can meaningfully steelman "keep the government out of my social security" or whatever. Some memes are just really stupid for how catchy they are.

Memetically or genetically, pure fork-in-the-socket stupidity is not adaptive. Generally speaking, if you see people doing something dumb, it's either because you don't fully understand what they're doing, or because you don't fully understand how they came to be doing it. I think it's surprisingly rare for people to do things for no intelligible reason at all.

I think the proper approach here is to keep stepping up the meta-levels until you get to something solid. This meme works because Blue tribe people care about race in a general sense. Blue tribe people care about race in a general sense, because to a first approximation all Americans care about race in a general sense. Race is relevant to our politics in a way it simply wasn't in, say, 1990 - 2010, and appears to be growing more and more relevant over time. This happened for specific reasons, and the reasons bear discussion in a way the ground-level dumb meme doesn't. If you want some interesting exploration, I'd recommend starting from there and seeing where the history leads you.

Second, do these people realize what scenario we'd end up in if they were to get what they seem to be advocating for (have all the white people move out of whatever area they're in)?

I don't think any of them are thinking all the white people should go in one spot. To the extent that this is a problem, mass immigration will solve it, and while the meme may be dumb, it nonetheless serves basic interests for the tribe that is pushing mass immigration. The broader pattern explains the meme's fitness, its relevance, in a way taking the meme itself at face value does not. The reducto you propose isn't actually relevant.

What are they even trying to signal?

"Whiteness bad, diversity good". It's not complicated, and unlike the dumb meme, it can be steelmanned. Whether the steelman is persuasive is another question; certainly many seem to find it so.


It’s not actually possible for the social security trust fund to be saved. There’s no realistic way for the government to transfer that amount of money to be saved today and available tomorrow. The government controls the money supply. Their decisions effect the price of all financial assets and investing it in stocks would distort all market prices.

A small country could actually save the money by investing in larger economies without distorting prices. Switzerland does this. The US can’t.

In defense of the social security situation, what safe assets is the government supposed to buy? There is nothing safer than US government bonds, which are funded by future tax revenues. Buying foreign or corporate bonds could make sense at the margin, but it opens you up to a lot of risk.

For a large, closed economy like the USA whose inability to collect taxes would not just mean the downfall of its own economy, but the whole world order, I don't think anything else makes sense but relying on your taxation powers.

You could argue that the government should borrow less in general, but that is a separate issue from Social Security.

Yeah, I was going to make a similar point.

So, Social Security has a lot of money, right? What are they supposed to do, put it in a giant mattress and sit on it? No, if they can safely pick up even a few percentage points of return, they should . . . and, well, the safest place to put the money is US Government bonds.

Not just objectively (it is objectively the safest place, but besides that), but because the only way those bonds aren't getting paid back is if the US Government implodes. And if that happens, the entire social security system is dead anyway. So it's not picking up any added risk, just getting some absolutely free percentage points of yearly returns.

There are certainly criticisms one can make of this setup, but "the US social security system has a synergistic risk-free financial relationship with the rest of the US government" isn't one of them.

It doesn't really matter if they put it into US treasuries or cash those are just government liabilities the same as the liabilities the Social Security administration has to it's members. That is my point. The fact US treasuries pay a few percent interest over cash doesn't matter, because the Federal Government is paying money from it's right pocket to it's left.

The only thing that would matter to it's position would be if it offloaded risk or earned interest from some other entity than itself.

My gut reaction is to laugh at the notion the same way I laugh at the people who say mosquitoes have "a jewish character".

Whites are low status in America right now for a bunch of reasons that are mostly ideological and cultural but likely don't enter into your buddy's reasoning. He just correctly identifies this fact and bemoans that he has to live in a city full of low status people, which, by way of consequence, makes him low status as well.

In another time he would have complained about having to live "among niggers", for exactly the same reasons.

Why can't he be instead in a "vibrant" and "diverse" neighborhood, that is, one that exhalts the values of the elite and is therefore a sign that he's doing well and is close to the values of the ruling class (and therefore, to power and prestige). If he were a better man, he could afford all this symbolic luxury.

This racist disdain is particularly absurd, but it's really not that much different or less boneheaded than contempt for the "bunch of hicks" that also make the majority of one's countrymen. And again I think laughter is the right response to these eternal prejudices.

I'd like to hear from other progressive people what the steelman version of this is.

You're not going to get that here, the number of progressives is countable on one hand.

In any case, the words are largely empty. Talking about a place being too white is similar to doing some kind of land acknowledgment - a perfunctory thing that, after all this time, has no bearing on how they actually act. It's just another phrase you throw around without considering what it actually implies.

The traditional SSC response would be something about ingroup and outgroup and how when they say “white people” this is code for red tribe white people aka bad white people unlike themselves. I do not believe this. I believe there is a legitimate undercurrent of self hatred and suicidality to a lot of left-leaning beliefs. I believe the honest answer would be that white people should (ideally voluntarily) just die out.

They want to stay ‘on top’, live their comfortable lives with zero real changes, they just want to feel better about it.

Agree, and actually I wonder if some of the fervor behind the push for diversity and equity is to pull the ladder up behind them, to prevent meritocratic challengers from coming from behind and pushing them harder on the rat race. They're not gonna give up their jobs, but they're gonna give up the jobs of the equally talented people who would otherwise be hired after them.

PMC progressive whites advocate literally nothing that (they believe) would actually hurt themselves in the medium term (at least according to their own beliefs; complexities around the long term effects of eg. mass immigration and defunded police don’t feature in their political imagination).

You said it yourself. What kind of people stand by and cheer on their racial demographic replacement in their own countries? Can you cite other historical examples where demographic replacement wasn't the result of conquest, colonization, or atrocity? And that it was cheered on by the natives? The "too many white people" is just another expression of the same ideology that leads them to cheer on their own demographic replacement, and it's not just signaling. It's anti-white and has real-world implications.

You are influenced by this ideology such that you can't see very much wrong with this extremely unusual pattern of behavior or the real-world implications of its existence.

If instead of "too many white people", the fashionable statement was "too many brown people", you wouldn't say that they were signaling. Your downplaying of anti-white rhetoric and self-hatred is just another expression of this phenomenon.

Accepting real-world demographic displacement is the ultimate, real, terminal impact of that kind of psychology.

Amen. When someone tells you they hate you -- or themselves -- listen to them. When White progressives say something anti-White, they mean precisely that. Nihilistic self-loathing is the norm among them.

They’d donate more than 2% of their income to BLM - hell, they should do what the hardcore EA people do and give everything except their basic living requirements to BLM.

If that's your bar, no one believes anything.

They want to stay ‘on top’, live their comfortable lives with zero real changes, they just want to feel better about it.

Implies they feel bad , which was westerly's point.

The crux is that acknowledgement is very different from return; when the government of BC actually gives Vancouver island back to the Natives, then you can talk about white progressives actually hating themselves enough to give it all up.

They've demonstrated their commitment by pouring billions into underperforming minorities' programs in the last decades. There is no substantial difference between what they've been doing and handing a few indians vast amounts of land and money directly.

I believe there is a legitimate undercurrent of self hatred and suicidality to a lot of left-leaning beliefs.

Specifically when talking about antinatalism by way of climate change, though I swear that's more a way for people to cope with the fact that they choose temporary happiness over parenthood.

I believe the honest answer would be that white people should (ideally voluntarily) just die out.

Now among my natalist leftwing friends, I don't think 'die out' is really the right way to look at it. If all the white people have kids with nonwhite folks (as those friends have) is anyone or anything really dying out?

Specifically when talking about antinatalism by way of climate change, though I swear that's more a way for people to cope with the fact that they choose temporary happiness over parenthood.

