Mystical Poetry and Mental Postures

Over the years I’ve written at least three expositions of the hacker mindset that use the form of mystical poetry or teaching riddles. Probably the best known of these nowadays is The Unix Koans of Master Foo (2003), but there has also been The Loginataka (1992, 2010) and the short Zen poem I included in How To Become A Hacker.

One of the regulars at my Friday gaming group is a Greek Orthodox priest, but an educated and broadminded one with whom I get along surprisingly well considering my general opinion of Christianity. A chance remark he made one night caused me to recite at him the line from the 2010 portion of the Loginataka that goes “The way of the hacker is a posture of mind”, and then when he looked interested the whole four stanzas.

He laughed, and he got it, and then he articulated the reason that I write about being a hacker in this form so well that he made me think about things I hadn’t considered before and probably should have. Like, what if other people don’t get it? All they’d see when they looked at the Loginataka or the Unix Koans is pretentiousness or satire.

But no. The mystical language of these works is functional in a very direct way, which the priest grokked instantly and I will now explain. It has applications beyond the way I’ve used it.

First: The way of the hacker really is a posture of mind. Being a hacker isn’t a skillset (like being a programmer or an electrical engineer), nor is it a social presentation (like, say being a goth or a hipster). It’s a mental stance: partly an attitude, partly a set of cognitive habits, and partly other qualities even more difficult to label and define.

Second: It’s a very useful mental stance. That is, it enables people to do things that are nifty and useful and occasionally staggeringly important. Like, say, inventing the World Wide Web important. So creating ways for people to enter and inhabit this stance actually has a lot of utility.

Third: The tough thing about mental stances is that they cannot be conveyed by explanation. Even if I could come up with paragraphs of precise analytical language about how hackers think, it would be like trying to explain “red” to a color-blind person by listing a frequency range and pointing at stoplights. At best such an explanation could only be useful for reasoning about the hacker posture of mind from outside it, not entering it.

The problem of how to induce valuable mental stances in human beings when explanation is insufficient is not a new one. All religions and mystical schools face it, and all have solved it in broadly similar ways. One way is direct mimesis: you imitate the behavior of an initiate rigorously, hope for the behavior to induce a mental state usefully like the initiate’s, and a surprising percentage of the time this actually works.

Another way is to develop artifacts like mystical poetry or koans which have the instrumental quality that they tend to induce the desired state(s) of mind in anyone who meditates on them. Because it operates on human brains that are all wired pretty similarly, mystical poetry from many different traditions has common qualities: vivid, dreamlike imagery, strong use of rhetorical antinomy, and hypnotic rhythms are three of the most obvious. They induce a sort of indirect mimesis, putting you in something like the mental state of the composer.

If you are anywhere near being a hacker, you already see where this is going – I’m interpreting koans and mystical poetry as a form of functional brain-hacking, not unlike surrealist art (which famously aimed at “the transformation of mind and all that resembles it”). Once you’ve realized this, the only question is whether these techniques can be tuned to induce the hacker posture of mind – as opposed, say to producing satori or union with the Holy Spirit, or existential crisis, or whatever other traditional religio-mystical-philosophical state one might have in view.

Since I did in fact write the Loginataka and the Unix Koans, I guess I’m not going to surprise anyone at this point by asserting that yes, I think this is possible. Furthermore, there is evidence in the behavior of others (the way people respond to these works) that they succeed as more than satire – that they are a ha-ha-only-serious that is useful for inducing the hacker posture of mind in those ready to achieve it.

Now, I am not here to argue that mystical poetry is enough by itself; after all, in religious/mystical traditions, it’s always coupled with other kinds of discipline and instruction. In the hacking context, those “other kinds of discipline and instruction” are implied by learning a difficult technical skill, usually programming. The point is that in hacking as in mysticism, skill training plus direct mimesis (imitating the senior hackers around you) plus indirect mimesis (via koans and inductive poetry) can take you farther and faster than skill training and fumbling for the desired posture of mind in a random and unguided way.

The priest understood this immediately, even though he’s never written a line of code in his life. His branch of Greek Orthodoxy has a strong mystical tradition, and when I said “the way of the hacker is a posture of mind” his eyes widened.

