Teaching yourself computer programming is morally correct

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com


I have come to learning Haskell in an unusual way. I have a master’s degree in linguistics and some background in logic (due to a BA in philosophy). I have no background in either math or computer programming. At all. I was persuaded, somehow, to learn Haskell by a friend with a notable fervor for Haskell advocacy, and because he got me sort of excited about natural language processing, I decided to give it a whirl. He is a person who has been accused in some Twitter brawls of being condescending. But over the course of my Haskell instruction, I have had to ask him questions like, “What is a compiler?” “What are these ‘side effects’ you’re talking about?” “What’s an AST?” “What are these ‘foo’ and ‘bar’ functions?” “OMG WHAT DO I DO, WHAT DO I DO?” (the answer to the last is: Ctrl-C)

A condescending person would have made me feel like an idiot for having to ask for such information. “Oh, dear, if you don’t know what a compiler is by now…*chuckle*” A condescending person would imply that my delicate ladybrain might not be able to understand what a compiler is. The opposite-of-condescending person, like my teacher, assumes, rather, that I have a mundane knowledge gap resulting from the fact that I have no programming background. Everyone in the Haskell community I have talked to has been helpful rather than condescending. They assume I will either understand, figure it out, or ask if I don’t/can’t, whether I ask them or Google. This is the opposite of condescending; this is, in fact, how equals treat each other.

I replied in this particular Twitter thread that I thought charges of condescension frequently revealed more about the complainant than the respondent. Frequently, it was not any remarkable action on the part of the accused that is making the accuser feel inferior; it is the accuser’s own laziness and unwillingness to take responsibility for his/her own learning that is causing the feeling of inferiority. This anti-intellectualism is something I have no respect for. It’s fine if you don’t want to learn something, I suppose, but it’s surely nothing to be proud of.