I once had a single hippie mom say that to me outright. "I never wanted kids because of climate change but ah you know that's just an excuse."

Not necessarily representative (though I believe it is), but I was surprised to hear it spoken out loud.

If all the white people have kids with nonwhite folks (as those friends have) is anyone or anything really dying out?

I think this sentiment is only possible if you are convinced that there is no chance that your culture could die out or become unrecognisable.

Would anything be lost or die out if, in a collective fit of insanity, Japan decided to integrate - and intermarry fully - into the People’s Republic of China as a province? I imagine there would be a good amount of indigenous culture that would be discontinued. Of course, such forms of integration aren’t the only possible way cultures can irrevocably change or “die”, but I imagine it would be a pretty big shift with pretty monumental losses.

(Whether any particular instance of cultural “death”, like a language dying, is something to be regretted depends on your values, I suppose.)

If all the Uyghurs are having kids with Han, is it really genocide?

If it was by choice and not force, sure.

Wait, hold on. We've done a verbal sleight of hand here: you went from "is anyone really dying out?" to "is anyone being genocided?". I don't blame you, that's the phrase IGI mistakenly used, but let's rewind.

Consensual or not, if all the Uyghurs have kids with Han, are the Uyghurs dying out?

I don't think you can look at the situation without taking into account who's deciding to do what, but in either case, no, I don't think 'dying out' would be an appropriate way to describe the situation even if 'genocide' might well be.

I also think that there's an additional set of unstated assumptions: that the Han parent is going to pass on their culture while the Uyghur isn't, and I think that's something you can't just gloss over because that's emphatically not happening to mixed race US families.

Well that's one question I suppose. I'm sure there's a lot of different viewpoints as to whether unrestrained immigration counts as chosen or imposed for instance.

Plenty of people intent on destroying white as an identity and doing so against the wishes of at least some people though. Virulent advocates of that even.

I'm not one to care much for collective identities, since I remain despite my best efforts a rootless cosmopolitan, but it strikes me that every argument made to justify the oppression of whites magically becomes unacceptable when you swap them out for brown people or the Jews.

It just doesn't make sense that "the great replacement is okay actually", but "open borders for Israel" isn't. And that's just weird.

is anyone or anything really dying out?

There exist a rare plant called Catalina Mahogany that, because it hybridizes with its common relative the Mountain Mahogany, requires humans to preserve and continue its pure specimens.

I just can't rationalize the idea of people being wiped out when their line will continue for generations to come. I don't understand what's being 'lost' if my kids were mixed race instead of white. They're still mine and isn't that what's important?

Then I suppose you don't believe in significant biological differences between races?

I don't think vitamin D production differences are significant in the modern world with all year round availability of vitamin D containing foods plus most foods already come fortified with vitamin and supplements are cheap.

Significant differences would be in the different tolerance of environment, psychological aspects to thrive in society or make career and succeed. Maybe there are some differences in these things too but I don't think they are significant either because currently most social differences can be explained by culture and traditions rather than race or ethnicity.

It seems human intuition considers diversity for the sake of diversity to be an end.

Say I thought Hitler was bad for merely murdering so many people. That doesn't account for his attempted genocide which was to wipe a population away. The fact that his attempt at genocide involved killing is rather tangential. Charitably, his implementation of killing at such scale is the reason why he's the western example of evil.

We see this in non-political contexts with the designation of endangered species. Killing authorized game for food or sport is of course OK; but killing a member of an endangered species is not OK. Because these aren't human, and of course this isn't done at scale, this isn't anything like genocide, but why even bother saving species like this? Diversity is an end to us.

The U.N. considers it genocide to destroy a people group (even in part). So someone could implement genocide without actual killing, which would involve restricting births or whatever. You're fine to consider this nowhere near as bad as Hitler's mass-murder.

But, if (and maybe you don't) one considers Hitler's genocide made mass murder worse, then implementing genocide using non-murderous means is still genocide.

It's not that it's diversity, at least with endangered species, it's the finality of it. If you wipe out the last one (or nearly the last one), the entire species can be gone forever. If you kill an extra deer, there's lots more elsewhere. In some sense, deer are fungible (a sentence I didn't think I'd ever write).

It's less clear to me, but I'd also say Hitler was extra bad because he targeted innocent people for something they had no say in, AND he was trying to wipe out entire groups (that hadn't done anything to him). There's something hateful about that, and I think it's more about the finality and arbitrariness than a desire to maintain diversity.

I daresay a subset of western policy-makers don't count as "human intuition".

I heard someone claim once that sooner or later, given current trends, we're not going to have any more redheads. I like redheads, and think that would be a shame.

There's a lot of different varieties of human. If you blended them all suddenly and thoroughly, and everyone afterward were tallish, tanned semi-asians of a roughly-equivalent type, that would also be a shame.

I freely admit that this is an aesthetic preference with limited to no implications for actual policy, and probably genetic engineering will make these issues irrelevant in the relatively near future.

They wouldn't blend, because inheritance is Mendelian and discrete. Just look at the Uighurs and other Turks who still evidence the blonde hair and blue eyes of their Aryan ancestors, even red hair on occasion.

Though, recessive genes follow a power law in expression; so, they would be much less likely to be found in mixed populations. Northern Indians have 10% the blue eyes allele variant; so, they are only 1% likely to have blue eyes, and it is considered something rare among them.

Not everything is discrete. Height, skin color, facial features, body proportions are not. Isolated populations will continue getting unusual phenotypes due to recessive alleles taking root, but urban blended humans will all probably look like Tiger Woods or Charles Mingus or Kamala Harris.

In the long run? What's being lost is diversity. Whether that matters depends on your values, priorities, etc....and maybe how much you appreciate irony.

That depends on whether or not you are permitted to raise your children on your terms, with your own values, way of life, etc. In a strictly genetic sense, the Mongols may be one of the most successful people groups in history; in terms of their culture, society, and way of life, they are largely extinct. You can argue that was always going to happen over a sufficiently long enough time horizon, and that's correct. But it can happen on much shorter timelines, even within a single generation, and often does.

I'd like to hear from other progressive people what the steelman version of this is.

I don't consider myself a progressive, as that term is used today, but since you'll only get conflict-theory explanations from most folks here, I'll give it a shot at the mistake-theory explanation, and it's pretty simple: it is a combination of virtue-signaling and innumeracy.

Your friend probably doesn't actually want to move to a place with fewer white people. Such places probably exist within the city he lives in, and you could ask him why he doesn't move there, though you'd probably either be accused (with some justice) of being a jerk, or else you'd get a response that goes "something something gentrification." (Freddie deBoer has written about the catch-22 in which white people moving to whiter communities is white flight, which is bad, but white people moving to less white communities is gentrification, which is also bad.)

Among progressives nowadays, it's just considered an accepted fact that any place or organization that is "too white" will be hopelessly infested with institutional white supremacy. The only cure is more diversity. The problem with this is that "too white" basically means "majority white," and the problem with that is that, contrary to what a lot of people think, the United States is still majority white. Which means even places that are aggressively trying to attract more "diversity" are generally going to remain majority white and therefore will always be "too white."

Which means even places that are aggressively trying to attract more "diversity" are generally going to remain majority white and therefore will always be "too white."

Motte: It's bad that this all-white cast doesn't represent the real U.S. racial demographic

Bailey: It's bad that this all-white cast is > r% white, where r is less than the current U.S. white ratio. (i.e. it's bad that America is so white)

When people argue that some too-white institution is bad because it doesn't match local/national demographics, I suspect they are saying that because it is a convenient explanation that their audience will accept (It's not the True Rejection). I'm not sure this is done consciously or intentionally. I probably overuse this class of explanation. I really like it. It's probably not charitable.