I’m not a big fan of religion, in general. My own religion, to the unusual and limited extent I have one, is largely designed as a way to satisfy the emotional needs addressed by religions without requiring the practitioner to believe several truckloads of irrational bullshit before breakfast. But while I generally welcome the weakening of the grip of religion on peoples’ minds, one of the things I recognize we tend to lose along with that is the techniques religions have cultivated over many centuries for indicating and inducing altered states — postures of mind, states of consciousness.

That technology, assuming we can pry it loose from the truckloads of irrational bullshit, is worth saving. If only because, yes, we can use it to grow hackers…and probably other sorts of useful people, too. Programming and related tech skills are far from the only kind in which competence is partly a function of posture of mind; perhaps every profession would benefit from having its own mystical poetry.

55 thoughts on “Mystical Poetry and Mental Postures

  1. As you may know I am not a fan or religion either. However, I do find it fascinating from an objective point of view. Regardless of the actual damage religion has done corporately, and individually, (and I’ll grant it has done some limited good too), the simple fact is that religion is extremely successful. Nearly everyone in the world is an adherent of some sort of religion, large portions of the world give a significant amount of their time and money to religion and a non trivial fraction dedicate their whole lives to religion, or even sacrifice their lives for it.

    So whatever religion is, it is one powerful meme.

    It is interesting to compare religion and hackerdom. I would not describe myself as a hacker at all. I do work in computers, and am (IMHO) a pretty good programmer, and I also share both the open minded and libertarian tendencies of hackers. But there are some aspects of hackerdom that I don’t get. For example, the guy who made his own sword? That almost offends me — Western civilization is built on specialization. And boys who need to take their toys to pieces — what is that all about?

    One of the most powerful tools religion uses is social lock in combined with threatened ostricisation. “We in our church are a family. We need to love and support each other.” This is, on the surface, very nice. But there is an evil underbelly. It locks people into a limited religious social circle, and as soon as doubts come up the adherent is offered a very difficult choice. Choose your rationality over your friends. If you say to heck with god, then you loose your whole social circle, maybe including your spouse, and, if a man, access to your children. That is a very powerful tool to discourage free thought.

    Is there a similar situation in hackerdom? Nowhere near as powerful, but there is no doubt an enforced orthodoxy that is powered more by contempt and derision as well as exclusion. For example, I work in Windows systems, and that, amongst open source hackers, is a scarlet letter, a feeling not reciprocated by members of the church of the Gatesites. If an open source hacker were to take a job working in my field, it would be a major source of pain in his social circle, for example.

    Just a thought.

  2. Amazing.

    As I cast my mind upon the history of the Christian faith, I see a certain cycle manifest.

    (a) someone will, when experimenting with or studying under these altered states of mind, see something new and profound
    (b) that person will try to teach his fellow believers about this new discovery
    (c) the fellow believers will either accept it as valid, or not
    (d) if accepted as valid, the fellow will either (1) tolerate the new thing or (2)attempt to pursue it themselves. examples of (1) include various orders of monks, examples of (2) would include wide adaptations of new teachings/experiential pursuits.
    (e) if not accepted, a new sect/denomination is almost invariably born
    (f) the new sect, or the new monastic order, almost invariably ossifies into a structure which attempts to contain and regularize the experience. Some retain the usefulness, some retain only the metaphysical baggage, and some retain both.
    (g) after ossification sets in, a new revelation/experience/understanding may arise…

    I don’t wish to say much about the metaphysical baggage…

    However, I do observe a large amount of human baggage around each religion that I know of. The human baggage is the result of taking the dream/vision/special-mental-state/revelation that started the religion and building a structure that can contain, transmit, and reinforce the idea/mental-state to both new and old followers.

    After a certain level of size and organization is reached, the problems of authority (deciding who is In and who is Out), hierarchy (administering and enforcing such decisions), and dissemination (communication among members about such things, and to prospective new members) can grow and appear to consume the idea that started the movement.

