nombrilliant, actually

Today, a middle-aged note: when you are young, unless you been failed by The System, you enjoy a radiant confidence: everything you say burns with rightness and righteousness, that the world Actually Is This Way, You See, and if you think about it, it Actually Should Be This Other Specific Way. This is how you get the fervent young communists and Scala enthusiasts and ecologists and Ayn Randians. The ideas are so right that you become an evangelist, a prophet, a truth-speaker; a youtuber, perhaps.

Then, with luck, you meet the world: you build, you organize, you invest, you double down. And in that doubling, the ideas waver, tremble, resonate, imperceptibly at first, reinforced in some ways, impeded in others. The world works in specific ways, too, and you don’t really know them in the beginning: not in the bones, anyway. The unknowns become known, enumerate themselves, dragons everywhere; and in the end, what can you say about them? Do you stand in a spot that can see anything at all? Report, observe, yes; analyze, maybe, eventually; prophesize, never. Not any more.

And then, years later, you are still here. The things you see, the things you know, other people don’t: they can’t. They weren’t here. They aren’t here. They hear (and retell) stories, back-stories, back-back-stories, a whole cinematic universe of narrative, and you know that it’s powerful and generative and yet unhinged, essentially unmoored and distinct from reality, right and even righteous in some ways, but wrong in others. This happen in all domains: macroeconomics, programming languages, landscape design, whatever. But you see. You see through stories, their construction and relation to the past, on a meta level, in a way that was not apparent when you were young.

I tell this story (everything is story) as an inexorable progression, a Hegelian triptych of thesis-antithesis-synthesis; a conceit. But there are structures that can to get you to synthesis more efficiently. PhD programs try: they break you down to allow you to build. They do it too quickly, perhaps; you probably have to do it again in your next phase, academia or industry, though I imagine it’s easier the second time around. Some corporate hierarchies also manage to do this, in which when you become Staff Engineer, you become the prophet.

Of course, synthesis is not inexorable; you can stop turning the crank anywhere. Perhaps you never move from ideal to real. Perhaps, unmoored, you drift, painter rippling the waters. But what do you do when the crank comes around? Where to next?

Anyway, all this is to say that I have lately been backing away from bashfulness in a professional context: there are some perspectives that I see that can’t be seen or expressed by others. It feel very strange to write it, but I am even trying to avoid self-deprecation and hedging; true, I might not possess the authoritative truth on, I don’t know, WebAssembly, or Scheme language development, but nobody else does either, and I might as well just say what I think as if it’s true.

* * *

Getting old is not so bad. You say very cheesy things, you feel cheesy, but it is a kind of new youth too, reclaiming a birthday-right of being earnest. I am doubling down on Dad energy. (Yes, there is a similar kind of known-tenuous confidence necessary to raise kids. I probably would have forced into this position earlier if I had kids younger. But, I don’t mean to take the metaphor fa(r)ther; responsible community care for the young is by far not the sole province of the family man.)

So, for the near future, I embrace the cheese. And then, where to? I suspect excessive smarm. But if I manage to succeed in avoiding that, I look forward to writing about ignorance in another 5 years. Until then, happy hacking to all, and thank you for your forbearance!

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