It's concerning that your steelman suggests that people really, consciously think the bailey, because the proper and honest solution here really is a kind of Great Replacement, so that we really can realize <r% whites in all our local institutions, to avoid deeply-embedded white supremacy. Whites are a kind of invasive species, requiring population control for the good of wider society.

FWIW, I think the number of people who actually want to see the white population reduced, whose true motivations are literally what the conflict theorists say they are, is relatively small. Especially among white progressives, self-loathing or not. I genuinely think most of them just don't do the math and don't realize that it's literally impossible to, for example, have 50% of every community they care about be made up of POC.

Generally the term of art for such a thing was the "demographics are destiny" slogan, I thought?

I think a lot of them also literally just don't realize the vast majority of the American population is white. This is in part because so many of them spend their formative years in a handful of majority-minority cities. To them, 30% black/25% LGBT/30% white/40% Asian or Hispanic/10-20% Jewish sounds about right because that's literally what they spent their formative years around. Yes those numbers add up to more than 100% because some of those categories are not mutually exclusive.

"Math" and "doing the research" haven't exactly been shown as woke strengths in the recent past, so it's not like they're going to naturally correct themselves on their own.

I'll give it a shot at the mistake-theory explanation, and it's pretty simple: it is a combination of virtue-signaling and innumeracy.

Conflict explanation--it's malice for the outgroup. Mistake explanation--it's at best thoughtlessness; "a combination of virtue-signaling and innumeracy" isn't a position that I'd describe as...intellectually respectable?

This is where I'm confused--I thought that Scott's advocacy for viewing disagreements as mistakes was at least partially rooted in charity: let's assume the best of those we disagree with. But in this case, it sounds like the mistake version rounds to some version of "just dumb," and it's not obvious to me that this is a more charitable explanation than malice. Both are bad; is anti-intellectual thoughtlessness clearly better than hatred?

Does a steelman exist? Is there an answer that would reflect well on progressives? If yes, what is it? If no, what's the point in picking dumb vs. evil?

You make a fair point, and I think the real problem is not that no steelman exists, it's that I wasn't really being charitable even in my attempt to provide a mistake-theory explanation. (That's why I don't make a very good progressive.)

Okay, let me try again: the steelman requires that you more or less accept the Ibrim Kendi/Robin DiAngelo premise. Our country, our institutions, our societies, are suffering from deeply embedded white supremacy. Therefore, any place in which the white majority is glaringly obvious (to the point that non-white people are notable for being the outliers) is in need of diversifying (and should "do the work" to figure out why they have so few non-white people). Why are there so few POC here? Assuming you actually do the math and conclude that a ~13% black presence is what you should expect in an equitable racial distribution, a place where you find less than 2% black people has done something, intentionally or not, to make it unwelcoming or hostile to black people.

To go further, I'd have to go further in trying to steelman DEI and "anti-racism" as expressed by those two individuals, and, well, I don't accept their premises and I'm a liberal. But presuming you are dealing with someone who does accept their premises, the conclusion logically follows that any place that hasn't achieved some (statistically improbable) level of racial assimilation is full of institutionalized, unexamined white supremacy.

"foolish" is almost always more charitable than "malice".

It's the other way around; it's hubris of the highest order to think your enemies are idiots. I respect my enemies too much to lie and call them stupid.

  1. Even if you step up the meta levels, to "whiteness bad, diversity good" as you suggest above, what's the steelman? If it's going to be a proper steelman, it ought to stand up to some level of counterargument (that's the point of "steel"), but in my experience, even the "steelman" pulls the race card immediately and declares disagreement invalid without engagement.

  2. You said "almost always," well hedged. (I mean that sincerely.) But that admits the point that massive foolishness can be worse than small malice, and then we're just arguing degree.

Grey's Law, right? "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

What is your ideal programming education ?

Recently trying to teach my younger brother (CS freshman in Canadian university) programming and having that devolving into a yelling session (kicked the dog there) left me wondering about the state of programming education.

How is this CW?
  • Because in any discussion of any type of education system there is an undercurrent disagreement between the blank slatists and the "IQ believers (or whatever this group is called)".

  • How to teach something can also be split along CW lines. See common core, phonics vs whole language, etc.

  • On top of that there is the group representation angle. Certain groups of people are disproportionately represented in programming professions.

My thoughts/priors on the points above
  • I think IQ is very obviously correlated with programming ability, I think this is the default prior of anyone who believes in the predictive usefulness of IQ. However, I would go a step ahead and say that a very specific type of intelligence that probably correlates with IQ score, but is distinct is along certain dimensions could be a better predictor of programming ability. See Dehnadis work.

    My personal observation is that all good programmers I know show signs of high intelligence but not everyone who shows signs of high intelligence shows programming aptitude proportional to their intelligence. I am not entirely sure if its a "wordcel vs shape rotator" issue, the dichotomy isn't as obvious as is with Electrical Engineering for example.

  • I have come across two fairly distinct methods of teaching programming. I would classify them as 'trying to impart intuition' vs. 'trying to impart knowledge.'

    • The former consists of teaching via gamified methods where students are made to play elaborate games consisting of programming puzzles, modify existing code to draw out 2-d shapes and animations, etc. Once students develop some familiarity with changing words in a file to make the computer do something, they are introduced to data types, data structures, control flow, etc.

    • The latter is a more 'rigorous' approach where students are taught the fundamentals such as data types, structures, flow, interpreter vs compiler, etc first; Then they are made to write programs. These programs are sometimes gamified but not to the extent as the former.

    I consider the latter "imparting knowledge" method superior. It's more in line with all the hard sciences I have been taught and all the good programmers I am aware of claim to have been taught using this method. More on this later.

  • Obvious racial stratification. But I think putting that aside, the gender stratification is worth more discussion. Even the best discussions I could find on the topic simply boils down to "differences interest". I think that isn't the complete picture.

    I really don't want to do women dirty like this but, I have yet to come across a "good" female programmer. I really don't know what it is at the root of this. My superficial intuition is that a certain aspect of becoming a good programmer is just relentlessness. Sometimes you need to try out 100 different bug fixes and read through 50 stack overflow and obscure forum posts to fix a certain problem or get something working. Men in my experience are much much more willing to swim through the stack overflow and debugger sewers than women.

    But that isn't the entire picture, I just don't see women writing naturally good code, if that even is a term. And by that I mean the code a person rights with the knowledge of the fundamentals but no knowledge of coding best practices such as separation of concerns, lose coupling, etc. Men in my experience naturally tended to write "better" code without prior knowledge. A lot of the female students I taught used to roll their eyes when being explained good practices.

Intuition vs Knowledge

Programming is hard. Teaching it is also hard. Beginner tutorials tend to have an order of more magnitude views than advanced tutorials.

I am sure that the intuition based teaching methods were born out of frustration with the fact that students couldn't connect the pieces together despite being aware of all the pieces and how they work. But having seen it first hand, I just don't understand how it can teach someone programming at all.

My brother knows how to draw a submarine and make it sway up and down but doesn't know that void means nothing. He is being made to write out words without knowing what they mean and of course its all served in a bowl of global variable spaghetti. The professor chose dumbed down Java 2-d animation package called Processing to teach the class. The documentation is horrendous, its a shadow of what Java is. Why not just use Java? Or even python??

This is very much madness from my pov. Changing lines in code the way the students in my brothers class are being made to do is so far removed from the act of programming or even the primitives of programming that I am left wondering if the "vibes" people have gotten their noses in there as well.

I was taught much differently with an introduction to compilers, data types, conditionals, etc. All of it in C, and despite using python for 99% of my word, I am eternally grateful for having started with C.