  3. @”J.E. Lapin”:

    Any idea why Portable C and Unix System Programming is going for $200 a copy these days? I lost my original my copy purchased many years ago (long story) and after re-reading the Loginataka, I decided to go about replacing it. Unfortunately, I ended up having to buy a used copy, since I can’t afford to pay that right now. :(

  4. @Jessica Boxer:

    For example, the guy who made his own sword? That almost offends me — Western civilization is built on specialization. And boys who need to take their toys to pieces — what is that all about?

    Burning curiosity. That’s the best way I can describe it. Haven’t you ever looked at something and wondered “why couldn’t I make this foo do bar?” Or “how the hell does thing work?” Or “how could I make my own foo?” It seems to me to not be curious about things and technology in particular is like almost being dead.

  5. Religions are usually successful to the extent that their characteristic mental posture leads to geopolitical success. In the case of Islam the core mental posture facilitates Machiavellian power games, while Christianity is about free will as a means to personal redemption and creates space for personal freedom as a side benefit. Hackers have a systems analyst mental posture and gain power by (re)creating a system or taking (temporary?) control of it (even outdated/anachronistic systems like sword-making). A hacker codex could help to nudge at least a few potential practitioners towards enlightenment, but a large hacker movement would rightly be seen as a threat by all existing power brokers.

  6. >Any idea why Portable C and Unix System Programming is going for $200 a copy these days?

    Dayyum. That action sure ain’t showing up in my royalty checks; it’s long out of print. Which probably accounts for the high price.

  7. Morgan Greywolf>It seems to me to not be curious about things and technology in particular is like almost being dead.

    There speaks the hacker posture of mind, clearly and loudly.

    Aspen>Hackers have a systems analyst mental posture and gain power by (re)creating a system or taking (temporary?) control of it (even outdated/anachronistic systems like sword-making).

    Also well expressed.

    Aspen>a large hacker movement would rightly be seen as a threat by all existing power brokers.

    Which is why part of our adaptive strategy is to make ourselves so useful as infrastructure trolls that the power-brokers can’t actually attack us without crippling their own ability to function.

  8. Dayyum. That action sure ain’t showing up in my royalty checks; it’s long out of print. Which probably accounts for the high price.

    Sorry. I do have dead tree copies of TNHD, TAOUP, and CATB lying around, even though I do tend to reference them online more. Too bad it’s out of print.

    Which is why part of our adaptive strategy is to make ourselves so useful as infrastructure trolls that the power-brokers can’t actually attack us without crippling their own ability to function.

    That and the pay sure doesn’t hurt. ;)

  9. Eric, http://sheddingbikes.com/posts/1285436217.html (Products For People Who Make Products For People) was posted just today, by one who I see as a hacker. It seems to me it tries to bridge somewhat the chasm between hackers and phbs. What do you think about it?

    Points I see as important:
    - hackers make products for people who make products (exactly what it says on the tin)
    - there’s a revolution coming if the hackers realise how to sell themselves and their product better.
    - parsers are good
    - “the inmates are running the asylum” is bullshit.

  10. “The way of the hacker really is a posture of mind. Being a hacker isn’t a skillset (like being a programmer or an electrical engineer) . . .”

    Does that mean I can stop saying that I’m a hacker-wannabe (because I do technical writing, not programming) and actually call myself a hacker?

  11. @Pat: no. You don’t call yourself a hacker. Other people recognize you as a hacker.

  12. “A young master once approached an old master: ‘I have a LUG for Linux help. But, I fail to answer my students’ problems; they are above me.’
    The master replied: ‘Have you taught them of the Tao?’ he asked. ‘How it brings together man and software, yet how it distances them apart; how if flows throughout Linux and transcends its essence?’
    ‘No,’ exclaimed the apprentice, ‘These people cannot even get the source untarred.’
    ‘Oh,’ said the master, ‘In that case, tell them to RTFM.’”

    “A master watched as an ambitious user reconstructed his Linux.
    ‘I shall make every bit encrypted,’ the user said. ‘I shall use 2048 bit keys, three different algorithms, and make multiple passes.’
    The master replied: ‘I think it is unwise.’
    ‘Why?’ asked the user. ‘Will my encryption harm the mighty Tao, which gives Linux life and creates the balance between kernel and processes? The mighty Tao, which is the thread that binds the modules and links them with the core? The mighty Tao, which safely guides the TCP/IP packets to and from the network card?’
    ‘No,’ said the master, ‘It will hog too much cpu.’”

