Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why I Block People On Twitter For Talking Shit About Astrology

Astrology shares some interesting similarities with marketing.

First, most programmers hate it; second, more women do it than men; third, both are intensely systematic. I emphasize this because it makes an interesting contrast with the widespread geek antipathy toward either subject. After all, geeks love systems.

A further interesting similarity: programmers generally hate marketing for being unethical, without being aware of the systems it runs on, and programmers generally hate astrology for being invalid, without being aware of the systems it runs on.

I'm considering blocking somebody on Twitter after he made the following tweet:

I'm not just a programmer, but also a musician and actor, and this astrology thing is a big topic of conversation in the communities around two out of three of those identities. I don't appreciate random hostility or the arrogant presumption that my nerd peeps get to tell me how to talk to my other peeps. And "{barf}" is pretty typical of the level of discourse you get from programmers whenever you mention astrology. The same's often true for marketing (although less so in programming language communities which see a high incidence of entrepreneurialism).

I went to a school called St. John's College, where we discussed the Great Books. I was only there a year, but during the year, I read, and discussed, many things I disagreed with. When discussing things in class, I had to refer to my classmates with "Mr." or "Ms." and their last names. "{barf}" would never have been an acceptable contribution to the discussion.

I'm not interested in humoring people when they splash me with the stink of their prejudices. This applies to obvious, culturally taboo prejudices such as racism, and applies equally to culturally tolerated prejudices like the "scientific" prejudice against astrology. I say "scientific" because although this prejudice is found among people with a scientific background, it is not actually backed with science. I've never met a skeptic of astrology whose skepticism was founded in research. In fact, I've met few skeptics of astrology who were aware of astrology's systematic, mathematical nature.

And again, the same is mostly true of marketing and its skeptics. In fact, this brings us back to the gender thing, in an interesting way. One reason programmers hate marketers is because, in many corporate environments, you have a constant tribal standoff, where the two groups do not understand each other, but marketers always win. This is because marketers bring money in the door. I think one reason programmers hate astrology is because most programmers are men, most astrologers are women, and, in many social environments, the two groups do not understand each other, but women always win. This is because women have it and men want it.

Although I doubt this will prevent or even stem the flood of tiresome, brainless contempt, let me also just point out that I am not asserting astrology has any validity at all. I am merely asserting that it has a mathematical and systematic nature. Consider again this tweet:

It's actually very fair to use the word "clueless" for an expert from one field who makes claims about another field without any knowledge of the systems that second field runs on. Whether astrology works or not is a separate question from whether or not it has a system which runs on rules so invariant that you can program a computer to perform the whole process.

I would be fascinated and thrilled to have a discussion with programmers about the systems at work in marketing and astrology. However, I am absolutely not interested in discussing the ethics of marketing (or lack thereof) with anybody who has not read Plato, Aristotle, and the Tao Te Ching. If you are not interested in ethics enough to read the basics, then I don't have time for your opinions about ethics. Likewise, if you want to come to me with evidence of tackling astrology's validity or invalidity seriously, such as addressing it with statistical analysis, I'm interested, but I don't want to hear opinion with no research behind it.

In general, if you haven't taken your own opinion seriously, I'm not going to take it seriously either. Forming your opinion seriously means doing research and reading the classic works in the field. If all you have is ill-mannered prejudice, I am not interested in hearing it, and I am not going to hear it twice.