It is so much of an over-correction from what I assume is the traditional way of teaching programming that I just can't wrap my mind around it, It might pass for school children but University? I mean I get it even MIT is teaching intro to CS in Python, but at least they are still teaching the actual language and not some bastardchild of it.

I think the fact of the matter might be that demand for CS degrees far exceeds requirement for CS practitioners. The universities are not being honest to their students and are making it all seem like a game in a with the hope that it will all work out for some reason.

Edit - To further clarify why I think the intuition based method is ineffective.

Intuition is hard to impart.

Here's the submarine example from my brothers class with some more detail. The question asks for "Make the submarine sway up and down in a wave and go from left to right".

To even a notice programmer it is immediately obvious that this means the x-coordinates need to be incremented every frame and the y coordinates are just sin(x). That intuition is abstracted behind a 2-d animation task. This is adding in excessive intellectual baggage, its not necessary to anyone who understands a loop.

Valuable time is being wasted on making 2-d shapes do things as opposed to knowing the tools that make them do things. I could solve the submarine problem instantly because I know what a loop is.

I think it's important for novice programmers to first get an intuitive sense for what we're doing here and then get a rigorous education in it. Skipping either step is likely to go badly.

Maybe this is because I'm self taught, but I don't think either of your two options are how I think about intro to coding.

The order I learned languages (so far) was perl -> python -> C -> common lisp -> JS -> Kotlin -> Scala -> Go (with a smattering of others in between when I needed them for specific things). I don't think explicit data structures/data types came into (as opposed to them being an implementation detail) that until I hit C, but by the time I did, they were quite intuitive.

Maybe this is just me being solution oriented, but the way I've always looked at it (and introduced people to programming when I teach them) was to start with a problem they were solving, start with a blank page (I've not found giving them starter code to produce good results), and walk them through each of the relevant tools, being careful not to tell them the combinations that they need. For synthetic problems, stealing music from the internet is usually a good place to start. People like music, and getting it is a quick way to go from the "I don't know what I'm doing" to the "I'm a god" adrenaline rush that hooks people on programming. They build up a toolbox of solutions to problems, and later combine them into bigger solutions for bigger problems.

But having the power and agency to solve my own problems (real problems, not synthetic assignments created by an academic) myself is what got me into this, and it's what keeps me doing it every day.

I will, however, agree that the (often quite useless) abstractions do get in the way more than they help, and leave people in a nebulous "I have no idea what's going on" state of mind. Maybe that's the benefit of going through C at some point? It strips away almost all of the magic. Maybe I'm being hard on abstractions here, but library specific abstractions (as opposed to the ones built into the language itself) tend to be poorly done and make my life harder rather than easier.

Solving your own problems is exactly the rush. And it can't be something that someone told you would be a good problem for practicing programming. It has to be something where you want to have the result and are eager to get closer and closer step by step.

For example I wrote bots to automatically fill out various HTML forms, or modded games, built websites for gaming clans, processed and synced subtitles for downloaded movies, scraped websites like the parliamentary election result website to slice and dice the data myself, to process Wikipedia dumps in various ways etc. Nobody told me to do any of these, but such things led me through lots of classic CS topics and I read up on how to do them with a goal in mind. That's so much better than the prof dropping some artificial problem on you.

Like if I have two subtitles in two languages and one is properly synced up, but the other isn't, but might also not correspond to the first subtitle perfectly one-to-one, then how do I find out a plausible correct alignment? This leads to various algorithms like edit distance, longest common subsequence etc.

But this presupposes that you have such computational or automation use cases in your life. For example today with Netflix existing, I might have never learned about video file formats, subtitle file formats, never had to correct audio or subtitle sync issues. If my parents had been rich and Steam existed, I wouldn't have had to learn how to play with the Windows registry, to mess with the Program Files, to understand how to use firewalls to set up LAN games etc. And all such endeavors open up new problems to solve, now you have to install an IDE, figure out environment variables, understamd that vague C++ compiler error, read up on what the words mean, all still with the goal that you want to get that thing working, but without any external pressure like deadlines, so if I want, I can take a side quest into deep diving into graph algorithms for a few days or whatever.

If you don't see such problems around you, if you don't care to customize stuff on your computer, you may look at project ideas but those always seem artificial because someone already did them and we know there is a solution. It's a schoolish problem. When you build something for yourself, you have to define the problem, the scope, then go further and further. Some riddle websites are also cool, like

I'm not saying that such self study is sufficient but it made my formal studies much easier because I could tie the concepts to first hand experiences.

To me programming is quite straight forward and easy to understand. Many things that are most difficult to understand in the field come from having to use/do things that gloss over a hundred little pieces of computing reality that make things "easier." To be honest, programming is really shallow. Programming is a textual interface for controlling computers. That's it. Everything else a computer does that might be useful belongs to a different domain. And while programming is shallow per se, all those different domains that you come in contact with via programming are very deep, and that's where most of the joy comes from for me when programming. I really hate "frameworks" and programming-language fetishism. That's all fashion. The essence of form over function.

So, to answer your question, the ideal programming education in my mind starts with real programs that do real things, but that are super simple. Literally start everyone with Hello World, then Hello Susan, then Hello , etc. Read real programs that do real things, learn how they work, etc.

So how is the best way to teach data structures, algorithmic complexity, single responsibility, patterns, (more things which are not programming) etc.?

The most ubiquitous data structures and algorithms are really simple to understand. Well over half of programming with ds is sticking a bunch of primitives into a struct, giving it a name, and keeping track of a list of them (or a list of refs to them). Things like "single responsibility" and "patterns" more generally are already getting into territory that I deem to be fashion. To the extent that those ideas are useful they're trivial, and they go much beyond the point of useful in their prescriptions.

Complexity is also pretty easy to teach by just making people perform different algorithms with pen and paper so they can feel the difference between them. From that intuition it's not difficult to understand how different algos can be a better/worse choice depending on the size of your dataset. But this can also be misleading, so I would include a section on how to test these things in the real world.

Do you have any recommendations for getting into it later in life?

I messed around with Java, html and linux in high school, then got funneled into a pure bio track for about a decade for my career. At one point I went back to learning some R and python without having the fundamentals (I guess the academic version of a script kiddie) purely for doing genome sequencing/scRNA-seq work. Now I'm trying to learn some fundamentals; I've been working through the Harvard Edx CS50 class, with hopes of trying the machine learning class next.

Any thoughts? Keep in mind I'm probably limited to 1-2 hours per day with maybe a bit more flex on the weekend.

Approach it like a craftsman.

I dive into things head first, willing to make mistakes. After I fumble through my first attempt with middling success, I'm left with usually some notion of where i could have done better. Sometimes I have a clear picture of how that is, other times I need to do some research first. Then i do it again with my new knowledge.

Repeat for 20 years.

Eventually you will organically run into the usual problems. The state of your program getting corrupted by refences to objects not being well managed. Using function calls that aren't thread safe in a multithreaded environment. Variables being initialized in the debug environment but not the release one. Your code descending into spaghetti hell because you used one kluge too many.

These are the normal problems neophyte code slingers encounter. Sometimes being forewarned by the elders helps. But in my experience most people need to learn these lessons the hard way. The best way is to code early and often on pet projects. Finishing them is optional, but gratifying.

Downthread, there's a recommendation for people to learn coding by creating mods for Slay the Spire. That's great advice IMO, and could be generalized to "learn to program by writing code that fulfills your goals" if you aren't into video games.

I've had interest in programming before but I've never really had a goal or anything to actually go with it. Tutorials are nice but trying to learn programming without a problem is like trying to learn to use a gun without any bullets.

I have touched before on the idea that a [programmer] must have something they value more than "[programming]": The Art must have a purpose other than itself, or it collapses into infinite recursion.