  13. >@Pat: no. You don’t call yourself a hacker. Other people recognize you as a hacker.

    Well, if lots of hackers call you a hacker over a long period of time, you can accept the nomination and call yourself one. But it is usually necessary to have written some code before you get to “lots of hackers call you a hacker”.

  14. >It seems to me it tries to bridge somewhat the chasm between hackers and phbs. What do you think about it?

    A lot of it rings true. I have long thought the Cooper book was pushing some pretty shaky ideas. But it also reads oddly as though the guy is writing from some past time or parallel universe where the open-source movement (which was in a lot of ways his revolt of the longbeards) never happened.

  15. I think you have a point, though for him, the economic fruition of the open-source movement seems not to have been mentionable. I think, from his past writings, that he has had some pretty bad experiences writing code and not getting anything back, not recognition, not new code, not money. His essay seems to point more to ‘long beards need to start learning how to sell’. Which is what you’ve done or tried to do, yes, but it hasn’t happened for him.

  16. Are you familiar with the book Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson, based on Timothy Leary’s theories? What you are describing here is pretty much his concept of “reality tunnel”. Ie being a hacker is a certain form of reality tunnel, which is inexplicable to those in other reality tunnels. Something like that.

    I like to think that we (Interesting Times) grok the hacker thing and that it shows to the reader somehow, although we don’t exactly write about programming languages and kernels :)

  17. That technology, assuming we can pry it loose from the truckloads of irrational bullshit, is worth saving. If only because, yes, we can use it to grow hackers…and probably other sorts of useful people, too. Programming and related tech skills are far from the only kind in which competence is partly a function of posture of mind; perhaps every profession would benefit from having its own mystical poetry.

    THE pioneer in that area would be my buddy Illuminatus, who runs a very interesting forum: http://www.personalpowermeditation.com/forum/

    Highly recommended, very advanced personal development. Note to reader: you should be fairly knowledgeable about the 8 circuit model, NLP, neuroscience, and PUA before reading that forum.

  18. Oh, you just explained Zen. That is all ;-)

    The main character, Lu-tze” in “A thieve of time” from Terry Pratchett also embodies a lot of this. But we already know Terry was deep into hackerdom (without writing code, that is)

    In my opinion, the ultimate in mind hacking is the GNU GPL. This is really “code” to reprogram hackers. In this sense, RMS is a meta hacker. Or better, THE meta hacker.

  19. The way I read this, hacker = Keirsey’s Rational temperament. Seeking knowledge, self-esteem derives from ingenuity, aspiration is to wizardry, life approach is systems/technology oriented.

    Thus even tools of mysticism such as meditation, religion and the occult are approached in a utilitarian manner.

    Posture of mind of a hacker — the universe is hackable? Circular but true… :)

  20. If the GPL is a meta hack, it’s dumped core all over the floor. There’s been as many hackers revolting against it as there have been flocking to RMS’s banner.

  21. Well, if lots of hackers call you a hacker over a long period of time, you can accept the nomination and call yourself one. But it is usually necessary to have written some code before you get to “lots of hackers call you a hacker”.

    I did not refer to myself as a hacker until I asked ESR one day (I believe it was at our first face-to-face meeting, though we’d known each other for years) if he thought of me as one. His reply: “I don’t have to see your code. You have the mind of a hacker.”

    That answer is as revealing as anything else he’s said in this discussion.

  22. I snagged an invitation to the Hackers Conference. Does that count?

    What about Freemacs? That’s gotta count for somethin’, even if it was an MS-DOG editor… ;)

  23. I write games. I understand the desire for elegance, where the minimum set of instructions gets the widest range of desirable emergent behaviors. I understand that the most important decisions in a project are often architectural, the “Why we do things this way” rather than the “How we do things this way”.

    I also understand that my games work in the minds of human beings. I have to teach other people how to load software for their brain that does, by iterative (and in many cases, counter intuitive) steps, things my brain does effortlessly.

  24. In my opinion, the ultimate in mind hacking is the GNU GPL. This is really “code” to reprogram hackers. In this sense, RMS is a meta hacker. Or better, THE meta hacker.

