Happy Ent

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About Happy Ent

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    Godfather of the Weirwoods
  • Birthday 07/01/1968

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  1. The only anecdote I quoted was exactly that. Irit Dinur, a lesbian. So to the point that I trumpet anything, I trumpet exactly that. (But I don’t trumpet.) And it’s such a weak, weak case. Let me, just for exercise, show why: CS started out as a place where LGBT felt welcome; our bloody hero Alan Turing was famously gay. This is not something we decided to fix and then fixed. Instead, it is built into the discipline, part of our DNA. Software engineers are famously not sexual, software engineering is dominated by an absence of sexually stereotypical gender roles—alpha males and bimbo females are absent, nobody is expected to wear makeup. This makes the tech community very attractive to LGBT and everybody else who rejects traditionally sexualised workplace culture. The fact that LGBT feel welcome in tech is exactly why most women don’t. Software engineers don’t primarily evaluate their colleagues on what kind of reproductive organs they possess—they evaluate their colleagues on whether they can untangle an octopus merge conflict or understand that a monad is just a monoid in the category of endofunctors. Bam. Inverted the entire argument using the same data. So the data can’t have been good. (The entire line of reasoning strikes me as unprincipled cherry-picking, which is why I tend to reject that kind of discourse. I feel we’re both getting dumber by it.)
  2. These foreign nationals are typically not Swedes. Look, there is no doubt that one can affect growth through cultural approaches. Women who do better in tech than US women are typically from cultures that place value on survival. In contrast, women from cultures that place value on self-expression are less motivated to stay in tech. And in the end: are “cultural approaches” justified just by being cultural? Whence comes the desire to change people, to change societies? Have we not, in the US or in Sweden, built the best societies that mankind has ever seen exactly because we rejected the idea of viewing individuals foremost as representatives of the group they belong to?
  3. You’re making my point for me. The idea that (A) the underrepresentation of women in tech is explained by (B) issues such as harassment, stress, discrimination, under-appreciation, etc. is just plain dumb. B does not cause A, as far as I can tell. B exists and is very real. In tech. And in teaching, in law, in nursing. (Arguable, more so.) B is disgusting and terrible and an offence to human decency. We should, and do, take active steps to prevent B. However, I want to change (or at least understand) A. This does not make me a better person. I claim no moral high ground based on my earnest desire to change (or at least understand) A. It is not a value-laden endeavour, but one inspired by intellectual curiosity and professional incentives. There is nothing inherently good about addressing A. (In fact, it might be evil.) On the other hand, there is something good about addressing B. But I care about A. This thread claims to, too. Which is why I’m here. If changing A could be done by being even better at B: great. That would address two important issues. However, I see only weak evidence for the implication B => A. Help me change my mind about it. But note that my belief in “B => A” is not changed by updating my model about how believable B is, or how good it would be to change A. — The intellectually corrupting demon of tribalism makes the following (false) inference: People who deny “B => A” must support B. This is a false inference. Yet we have plenty of evidence that our brains work exactly like that: to hear “B does not take place,” or even “I support B” whenever somebody says “B does not imply A”. And since people who support B are clearly evil, the brains of very tribal (but decent) people like Kalbear come to a wrong conclusion about people like me (principled contrarians, problem solvers, sociopaths.) This is toxic to discourse.