Something to Protect

Programming is notorious for tutorial hell. One of the reasons for this is that not enough care is taken to differentiate the act of programming vs its applications. An analogue I can think of is that math is a tool, its used in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc. Similarly programming is a tool its used in Physics, Engineering, Web development, etc. However, a lot of tutorials for some weird reason try to sneak in some Physics, Engineering, Web development (not literally) teaching along with the programming. This makes a beginner come away with the impression that the task of learning to program is much more onerous than it actually is. A lot of people would be put off by math as well if Calculus courses had some physics, engineering and biology in it.

So firstly, be clear in what you want to learn. Do you want to learn only programming? Or programming for some kind application? You would only do yourself favors if the programming and the programming relating to the application is well delineated, at least while you are learning and not informed enough to not get overwhelmed.

My suggestion to you based on;

At one point I went back to learning some R and python without having the fundamentals (I guess the academic version of a script kiddie) purely for doing genome sequencing/scRNA-seq work.

  • First get familiar with the act of programming.

    • Choose one language and get good at it. Python is a no-brainer for beginners in general. And especially for the type of work you have to do. Just stick with python, no R for now, until you are not thinking in syntax anymore.

    • I suggest you watch this video and learn everything covered in this video. This video is far from comprehensive. It's far from perfect. But the point is to stick to something at all to begin with! This video will give you the ABC's of python. You can learn the how to write poems and novels later.

    • Once you are comfortable enough with the basic syntax of your first language that you don't have to check the correct syntax over and over again. Start doing some practice problems. There are hundreds of resources for this. LeetCode is an (in)famouse resource. However, be warned that even the "Easy" problems are difficult a beginner. These problems are meant to be tests of computer science application, so if you find them too hard, here are some easier ones. The objective here is to build for lack of better words "muscle memory".

    • Optional step. Once you are comfortable doing at least leetcode medium. You can read up a book on "Data structures and algorithms" or any such books on how to write better code. But I don't think these are necessary for non software engineers.

  • Familiarize yourself with the tools of your trade within your programming language of choice.

    • This means learning how to use specific libraries related to your field. You will have an easier time picking these up if you are already a good programmer. A reason non software engineers (especially scientists and researchers !!) write such terrible code is because they learn the requisite libraries needed for their work before becoming even half decent at programming.
  • Do a project(s) of your own. This is good for soo many reasons. And is an order not a prescription.

    • Self motivating.

    • You will be tested on applying what you know

    • Most in line with real world work

    • Will force you to learn new things yourself via forum posts and documentation scouring, which is an essential skill in programming, despite not being related to it in any way.

    • Rewarding.

You do the above long enough, some of it concurrently and you will reach a point where you can just program. You don't think in syntax anymore, all languages will be the same. For example I can start writing in a new language within 30minutes - 1 hours of looking at it, because I already know what arrays, conditions and loops are; The syntax is superficial to a programmer, But to achieve that, you need to first master ONE language. Your ultimate goal is to understand the meaning not the teachers (compilers) password.

CS50x is good all things considered. For your needs I might suggest CS50p. But ideally you can pretty much learn programming without courses at all.

Thanks for the reply! Sorry, I was away all weekend. I'll take a crack at it.

So firstly, be clear in what you want to learn. Do you want to learn only programming? Or programming for some kind application?

Unfortunately, I think my final goals will be determined more by how much time I can carve out of the rest of my life for it rather than starting with some endpoint in mind. I'm fairly confident I never want to actually be writing the nitty-gritty code that analyzes bio data, but rather am looking for synergy with what I already know. I think at the far end if I ever end up running a bio startup incorporating machine learning it might be fun to mess around with in the beginning stages, or at the very least, be able to converse intelligently with the engineers involved. Bootstrapping a bio startup in my basement is much harder; you can do some bacterial and yeast work (probably illegally in a few different ways) for something in the range of thousands of dollars, but doing anything with mammalian cells would probably be in the 100k range just for capital costs and be more or less impossible to hide.

Anyways, that's where I'm at. I'll give those resources a try and maybe recalibrate my goals over the next few months.

I'd add reading other people's code. I picked up a lot of coding by osmosis as a kid just fumbling around existing codebases, just trying to get a program to do something I wanted. I literally had no idea what is a for loop or what are function calls, I just dived in and tweaked it. Of course it works better the more background knowledge you have. But the main point is to se real code, instead of the idealized stuff that a lot of courses teach, eg "design patterns" just for the sake of design pattern, unrealistic standards of code cleanness, like the very opinionated Clean Code etc. The best open source products from respected companies don't code like that, but get shit done. I'm not advocating for spaghetti code, just to get a taste for real, working codebases as opposed to toy examples with unrealistic elegance. By reading code you can pick up good or bad habits alike, but that's not a reason to avoid it.

I would put this into the "things that you probably should do" bin. Issue being there are a thousand things like this to be done. Read forums. immerse yourself in the culture, read open source code, read new papers coming out, read documentation for fun, etc.

It leads back to your initial point, motivation. Those who are motivated will naturally do all of those things out of curiosity. But I am not sold on the idea that making someone uninterested do those things will make them good. Nonetheless, reading other peoples code does have high returns relative to "things you should probably do aswell".

Also we don't demand this from Engineers or any other profession (maybe barring doctors). Electrical engineers are not prescribed looking at other engineers schematics in their free time (even if it made them better Engineers). Programming is in this weird zone where its not standardized enough that only the most passionate of autists are the ones who make it through all the hoops.

making someone uninterested do those things will make them good

Someone who is uninterested will never become good anyway, so you might as well encourage them to do these things and find out if they are or not. I have worked 25 years in this industry and never met a developer I respected who was not in love with it.

Well, maybe those professions are being held back then. But electrical engineers are close enough to programmers in culture, I'd say. Or at least they are in my bubble. And as for other engineers, there's less of an open culture and things are proprietary. Realistic projects can only be done on the company scale in industry, there no equivalent of free software or Github for those professions.

Also,I don't think that other professions are really as straightforward and standardized as these conversations make it seem. Programming isn't sooo unique. Generic IT admin stuff or network engineering, infrastructure design etc also has a lot of the same difficulties. And someone who mucks around their home router and built some PCs as a kid will be better at such IT work. You'll be a better car mechanic if you're in some car modding community since growing up. You'll be better at roofing, construction planning, flooring, plumbing design etc if you dive into it obsessively. People just don't do it that much for whatever reason.

I am an engineering manager and the biggest change I've seen is the motivation. Me, and other older millennials and younger Xers who grew up tinkering with our PCs would never think of doing anything else for a living. We're in tech because we're into tech. The new generation is different: they're in tech because it pays well. There's such a huge demand for tech workers that zoomers' CVs mostly look like this:

  • burger flipper

  • call center operator

  • tech boot camp

  • tester/data engineer/front-end dev

As soon as I wrote that I realized that the older generations were different. They didn't have PCs growing up. My (very good) architect didn't even have a PC at home until his daughter needed one for school. He majored in chemistry, not CS. Another guy I know ended up working with computers because he was a handyman in a research institute the director of which decided to start a computer importing business. He forgot his keys on the day the shipment arrived, my guy picked the lock open, then picked it closed and was hired for being resourceful.

However, both these guys have a very important shared characteristic: they are very smart. Guy #1 wasn't a simple chemist major but won not-just-participation prizes in All-Union Chemistry Olympiads. Guy #2 is a just a natural-born engineer, trucks to transistors.

And this brings me to the question of scale.