    The GPL is more of a law hack than a mind hack. RMS’s judo on copyright was a means of codifying in legally binding form the rights and responsibilities hackers already accepted implicitly in the boundaries of their community. The strange thing is, this was actually a response to Symbolics — the Diet Coke of evil compared to Microsoft from about that time till up around 2000.

  25. It seems to me it tries to bridge somewhat the chasm between hackers and phbs. What do you think about it?

    The reason why Apple is such an enormously successful company is that Steve Jobs is a Product Person who understands that unless your support and nurture your hackers and allow them to indulge their hackerly habits, your product is going to suck. For that reason Apple has been able to recruit and retain top talent, and has been able to channel their energies into products that combine the best of both worlds: superb engineering and superb industrial design and usability. This is incredibly rare in any industry, except perhaps in places like Germany. (Apple’s own products have drawn inspiration from the design of Braun appliances circa the 60s.)

  26. @Jay Manyard

    The GPL programmed many hackers. Not all. But you are a VERY good hacker if your code runs on half the hard/wetware ;-)

  27. But you are a VERY good hacker if your code runs on half the hard/wetware ;-)

    By that definition, Windows is the greatest hack ever.

  28. “By that definition, Windows is the greatest hack ever.”

    A good point.

    Those who created the monopoly were pretty shrewed. If we include marketting, they were extremely good at selling.

    But the point with windows is that nobody choses it for its “value” (I will not say quality). Most people run windows because:
    1 they were forced to because they are incapable or not allowed to change the system that came with the computer
    2 they really have no idea that there is an alternative
    3 they have superstitions about other OS’ (FUD wise)

    Those who chose windows to have it preinstalled, OEM and Employer, did not chose Windows because of any feature of the code, but for other reasons, eg, monopoly self perpetuation, active interference by MS, incompetence, legacy.

    So, yes, I think that making MS Windows the monopoly was definitely a work of competence. But not in making software code.

    On the other hand, everyone selects the GPL for her/his next project out of free will (although there are network effects). Just as everybody selects Firefox or Linux out of their free will. So for such projects, popularity is a sign of quality.

  29. >>But you are a VERY good hacker if your code runs on half the hard/wetware ;-)

    >By that definition, Windows is the greatest hack ever.

    Actually, I don’t think that follows. The original is referring to hackers, not the hacks they create. What does follow is that Windows hackers are “very good hackers”- something that I personally won’t quibble with. Bringing Windows to it’s current point most certainly took some 4th or 5th dan blackbelt-hacking capabilities. Whether or not the final result is a “great hack” will be argued for many more time_t’s.

  30. everyone selects the GPL for her/his next project out of free will (although there are network effects)

    Horse exhaust and hogwash. Far too many select the GPL either because they are forced to by the viral nature of the license or because they have been brainwashed by the Stallmanites. When people stop screaming that the GPL is the One True License that will prevent people’s code from being “taken private” (which any OSD-compliant license will prevent, even the much-maligned MIT/X/BSD license), and quit evangelizing for it by redefining the word “free” to advance their argument, then maybe those who choose it a sufficient time after that for the incorrect memes to have been eradicated from the hacker community, I’ll believe that people choose it out of free will. I don’t consider that very much of a possibility, however.

  31. And now, to forcibly drag this back on topic, are the GPL and the Stallmanite religious writings also forms of mystical poetry aimed squarely at the minds of hackers?

  32. >>When people stop screaming that the GPL is the One True License that will prevent people’s code from being “taken private”

    I quit worrying about that long time ago. I got rid of the memes by accepting the counterintuitive notion that copyright doesn’t improve economic prosperity in the long run.

  33. superb engineering and superb industrial design and usability. This is incredibly rare in any industry, except perhaps in places like Germany.

    Uhm, let me toss this out as an example of how it can be taken too far:

    Famed aviation writer Gordon Baxter was also something of a car geek. In the late 1950s he and his family drove Mercedes products exclusively, long before they became fashionable for rich Texans. (Bax lived in Port Arthur, Texas.) At one point, they had two 190s and two 220s in the family.