  4. That’s a great formulation. As far as I can tell, the lack of women is tech is entirely explicable through biology and normal and acceptable social factors. (*) But this does not mean that this explanation is true. (The lack of women among the clergy was probably also explainable in a similar fashion. Instead, it turned out to not be a good explanation; ovaries did not make it impossible to fake belief in God. Repeat for law or playing in a symphony orchestra or being chancellor of Germany.) However, currently we must face (and be honest about) that the lack of women in tech is well explained. (There is more to be said, and a careful phrasing of this would take a thousand pages. Interpret it charitably.) Any attempt to ignore that epistemological status is a benevolent lie. Of course, the lie may be politically opportune, well-intended, and perfectly valid. But people like me (“principled contrarians”) have difficulty handling benevolent untruths. Yet even when the status quo is entirely explicable, it does not follow that there is “nothing to see here and no problem to solve.” I am probably the person in this thread most motivated to “solve the problem.” But it is psychologically impossible for me to accept a benevolent untruth just to motivate benevolent action. And strategically, it does never work, at least in the long run, to base policy (or teaching) on falsehoods. (Nasty rant, just to show that the ability for personal insults does not rest with one side of the debate: In fact, I suspect that many people don’t give a flying fuck about solving the problem. For them, it’s more important to signal in-group loyalty by maintaining the benevolent untruth. In fact, the more epistemologically absurd their position becomes, the stronger is the social capital gained. The more you lie, the better you lead your group. If the problem were ever solved, the group would dissipate. Funny thing, tribalism.) (*) Edit: Reading this through, I can’t stand by this general claim. But since I’m basing this post on Anti-Targ’s (only slightly uncharitable) formulation, I will let it stand for rhetorical effect, even tough I find it somewhat brutal. Insert “largely” or some similar weasel word somewhere. My point, clearer below, is that even if Anti-Targ’s satire were true, it wouldn’t play a role. Not to got Popper on all of you, but explanations can be perfect but false. We should exactly look for counterexamples to the explanation, and we aren’t good at that.
  5. Here is a well-written personal anecdote that is somewhat related to our topic and contradicts my own intuitions in an interesting way. It is written by Irit Dinur, one of the superstars in my discipline. (For every 100 or 1000 of me, there is one Irit.) It was invited to celebrate the centenary of Alan Turing, father of computer science, and Irit relates her own sense of belonging to the field. (Which is not entirely the same as “tech,” but is very close, even to the extent of people moving freely between a Silicon Valley job and a Theoretical CS position.): This story leaves me quite helpless. “My type of friends” are exactly the much-maligned tech community (read xkcd, quote GRRM before it was cool, played magic/chess/Warhammer obsessively, tolerant towards societal norms of personal hygiene, happy to learn LaTeX or git over the weekend, awkward with social interactions, makes no eye contact) that seems to have many women leaving in droves. But some people are actually attracted to that. https://lucatrevisan.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/turing-centennial-post-1-irit-dinur/
  6. I do? I’m not aware of that. Very interesting. As I said, I talk to a lot of people. This includes women who are happily in tech, who unhappily dropped out of it. And women who were driven into it, and are unhappy. And many who are indifferent. An men who are happily in tech, as well as men who unhappily dropped out of it. There are many different stories. I assume they are all somewhat true and all somewhat false, just like the rest of the entire glorious mess of humanity. I know school teachers and nurses who are deeply unhappy. And programmers and chemical engineers who are extremely happy. And vice versa, of all sexes. I don’t have the feeling that I am ignoring any of them; if they’re unhappy they mostly break my heart. But for me, this is not an empathy exercise. Instead, 1. I really want to understand what is going on. I am intellectually curious about human nature, and about social sciences, and about teaching, and about knowledge, and particularly about teaching CS (the latter part is my life.) I find this insanely interesting, more than (say) quantum mechanics or linguistics. It’s on the short list of scientific questions I obsess about. Dispassionately. 2. I am strongly motivated to increase the number of women in tech. For entirely professional reasons (but there are some political or ideological ones as well. Also, my workplace would just be better, so there may be entirely egotistical motives – I am aesthetically appalled by the social environments created by unwashed geeks on the autism spectrum. None of 1 or 2 benefits from murky thinking. In particular, personal anecdotes are worthless and decrease in epistemic value proportionally with the agitation with which they are told. For instance, when somebody is upset, or personally invested, I tend to disbelieve them more. Because I would disbelieve myself more. Instead, I am confident that most progress in this field is done by dispassionate evaluation of the evidence. It does not look as if the skewed representation of women in tech is a mystery, nor has much to do with harassment or discrimination. (It does have to do with gender stereotyping.) Trivially, “fixing harassment and discrimination” is a good thing to do, for entirely principled reasons, and no matter who is the recipient of discrimination or harassment. My claim is that it won’t solve issues 1 and 2. Discrimination and harassment shall be fought for other reasons than solving 1 and 2.