  • You can't scale the way my older colleagues ended up in software engineering

  • You could try to scale the way I ended up in software engineering: give everyone a Linux PC with a bunch of compilers and interpreters and wait for the nerds to emerge, but I think that wouldn't work as well as it worked in the 90's: everything is just too user-friendly these days. I drive a car, but have no intention of becoming a car nerd

  • And finally, this leaves formal schooling as the only thing that can scale

And schools have to be schizophrenic in their curriculum. They have to teach math so people can calculate the tip and plan their spending, literature so people can read and understand references in summer blockbusters, history so they can pick a new name for their street, computers so they don't install malware and can search for stuff online. On the other hand, they have to create people who will become mathematicians, writers, historians and programmers. The only way they can do that is by forcing their students to try everything. Do they hate math? Do they love math? Do they not care either way, but are good at it?

While I think Processing is not the best tool for college-level education, I think Processing/Logo/drawing primitives in Basic/XNA/Love2D are a good introduction to programming at middle-to-high school level. The goal is to comb the student body for people who are not into programming, but are good at it nevertheless.

If I was trying to reach students at the elementary level, I'd probably build out things from the Usborne computer books from the 1980s. I remember endlessly rereading these books at the school library, and even looking back over Introduction to Computer Programming now, it is still an excellent introduction to what a computer does, how it executes a program statement-by-statement, etc. Many activities could be made into craft exercises, covering the essential ideas without having to deal with any particular programming environment.

As for university, I see far too many "introduction to programming" courses attempt to "teach programming" without giving students any idea of what the language even means. How are they supposed to solve problems with code if they don't understand what the computer does with that code? The language needs to be simple enough that this can be done in at most two lectures; scheme is simple enough that you can have a decent go at this.

Types should be introduced early, because "what sort of things go into this function, and what comes back out?" is a really important question to ask when designing a function, and it allows machines to (partially) check students' work, instead of an over-worked TA in a lab session. The programming environment probably has to be interactive and graphical, because those damn zoomers barely know what a file is these days, and we don't have time to teach them how to drive a shell.

My best guess is something like SICP, taught using DrRacket, and moving to Typed Racket ASAP. Replace the hardcore EE/CS examples with simpler problems to solve, since students aren't coming in with as much mathematical sophistication and we're going to be asked to teach a cohort that's not all headed into Engineering/CompSci, and probably borrow some pedagogy/scaffolding/recipes from HTDP. Bring in some of the cool CS stuff once students know how to actually program; you want to show at least some amazing CS ideas so that you hook the people who are susceptible to such things.

Disciplined ways of structuring programs make more sense once a student has made a few big messes, so discussions of coupling, modularity, and so on can come later. But they must not be left for too long.

I have never seen a biological female coder outside of frontend and devops for some reason. I'm only a couple years in the industry though.

I don't have any strong opinions about learning coding other than to watch Uncle Bob's Clean Coding and fully internalize it, and to read and understand SICP.

I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a true expert in the field and had the fundamentals of pragmatic coding hammered into me. We would spend hours reviewing my code and arguing passionately about semantics and ontology. Being forced to explain my rationale and defend every single line I wrote made me a superior programmer to my peers in college.

I think a big part of being a truly good programmer is just having an appreciation for aesthetics and a sense of shame. You SHOULD FEEL BAD for writing bad code, even if it's truly nessessary. You should feel an intuitive sense of disgust seeing a function with too many side effects. Seeing awful inconsistent naming should make you cringe. These are all good things.

I really don't want to do women dirty like this but, I have yet to come across a "good" female programmer. I really don't know what it is at the root of this.

It could just be there are so few in the first place. The proportion of coworkers I have of any gender that I consider particularly good programmers is quite low, and I've had over a period of ten years roughly... three female programming co-workers?

I don't recall them being remarkably good or bad. Like most of my coworkers I would class their code as "basically serviceable."

Have you known a lot of male coworkers that you viewed as being remarkably good coders?

I really don't want to do women dirty like this but, I have yet to come across a "good" female programmer

I know a few. One is one of the best system designers I know, the other is the kind of get-your-hands-dirty fix-anything learn-any-stack type that any company with legacy code needs.

My ideal programming education was, essentially, being taught the basics at a very young age, and then figuring out the rest on my own with the help of the immense documentation, examples, tools, and communities on the internet. If you want textbooks, download them. If you want to RTFM, it's also online. And there are a billion possible complex projects you can set yourself to. Write your own compiler, write your own hobby operating system, write a video game, write a simulator for a complex physical system... lots of stuff.

I consider the latter "imparting knowledge" method superior. It's more in line with all the hard sciences I have been taught and all the good programmers I am aware of claim to have been taught using this method. More on this later.

I'm not sure either is better tbh, or if it matters. To learn to code, one needs to learn how to solve problems, and that requires 'teaching intuition' by having people solve a bunch of problems, whether it's initially 'calculate the nth fibbonaci number' or later 'design and write a simple video game'. But you also need to learn a thousand different general programming bits, plus another five hundred bits specific to a language, and that's gonna look like 'teaching knowledge' no matter how it happens (in 'java', what are all the types, what's an anonymous inner class, generics, type erasure, reflection, boxing, a reference, a package, how does the build system work). And - good luck 'intuiting' that, you need to read the docs or a bunch of stackoverflow answers that, when put together, are basically the docs.

So you need both, but good / motivated students of one will do the other by themselves.

Also, the problem with the brother's course / the processing.js thing isn't necessarily that it's too intuition-drive, but that it's too dumbed down. One could imagine a python course that was very 'teaching intuition', almost like a socratic method with code, but still used that to lead people through all the difficult parts of beginner programming, as opposed to just showing them how to move a cute little character around a 2d grid. (but then people would start failing again!)

I really don't want to do women dirty like this but, I have yet to come across a "good" female programmer. I really don't know what it is at the root of this. My superficial intuition is that a certain aspect of becoming a good programmer is just relentlessness. Sometimes you need to try out 100 different bug fixes and read through 50 stack overflow and obscure forum posts to fix a certain problem or get something working. Men in my experience are much much more willing to swim through the stack overflow and debugger sewers than women.

I think Dr. Lawrence Summers shed some light on that matter in 2005 but it didn't go over well. I think 70+ years ago women may have been more represented in programming because either programming was easier compared to today or they were not actually doing programming as it's understood today. Probably a mix of both. Coding today has many more parts...more complexity in terms of interconnectedness, hence steeper learning curve. A Node.js trading platform or app is way more complicated, more moving parts, than anything produced in the 60s.

My personal observation is that all good programmers I know show signs of high intelligence but not everyone who shows signs of high intelligence shows programming aptitude proportional to their intelligence. I am not entirely sure if its a "wordcel vs shape rotator" issue, the dichotomy isn't as obvious as is with Electrical Engineering for example.

IQ is one of those things that's necessary but insufficient.

Programming is hard. Teaching it is also hard. Beginner tutorials tend to have an order of more magnitude views than advanced tutorials.

Most people are not learning how to actually program but learning how to follow instructions for a tutorial, which are related skills, but making the leap from tutorials to deeper or fundamental understanding is harder. If as soon as you deviate a little too much from the tutorial you get lost again, means you never understood it well to begin with.

I'll just say I've known a number of excellent women programmers. My personal opinion is that the main issue is just different interests (and often other options). Research seems to support that (roughly, women are interested in people, men are interested in things), it's one of the most repeated findings with biggest effect sizes in psychology.

As to teaching CS, I can't really remember what worked well for me. My sense is to focus on solving problems, and building out the world of tools, knowledge, and techniques that allow you to solve larger and more complex problems. I think it's important to have something concrete to attach abstract things to when learning. But that's just a first thought.