    He got away from them when he had the ashtray out one day to fix a minor nuisance with it. The lid was beautifully engineered, elegant, and functional – and had 27 components.

  34. @ Jay Maynard

    >He got away from them when he had the ashtray out one day to fix a minor nuisance with it. The lid was beautifully engineered, elegant, and functional – and had 27 components.

    They just can’t help themselves. The Germans have a bit of a complexity fetish. Anybody who has wrenched on a Mercedes will understand.

    The Japanese OTOH could refine an anvil. We tend to be more innovative and somewhere between the Germans and the Soviets on the complexity curve. It really is interesting how culture drives engineering styles. I think the US and Japanese methods are quite complimentary. It will be interesting to see what the Chinese style is like once they get past the trinkets and trash stage. Imagine a cultural meme incorporating our freedom to innovate with the refinement capacity of the Japanese along with some Russian practicality. What would the ultimate engineering culture be like?

  35. “One of the regulars at my Friday gaming group is a Greek Orthodox priest, but an educated and broadminded one with whom I get along surprisingly well considering my general opinion of Christianity.”

    What I have found is that Christianity seems to be very similar to wine: the older sorts are better or less bad, depending on your point of view.

    The New Protestants like Pentecostals or Southern Baptists are almost always idiots as far as I can judge from the Internet (never met one personally), Old Protestants like Calvinists are more sensible, Half-Protestants like Anglicans make even more sense, I have read Rowan Williams’ article about the economic recession / depression and it really makes a whole lot of sense: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2323 , well-educated Catholics I actually tend to get along with very well because they have a strong background in Greek philosophy, which tends to make one both smart and wise (common sense), and I found one guy on Reddit who converted to the Greek Orthodox stuff and he writes some really interesting things.

    However. There is one problem with it – it seems that while there seems to be a strong correlation between older as opposed to newer kinds of Christianity and sensible and intelligent thinking, there is at the same level an opposite correlation of countries doing better or worse economically. The New Protestants in America do better than the Old Protestants in Sweden who do better than the Catholics in Spain who do better than the Orthodox in Greece and Russia.

    It’s strange, isn’t it? Requires more looking into. I will, because I think there is something very interesting going underlying all these correlations, maybe something like Voegelin’s theory about modern, progressive cultural-political ideas being rooted in Gnosticism, perhaps something else. Any input is welcome.

  36. @Jay Maynard:” If the GPL is a meta hack, it’s dumped core all over the floor. There’s been as many hackers revolting against it as there have been flocking to RMS’s banner.”

    Yes and no. The original GPL did not inspire a revolt. But hackers (and I use the term in your sense and ESR’s sense) who were fully in agreement with the original GPL and GPL 2.0 have serious issues with GPL 3.0.

  37. TMR,

    Everything I’m hearing about the Chinese suggests they’re still far from culturally assimilating our freedom to innovate. I know someone who is friends with American McGee, a game designer formerly of id Software who currently operates a game studio out of Shanghai. (You know our political situation is fucked up when it drives a guy named American freakin’ McGee to move to China to get away from it.)

    McGee’s problem with Chinese programmers was they would always give you exactly what you wanted, but you had to tell them exactly what you wanted. A few years ago he was looking for a Mandarin-speking American programmer or two who was a bit more independent than the Chinese, so he didn’t have to program his programmers on such a low level.

    The Taiwanese appear to be a different story. If China absorbed Taiwan they’d be a force to reckon with, provided those engineers don’t emigrate out of fear or anger.

  38. Shenpen: I think you make a very good point there. Part of it may be that breaking away from tradition simultaneously allows economic growth/ technological progress and disposes of some rightful parts of tradition. A religious tradition is shaped by various challenges during history and comes to be the moral conscience of a community. (If you think I am being extremely generalizing in the previous sentence, you are right.)

    America is a prime example. It has had a lot more in the way of extreme Christian fundamentalism than the old world. G.K. Chesterton’s maxim also comes to mind: “If the people don’t believe in God, they won’t believe in nothing. They’ll believe in /anything/.”

  39. That almost offends me — Western civilization is built on specialization. And boys who need to take their toys to pieces — what is that all about?