  7. But aren’t you making my point for me now? It’s not about biology. It’s about malice. The biology/social angle is a distraction; no conclusion can be drawn from us finally determining if a trait “is biological” (a phrasing that, to me, doesn’t even make sense.) There are plenty of malicious factors influencing women’s choices. My honest concern is that convincing a cohort of girls that they’d enjoy a career in tech might very well be malicious. (I don’t trade in anecdotes. Trust me, I speak to many people about this, including many women. I’ve seen a lot of broken hearts from women who made stereotypically male career choices to placate their parents, only to find out later in life that they really want to do something else. Like teaching or fashion or nursing. I could insert anger and frustration in these narratives, which some of you seem to find convincing. It’s just against my rhetoric stance.) How do I address that concern? One way is by not viewing women (or anybody else) as helpless non-agents. Instead, I think women (as everybody else) are self-moving souls, individuals, authors, etc. (Caveat: Of course, this is a political, philosophical choice, consistent with the values of the Enlightenment, etc., and at variance with the politics of identity and postmodernism. So the epistemological divide exists even in this question. I am cognisant of that.) Now, even with post-modernist eyes: If we assume that the feminist project was a success, and that some societies (such as Sweden) were able to provide women with the utopia I describe above at least to some degree, then we must assume that Swedish women are more self-moving souls than other women. And all other social indicators support that. But Swedish women avoid tech like the plague. More importantly, my activities in attracting women to tech now becomes a malicious social force. This worries me. I am really and honestly worried about lying to women about how super interesting, creative, fulfilling, personally satisfying, and social software engineering is. I (and my field, department, uni) would benefit from it. But would the recipient of my dishonesty also benefit? Or have I just become the malicious social force that we all despise, just to improve my own situation? Instead of this conundrum, I can just assume that women have agency. They make good life choices. They are not mistaken about what they like doing. And they eagerly enter workplaces of extreme frustration, sexual harassment, unbalanced gender dynamics that have become a Romance genre, and verbal abuse (namely, nursing). Then everything fits the evidence in a parsimonious way.
  8. This is an interesting formulation. Allow me to start there. The desire of others to immigrate to Germany is a fact of life. The most important question for this generation exactly is “how to steer it and how to deal with the consequences.” (My solution would be to prevent it, to advocate resettlement, and double down on Enlightenment values and liberal democracy. Others will disagree and want to open the borders and advocate multiculturalism and the values of inclusion and tolerance. These are real questions, with incompatible answers, and where intelligent and decent people ought to disagree, just on pretty much every other question of politics.) These decisions will have repercussions that utterly dwarf all other political decisions, and have larger consequences for topic X than vice versa. (Because demography and culture will determine education, welfare, labour market, research, crime, terrorism, surveillance, etc. more than the other way around. The only question where they may be a two-way street is welfare. Germany can decide to no longer be a welfare state, and turn in the US, which might curb immigration from MENA. But I don’t really believe that. Even a laissez-fair FDP utopia will be a less shitty place to live in than all of Africa.) — Now, the above formulation makes it clear that the immigration question is the sine qua non for the future of Germany, and that the German electorate is completely correct in its intuition of being scared shitless about the very unclear signals they are receiving from their overlords. The only parties who do not get this are now in government, and write the newspapers. What could possibly go wrong.
  9. That was not my intention. I apologise if I’ve come off like that.
  10. So, Strange Dogs.
  11. (moved to spoiler thread)
  12. I’m disheartened that we’re miscommunicating even on this very simple point. So let me rephrase what you just pretended was my position: I suspect that there is something about programming that doesn’t appeal to humans. In particular, I find nothing strange about women. Women are not broken, according to me, nor are the men who don’t find programming (or chess or math or typography or Hebrew grammar …) appealing. However, there may be something strange about the minority of men who are actually attracted to clearly boring activities such as programming, or chess, or math. I belong to that minority. You are all a mystery to me. But it’s me who is different. Maybe for biological reasons, maybe it’s something I drank when I was 3. I have no idea, nor do I care. I don’t think women are wrong, or broken. For me, this is not even about women. It’s about humans. It’s about the wonderful diversity of human nature, which includes nerds who are fascinated by certain things that are socially maladaptive. Women reject programming for the same reasons that men do. Women like programming for the same reasons that men do. Programming, uniquely among semi-well-paid professions, gives you a clear path to a steady job, or a fascinating hobby, without ever setting foot in an educational setting, or even showing up at work. Women are not broken in what makes them tick, nor are they misinformed in what they find interesting. Women are also not helpless. If women want something, they have been able to overcome considerable discrimination and stereotyping (priests, lawyers, doctors, politicians, soldiers), orders of magnitude worse than what a tech job today (or uni education) offers. And women dominate education. And there is structural discrimination in favour of women. In sum, the argument “from attitude” is an extremely convincing first approximation of what is probably a very complicated explanation for the observed phenomenon. The argument “from discrimination” has never in the history of the labour market had a weaker position. The Nordic gender paradox remains (to me) the biggest hint that the argument from attitude is on the right track. — I would be happy to be wrong. I get nothing positive from the sad fact that women are underrepresented in tech. But unlike most here, I actually want to solve this. And I have no hope of solving this by not thinking clearly about it. And this includes using our best intellectual tools for evaluating the evidence.