I’ll second the “excellent women programmers” thing; though I am not in tech, I am dating a woman who is as far as I can tell “good” at programming (graduated from Carnegie Mellon roughly in the middle of the CS cohort), and she tells me that there was at least one woman in her cohort who was brilliant enough that her professors described her entering industry as “a great loss to academia”.

That said, she also describes that women were an overwhelming minority, that the entry class was 50/50 M/F but very quickly all the women left, and she’s…well, not happy, but willing, to bang her head against a programming problem for ages without apparently making any progress. (She is quite neurotic, though, and had to really work through that during her undergrad.)

Programming is hard to fake. In most school subjects it's enough to know the "teacher's password", so memorization (of facts or algorithmic processes to solve one of a few types of problems that are likely to be in the test) is a decent strategy for getting good grades.

In programming, you have to problem-solve, face uncertainties, without an option to bullshit your way out of it (the code either compiles or not, it either crashes or not, and the computer doesn't care about your emotional state or your deadline or whatever).

I think the necessary relentlessness and intrinsic motivation required is comparable to playing musical instruments or sports. And incidentally, it's mostly boys who spend insane amounts of time on practicing the guitar or football or yoyo or skateboarding or even video games etc. without any external pressure from parents and teachers.

If you don't give a shit about playing the guitar, and have no aptitude for it, a private tutor will similarly have a very hard job to try and teach you to play.

It's impossible to teach things like this, it's only possible to learn them. By that I mean that the action has to come from the learner. The teacher can't actively put anything in the learner's brain. You can lead a horse to water and so on.

Intelligence surely is a factor here but it's not the only one. I know intelligent people who are not obsessive tinkerers and less intelligent ones who constantly muck around with some stuff, building various kludge and messing with their car, building stuff around the house, repairing this or that in a custom way etc. This itch to make things is a big component in who will actually learn to program and who won't.

@ last paragraph, 'intelligence' is just whatever causes intelligence, and if that trait makes people - in practice, in the complexities of society and technical work - smarter, then it is 'part of' intelligence too, because it really does lead to that person being smarter in the specific area

I'm saying that there's a separate personality trait that's something like the drive to make stuff despite failures, to not give up in the face of difficulty. And this is not always a Hollywood hero upward trajectory. One side of it is someone trying over and over with sub-par results or taking way longer than others with less stubbornness but more intelligence would. I know people who are relentless and put lots of energy into something fruitless and they aren't very skilled for it. They may build dangerous contraptions out of wood and metal but with lousy construction, inefficiently etc. They may obsess over reading history and politics and come out of it believing various pants-on-head tinfoil conspiracy theories, or may spend way too much time on building hopeless perpetuum mobile constructions etc.

Willingness to work hard (intrinsically driven industriousness, relentlessness, stubbornness) can be decoupled from intelligence. On the flip side, many intelligent people are lazy and coast along, wasting their potential.

There's a subtlety here, though. Why is it a separate personality trait, and not a 'component' of intelligence? Because if you are an 'intelligent person' 'wasting your potential', and that waste-of-potential is set up in such a way that it can't easily be externally fixed because you need to have that "drive" to figure out a bunch of different things to be smart, then that's just another cause of having lower intelligence.

Intelligence is usually understood as an ability, the cognitive processing power, your ability to deal in abstractions and meta levels, notice patterns, keep more stuff in your working memory, etc. It's distinct from experience, lexical knowledge, amount of acquired skills etc.

If you don't want to use the word intelligence like this, then let's name my concept intelligence_2, and understand my statement as "intelligence_2 is a distinct trait from willingness to work hard from an intrinsic drive."

Intelligence is usually understood as an ability, the cognitive processing power, your ability to deal in abstractions and meta levels, notice patterns, keep more stuff in your working memory, etc.

I mean, I could say something similar about some of these. Working memory isn't part of intelligence, it's just a separate trait. You can be incredibly intelligent, but just not have the working memory to keep a big list of facts or intermediate steps (although is this actually how working memory really works? idk.), and thus waste your potential in practice. But in practice it's a key component (not to say anything about what memory is or how it's constructed, which, idk, and the same is true of that "drive", they could all be high-level features of some more complicated underlying mechanism that doesn't have those as levers). Which is kind of my argument - intelligence is complicated and messy, it's related to many mechanisms in the brain, and there's not really a particular reason to say that the 'drive' isn't intelligence but working memory is - and we don't really know how intelligence works, so decomposing it in ways that seem convenient isn't necessarily the best approach.

If an intelligent person is externally motivated to do stuff, by teachers, parents, expectation, poverty etc. they can perform well.

So basically, drive can be substituted by something else, but the cognitive power of your brain can't be replaced through external influence.

To tie it back to the original point: just because you get good grades in high school, and get good test scores, doesn't mean you'll be a good at practical programming. You can even do a full CS degree program and still not be good at programming compared to your peers who pour a lot of hours into it from this itch to create stuff.

That's true, but I'm trying to say that a person with that 'drive' will, all else equal, understand things more deeply, figure out more stuff, and therefore be "more intelligent" in every observable sense we say "intelligence", and that's part of why they're better at programming. So saying it's separate from intelligence isn't quite right imo

More comments

I think the necessary relentlessness and intrinsic motivation required is comparable to playing musical instruments or sports. And incidentally, it's mostly boys who spend insane amounts of time on practicing the guitar or football or yoyo or skateboarding or even video games etc. without any external pressure from parents and teachers.

People brought up the "interest in things vs interest in people" gender difference. But I always prefer how much more neurotic women are. It's incredibly difficult to keep smashing your soft brain meats against a problem, fruitlessly at first, for hours, if not days, if you are biased towards experiencing profound and prolonged negative emotions in response to failure.

Women generally avoid the chance of failure more than men, likely due to their increased neuroticism. So they won't master skillsets that require you to fail repeatedly.

I think the necessary relentlessness and intrinsic motivation required is comparable to playing musical instruments or sports. And incidentally, it's mostly boys who spend insane amounts of time on practicing the guitar or football or yoyo or skateboarding or even video games etc. without any external pressure from parents and teachers.

Yup. Good coders are people who have been coding for years on their own time, almost as a hobby or recreation. It's not like something in which you just clock in and clock out.

This is where the discussion turns to "why do we expect programmers to be obsessive and do their profession also as a hobby when nobody expects that from accountants or civil engineers or surgeons or lawyers?" And some accusations that programming is toxic and elitist and exclusionary, biased towards basement dweller neckbeard incel nerd techbros who have nothing better in their lives than messing with a computer.

As this often comes up in discussions, I have tried to think it through and here's my current opinion. Those other jobs are perhaps less fun on the whole (fewer people enjoy them as a hobby). Those other jobs are also not available for practice for kids. At the same time I would expect that good professionals would tend to keep up with developments in their field even just out of interest. And the professional skills of engineers or mechanics of any sort probably correlate to how much they tinkered with things as kids. Whether this correlation is due to direct causation or the common-cause type is another question.

The complaints typically come from two places. One is DEI, the other is from older devs with families and outdated skills. Maybe a third one: accusing tech companies of implicitly requiring unpaid labor for skill development and exploiting the naive twenty something guys and depressing wages because "its supposed to be fun, here's some pizza and a ping pong table, now go make me some profits."

People who have excellent careers do have their career as a lifestyle. You don't become a star lawyer by doing your 9 to 5 and going home. You don't become a star surgeon by working regular hours. If you want to do accounting for a municipal office, you don't have to worry about accounting in your spare time. If you want to manage the finances of a hedge fund, your world is centred around your career.

If you want to have a fairly regular job as a coder you don't have to center your life around it. If you want to be skilled enough to be the tech lead of a graphics engine or writing the coolest new thing in fin tech you are going to have to work very hard to develop a high proficiency. Programming is very much a skill based profession and those who really want to master it will be better at it. You don't become a star musician, tennis player, chess player, coder or surgeon unless really make it your life's mission.

