Tag: Paul Graham

Paul Graham on Free Speech, Suburbia, Getting Rich, and Nerds

“I think a society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win.”

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Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and investor. His 2004 anthology Hackers and Painters explores not only topics like where good ideas come from but also touches on social and cultural issues such as free speech, getting rich, and geek culture. Here are a few interesting tidbits worth pondering.

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Free Speech

I wonder how Graham thinks about this in the context of organizations. Ideas are the lifeblood of organizations but it seems to me that in certain workplaces “free speech” is not so free. The best ideas fall to politics, consensus, and pettiness. Suffering from such intellectual corruption dysfunctional behaviour results, which causes an ultimately self-correcting spiral into bankruptcy.

I think a society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win, rather than those sponsored by the most influential people. Authoritarian countries become corrupt; corrupt countries become poor; and poor countries are weak.

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Getting Rich

Graham illuminates how the industrial revolution changed the incentives from corruption to wealth creation as the primary vehicle to getting rich.

Once it became possible to get rich by creating wealth, society as a whole started to get richer very rapidly. Nearly everything we have was created by the middle class. Indeed, the other two classes have effectively disappeared in industrial societies, and their names been given to either end of the middle class. (In the original sense of the word, Bill Gates is middle class.)

But it was not till the Industrial Revolution that wealth creation definitively replaced corruption as the best way to get rich. In England, at least, corruption only became unfashionable (and in fact only started to be called “corruption”) when there started to be other, faster ways to get rich.

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Nerds

Highlighting the difference between the popular kids and nerds, Graham writes:

While the nerds were being trained to get the right answers, the popular kids were being trained to please.

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Suburbia

In exploring suburbia, Graham looks at how the environment encourages helicopter parenting.

Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.

Where I grew up, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. This was no accident. Suburbs are deliberately designed to exclude the outside world, because it contains things that could endanger children.

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Still Curious?

All of the essays in Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age are worth reading and thinking about.

Paul Graham: On Arguing With Idiots, Where Ideas Come From, and What Makes Good Programmers

Hackers_&_Painters

Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and investor. His 2004 anthology Hackers and Painters explores the world and the people who inhabit it. He calls the book an “intellectual wild west,” and I agree.

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Ideas

When looking for where to find great ideas, we tend to end up in the combination space. Combining ideas from different disciplines creates new ideas. It’s repurposing something.

Graham, however, expands on this view and offers another source of new ideas as repurposing overlooked ideas.

Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that’s unthinkable.

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Arguing with Idiots

What happens when you argue with an idiot? You become one.

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts.

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What Makes Good Programmers?

Few people would have better insight into the hacker culture than Graham. He believes, and I agree, that an undercurrent of disobedience can lead to healthy outcomes. Organizations spend a great deal of money hiring these people only to annoy them with pointless bureaucracy.

Those in authority tend to be annoyed by hackers’ general attitude of disobedience. But that disobedience is a byproduct of the qualities that make them good programmers. They may laugh at the CEO when he talks in generic corporate newspeech, but they also laugh at someone who tells them a certain problem can’t be solved. Suppress one, and you suppress the other.

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Still Curious?

All of the essays in Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age are worth reading and thinking about.