  13. I’m shy to the point of it being socially handicapping. I’ve always been like that. I want to flee public spaces, and am extremely uncomfortable around people. At a party, I will be the guy standing alone in a corner, and being really happy with that. I would never approach a conversation. The prospect of public speaking used to give me panic attacks. I turned red, stuttered, sweated. But I just faked confidence until I made it. It worked, at least for me. It took many years. Today I am an eager lecturer, a confident public speaker, participate in panel debates, appear on tv, regularly win “best lecturer ever”-awards and people envy my confidence. (If only they knew.) So this is doable and learnable, mostly by doing and faking, for some, I was lucky to be among those. (I don’t presume that the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” solution works for everybody, just that not all confident speakers and teacher started out like that.) One generally useful tip: start singing (say, by joining a choral society and taking solo lessons). It helps with some very central skills, including stage fright, breathing, and using your voice. It’s also fun, and allows one to engage with these skills in a different setting than the classroom. It gives you a better speaking voice, which projects better, and makes you speak loudly without fatigue. (I stopped singing regularly for a few years. After a while I became sore after large lectures. I starting singing again. Post-lecture sore throat was gone.) Large, public lectures are the easiest now. The smaller and more intimate, the harder it still is. I still hate watching myself (I am not attractive), and hate listening to myself.
  14. Two points 1. Here is another interesting detail where we seem to be completely at odds. I have no opinion on whether differences are “innately biological”. (I don’t even think that phrase makes sense.) But in particular, I don’t think biological differences are better. This is a difference between the moral intuitions of you and me. In fact, there are plenty of phenomena that are entirely biological but which I find abhorrent and which must be fought tooth and claw. Assume gender differences in attitude or aptitude are entirely biological. This, to me, implies no policy difference. Assume they are entirely social, or something in the water. This, to me, implies no policy difference. I find the entire question about biological differences a distraction. It corrupts the conversation, and even if we magically solved all scientific questions about human nature and arrived at a definite conclusion, we would be no wiser. (A clumsy way of explaining this: Assume we established that the root causes for the male dominance in violence were biological. That would not make male violence right. ) No moral imperatives follows from an understanding of root causes. Most of the things that are good and decent about modern society are deliberate suppressions of biological realities. We should be happy about that. Again, to put it clumsy: gender differences in behaviour may very well be entirely social. Then it would still be true that women ought to be encouraged to pursue careers that they find interesting. 2. Your are sloppy in your representation of the other side’s argument. I think I’m very careful in repeatedly explaining that men don’t like programming. (They don’t. Just as they don’t like chess.) The normal state of most humans is to dislike this kind of activity. Humans find these activities boring. They are probably correct in that. Men, in general, find programming boring and difficult. So do women. Same with chess. Also, men suck at math. So do women. There are just somewhat more men that behave differently than their gender norm, and somewhat fewer women that behave differently than their gender norm. You may think this is a terrible problem in need of fixing. I am less sure. In particular, I have spent most of my life trying to make humans enthusiastic about programming, chess, and math. I have often failed in that. But I have never seen an interesting difference between the sexes as to why I’ve failed. Men and women seem to agree in the reasons for their rejection of being “like me”. They are probably right.
  15. Jo, Loge, I get all that. I was merely trying to reconcile some widely differing polls about how important Germans view immigration. In some polls, it’s the most important question by a mile. In others, it’s way down the list. I don’t know how that happens, and tentatively suggest differences in wordings (refugee is a very positive word in German), which might trigger different reactions among respondents. I could be wrong.