With that said many lawyers write wills for middle class people and many surgeons are removing tonsils while working regular hours.

Okay, but is there anything interesting or unusual in this aspect regarding programming? Why does this always come up when debating software dev?

My guess is that there is an abundance of otherwise low-status kids who, by virtue of spending too much time "in the basement" can punch above their weight. And that these avenues are not properly gatekept by usual prestige and status gatekeepers. Or is there some other reason?

A surgeon can't do surgery at home, but they are probably thinking about it, reading about it or spending more time at work.

First, a note on motivations: It's possible that autist techbros make the field the way it is. But people who usually advocate this position seem like they should also like your skill-development theory, because they are probably a fan of blaming Management for exploiting workers. The reason for the discourse is IMO because the autist nerds are low-status and so should be blamed and shunned even moreso than Management.

Second, an additional theory that likewise doesn't blame nerds: software is in its infancy, and the training and techniques are not well-studied enough. Once we learn more about it, it will become legible and really become a job that an everydayman can do, like plumbing.

Third, which came to mind after writing the second: all of software is automation. Any problems that become well-studied enough to be solved well, become automated away and hidden under layers of abstraction, which is how we got to the present day. With the newfound time, programmers are expected to solve the next ladder-rung of problems. Unlike car repair or plumbing which have physical movements that robots can't do easily, and so always need a person to put in some elbow grease.

I just had an idea. What if this is analogous to slut shaming? What if the point is that the "autists" give away something (programming labor) for too cheap because they enjoy it, thereby depressing the price on it? Young women slut shame their peers who are too eager to have sex with every guy for fun, because this no longer allows the more modest women to place demands on guys and sooner or later the default expectation becomes that every woman must quickly put out.

It's just an overload of the term "expect". It's not that we "expect", in the sense of having a social demand, that good programmers will be obsessive and do their profession as a hobby, it's that we "expect", in the sense of anticipated experience, that programmers won't be good unless it also happens to be the case that they're obsessive and do their profession as a hobby.

Of course, that instantly turns it into a signalling mechanism and Goodhart's it to death. But in spaces where there's less pressure on quality, the pattern is still observable.

However, I would go a step ahead and say that a very specific type of intelligence that probably correlates with IQ score, but is distinct is along certain dimensions could be a better predictor of programming ability. See Dehnadis work.

Caveat: at least some parts of the Dehnadi writeup in "Camel Has Two Humps" were retracted, although mostly summary-side rather than . This doesn't necessarily mean that they're wrong in the broad strokes -- but it does undermine the specific test he used.

I consider the latter "imparting knowledge" method superior. It's more in line with all the hard sciences I have been taught and all the good programmers I am aware of claim to have been taught using this method. More on this later.

I think there are benefits and costs to each approach, but I've largely emphasized the "impart intuition" approach to start, and then blending in knowledge focuses as time goes on. The failure modes of "imparting knowledge" are less obvious, especially in a classroom where most problems can be reduced into knowledge questions (tests) or can have their intuition components avoided or solved by one or two members of a full classroom (long-term projects). But the larger understanding about problems as things that need to and can be resolved internally instead of by repetition is especially important in computer programming.

More seriously, knowledge-focused studies are not merely less interesting to most new students, but they're also specialized to specific environments. They're important! There are a lot of problems that can arise if you see compsci as solely solving problems, not just in the bad practices sense but actively developing wildly non-performant or unsafe code unknowingly. But there's a lot of people come out of colleges with incredibly in-depth knowledge of Linked Lists, but not a) to avoid using them outside of a job interview, and b) how to learn how to handle the garbage collector for their current language of choice.

I really don't want to do women dirty like this but, I have yet to come across a "good" female programmer. I really don't know what it is at the root of this. My superficial intuition is that a certain aspect of becoming a good programmer is just relentlessness.

I know a good few (including cis), albeit generally more at the enthusiast level rather than as a career. I think it's less common, but that's plausibly social, plausibly preferring people-focused relentlessness, plausibly downstream of having the background, or plausibly just not having the sort of near-autistic 'not letting this go' aspect.

But the larger understanding about problems as things that need to and can be resolved internally instead of by repetition is especially important in computer programming.

I agree with this. Most of being good at coding rests on your ability to detect hidden abstractions in the business logic you're writing-- subtle regularities in the domain that can be used to write easier-to-understand and easier-to-modify code.

There's this saying: "Show me your flowcharts and conceal your tables, and I shall be continued to be mystified. Show me your tables, and I won’t usually need your flowcharts; they’ll be obvious." I think that's saying something basically similar, and I think it's true.

But trying to teach how to do that seems basically similar to trying to teach someone generic problem solving, which professional educators have been banging their heads against forever.

Yes, finding these hidden abstractions feels like "reverse engineering" to me, which in software could be broadly defined as: "determining business rules from code."

What got me started on programming was fractals. To this day, I greet every new language I learn with a Mandelbrot renderer. But I believe there needs to be a hook. For me, it was pretty pictures. That got me into graphics, OpenGL, raytracing, and I learnt programming almost as a side effect. For other people it will be other things. But there needs to be a thing that you want to make the computer do. That empowering cycle, of "I speak the magic incantation and then the machine does my bidding," is what drives motivation, and motivation is the primary factor of learning programming.

This is a subject near and dear to me. Because I positively loath working with most new programmers. I loath this entire generation of "programmers" that never had to manage memory. That just stitches libraries together to accomplish 99% of their tasks. And if it isn't garbage collected, and it isn't a library, they flail around uselessly.

That's "programming" in the same way purchasing a bird house kit from a hobby shop is "wood working". Yes, you are technically using a tool that is also used in that activity. But 95% of the work was done for you. And they are barely even cognizant of that fact.

But I'm a fucking crazy person. I got annoyed that 86Box didn't work with my HOTAS once, so I downloaded the source and fixed it myself. A certain especially difficult level of Populous pissed me off to such a degree, I download the version of DOSBOX with the debugger built in and began dissecting the bytecode that effects the AI speed. Successfully I might add. Patched a version of the game just for me that was a smidge easier for my aged reaction times. When the Oculus Quest came out, I was annoyed that a lot of Gear VR games would run on it, but the controls weren't mapped to the right buttons. Since most of those games just run Unity, and use the built in Oculus plugins, I discovered I could replace the .net bytecode in the dlls to remap the controls. So I took about a half dozen Gear VR games I liked, unpacked the APK files, edited the DLLs, repacked and signed the APK files, and then loaded them onto my Oculus Quest.

Lately I decided I wanted to learn x86 assembly, targeting the 8088 platform, BIOS/DOS function calls, EGA graphics and Adlib music. Wrote a sprite editor, currently working on an adlib tracker. All in assembly. It's so much fun, I love it.

So yeah, I'm a fucking lunatic.

I came up through a Computer Engineering program. There was programming in all 4 years of it, largely in C++, but also Java and Python (which I hated). But other required courses were the material properties of transistors, which I largely forgot. Then how to create adders and other simple electronics out of discrete components (NAND gates, XOR gates, etc). Then some assembly on this project board I actually still have, but can't recall at all what it ran.

I still remember, after I graduated, I was talking with a buddy of mine who did a Computer Science degree at a different school. At some point he asked me "So how did we get to where we are now, with operating systems and compilers and stuff?" I was blown away that after 4 years, and a Computer Science degree, he didn't know that.

Increasingly, the teaching of programming is "vibes based" as you put it. Fundamentally incompetent people are being handed degrees. The only reason they appear to be able to perform a task that vaguely resembles programming is that people smarter than they or their entire lineage will ever be set the table for them.