Cynicism applied to programming

May 18th, 2017

Psst, this post is an unfinished draft but I'm posting it now to try and prompt me to finish it.

Cynicism was introduced to me by Kayra a few years ago but I’ve only just started reading about it. It’s a compelling philosophy which boils down to four areas: frankness of speech (parrhêsia), self-sufficiency (autarkeia), training (askêsis), self-control (karteria). If you forgive the tenuous and strained links, I think there are areas of programming where these Cynical values can be applied.

Frankness of speech

It takes a lot of time but becoming proficient in a particular language usually helps you to write both tersely and expressively. It also means that you call a spade a spade, if something is needed because of a bug elsewhere in the system then say so in a comment.

Self-sufficiency

We’re all guilty of relying on Stack Overflow for bits of code we use often but the Cynics would say that these should be committed to memory: “A friend came crying to him because he had lost his notes. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘you should have inscribed them on your brain instead of on scraps of paper.’” and “Asked what was the most important thing to learn, he said, ‘How not to forget what you have learned.’” By being more diligent in remembering we better ourselves, there are various tips on how to do this on Quora.

Training

“When we grew near, he stopped and pointed out two particular roads to the top. One was short but steep and difficult, the other long, smooth and easy. ‘Here are the roads to the summit,’ he said, ‘and they resemble the paths to happiness. Choose, each of you, which you prefer, and I will be your guide.’ The others, in fear of its steepness and difficulty, demurred at taking the first road and asked him if they could please go by way of the long and easy one. I, however, was up to the challenge and chose the harder route. For the person pressing on towards happiness must even be prepared to go through fire and sword.”

This excerpt shows that, for the Cynic, the best path to virtue is the short and steep route of fully adopting the Cynic lifestyle. One of the decisions people make early on is which language(s) to learn and how. A Cynic’s answer is to take the learning by the horns and .

Poverty

Rather than make money from our things, give them away for free knowing that you’ve done a good job. This is at the heart of the open source movement but one of the biggest questions is how do you make money from it? Diogenes would beg for provisions from the rich. “I hope never to hanker after more than others, but instead be granted the capacity to do with less.”

All of this is by the by though, a true Cynic would eschew technology for a simpler lifestyle.


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