    Specialization provides great economic advantage, because it allows someone to concentrate his effort gaining mastery over a particular job. But we also need people who are able to integrate all of those jobs together. People who understand, for instance, enough about physics to help the physics guys with their software. Or enough about retail to build good IT infrastructure for POS.

    I don’t know about the rest of the gang here, but I love “Dirty Jobs” and “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery Channel, and “How It’s Made” on Science Channel. Conceptually, all of these things are about getting the process right. How else are you going to understand how things work if you don’t take them apart and put them back together again?

  40. @ Jeff Read

    >you had to tell them exactly what you wanted.

    My limited experience is the same. There is no ability to move beyond the product spec. Things work best if you have a liaison engineer on the ground to mother the project. They are lacking in the mid-upper experience level engineers. That should change with time. I wonder if the cultural impediments are there or if it is just an experiential thing. Mao did his best to high grade the population. In the sense that he eliminated the high value part of the population. A lot of those who escaped fled to….HK and Taiwan.

  41. @TIMR:

    I wonder if the cultural impediments are there or if it is just an experiential thing.

    Yes. ‘Culture’ is a set of shared knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, etc., rooted in social learning and shared symbolism. Individual and shared experience together both influence and define culture.

  42. Shenpen>> The New Protestants in America do better than the Old Protestants in Sweden who do better than the Catholics in Spain who do better than the Orthodox in Greece and Russia.

    I think that the trend you spotted highlights an important aspect of the transmission of mental postures. As Christianity became increasingly demystified, more followers could become fully aware practitioners. As the number of enlightened believers increased, the core ideas of the religion gained strength and improved society (to the extent that Christianity improves societal outcomes). The demystification also decreased the average intelligence required to gain entrance into the leadership structure of at least some religious sects and also increased the likelihood that whole sects would rise up around leaders who never attained the enlightened mental posture that the earliest forms of Christianity try to transmit.

  43. “Well, if lots of hackers call you a hacker over a long period of time, you can accept the nomination and call yourself one. ”

    I’ve been a technical writer for a quarter of a century, and nobody’s called me that. So I’d better stick to thinking of myself as a wannbe.

  44. >Leonardo da Vinci.

    Comparative advantage, yo. Even a super duper genius like Vinci can benefit from the division of labor.

  45. >>you had to tell them exactly what you wanted.

    >My limited experience is the same.

    My limited experience is the same, in a completely different area (organic synthesis). OTOH my experience is that this applies primarily to the Chinese in China. The ones who come here to the US are much less prone to it.

    I’ve also noticed some subtle differences between immigrants from mainland China and immigrants from Taiwan. And some not-so-subtle differences between them and first-generation Chinese-Americans.

  46. I think we can credit/blame the First Amendment for the robust & sometimes kooky churches in the US.

    “How can the government best help religion?”
    “Leave it alone!”

    There’s also Hume’s comment that David Friedman frequently refers to, about bribing the indolence of the clergy.

  47. @AHA and @kiba:
    Hmmm…da Vinci was a polymath. I consider it likely that da Vinci had the hacker mental posture, but, of course, we only know him by what he left behind.

  48. “Leonardo da Vinci.”

    Didn’t do much shoveling dung, baking bread, making shoes, milking cows or changing money, did he?

  49. Don’t call the germans out over complexity. Just put a Ma Deuce beside an MG 42 :)
    Or just compare a 50′s Chevy to the good old Beetle.

    And: don’t you wonder why so may law enforcement agencies in the US have Steyr AUG’s, HK’s and the like instead of American assault rifles?

  50. “Didn’t do much shoveling dung, baking bread, making shoes, milking cows or changing money, did he?”

    Would those things be remembered for posterity?

  51. @ Kurt

    >Don’t call the germans out over complexity.

    I was merely engaging in comparative engineering….not finding fault.

    >American assault rifle….

    you mean like the M14…..as far as I know that is our last serious effort. Outside the various SOCOM/Stoner variants. It’s just hard to tolerate a weapon that goes SHWANK-SHWANK!! This discussion could wander into semi-religious areas. ;-)

    We all have our good and bad efforts. I am merely speaking about cultural tendencies, and the Germans….well IMHO they do tend to the complex…elegant, but complex.

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