Smug Philosophers and Lisp Weenies
In the "software engineering" field, we have a computer language
called Lisp. It was invented near the dawn of civilization (or so I've
been told), and that the cuneiform tablets of Sumeria contained the
prototype of the parenthesis that became the hallmark of a Lisp
program (although another camp claims they look more like the angle
brackets of XML). But Lisp is an old man who had some glorious days in
battle, but is now pretty much confined to a convalescence
home. Fortran and COBOL are dead and on life support, but Lisp can
still rattle on about its greatness… and often does.
Don't take this wrong, for I'm not saying that Lisp is useless and
good-for-nothing. It is just that you almost never see a requirement for
Lisp for a job posting, for the industry has moved on. However, whenever
there is a new feature added to Java or Ruby or what-have-you, the
Lisp programmers will smirk in unison about how Lisp had that feature
back in 1975. This arrogant tendency has given them the label, smug
Lisp weenies, and they actually wear this moniker proudly across their
To be fair, Lisp has been hugely influential, and still has a lot to
offer… sadly, most of this comes in the form of advice. Disclosure:
I used to program in Lisp, and really liked it. Its limitations at the
time (its user interfaces) have been largely overcome, but that ship
has sailed for me, and I lost whatever edge I had… hell, I don't think I
even could tell you what a cdr is … or even pronounce it.
The reason why I bring this up is that philosophers are like these
smug Lisp weenies, in that any thought you might have believed that
you invented or originated was probably already discussed and debated
by some hygienically-challenged, sandal-wearing philosopher of
yore. Perhaps this is why philosophy is so alien to our society… I
mean, we don't appreciate arrogant, self-righteous
know-it-alls… Hrm, then why did we put such a person in the White
By way of example-- Back in college a friend of mine and I were
arguing over death. We concluded that logically there was nothing to
fear or dread, for you could take one of two approaches:
If death is the complete end, then it is nothing more than an
endless sleep, from which you wouldn't even know about… and who
wouldn't like such a good sleep?
If there was a heaven, then you could go there and have a grand
time. Hopefully the part about practicing a harp on a cloud is
mere metaphore for something a wee bit more interesting.
So, with either conclusion, there isn't anything to be concerned
about. Sure, you should postpone it as long as you want, and just like
you might as well stay up into the night to watch Conan before you go
to bed. At the time, I thought this was a novel (albeit obvious)
conclusion, and didn't realize for quite some time that this has been
the basis for much philosophical discussions originating from
Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great
reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things: either
death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as
men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world
Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness‡‡That could be translated as soul , but a sleep like
the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an
But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say,
all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be
greater than this? … What would not a man give
if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus, and Hesiod and Homer?
Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again! Above all, I shall
then be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as
in this world, so also in the next; and I shall find out who is
wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not … In another world
they do not put a man to death for asking questions: assuredly
So, while my friends who study physics and my software engineering
geeks seldom need (or can afford) to read a book with any amount of
dust, students of philosophy return to the classics.
But let's get back to the rub-- or the smug. Philosophers once used
to be the pinnacle of spirituality and were held in high
regard… until their quest for wisdom went beyond political and
religious walls. It appears that philosophers have all died of pipe tobacco
cancer, but the "sons of philosophers" took an even stronger, naturalistic
and non-supernatural view of the world and gave themselves various
labels that are now viewed with extreme derision: atheist, agnostic,
rationalist, materialist, skeptic, near-sighted.
But the smugness stayed on. Not too long ago, Richard Dawkins and
others thought it a good idea to help unify this group with the meme
of "Bright". Of course, it back-fired as it just gave into the
stereo-types that middle America had for these shifty and often
I know about the smugness, but I didn't realize that many people
view people of a naturalistic-persuation as angry††See this debate for an example. .
Sure it may be just another form of the "modern christian martyr"
symptom that thinks that everyone who disagrees with them are
"persecuting them". But naturalistics (a far better label and a
better meme, if you ask me) are definitely upset at what has been done
in God's name over the last 6 years.
People who are naturalistic have, in their hearts, the goal of
helping to elevate the minds and hearts of people… but it is a shame
that it comes across as superiority. Oh sure, there are many that are,
but the best teachers give respect to their students.
Continue these thoughts with my other essay, Am I a Nat?
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