Opinions Considered Harmful

by Steve Yegge

I wrote a couple of entries in this fancy new O'Reilly Ruby blog, and placed them in the "Opinion" category, which I evidently completely misunderstood to mean that it was for posting opinions.

Silly me. After this little follow-up, I'll endeavor never post an actual opinion to a public forum again.

It turns out that the little "Opinion" label is far more widely construed to mean either "Universally True Factual Statements" or "Lies", either of which appears to be grounds for getting Really Mad. It seems MovableType ought to have a little dropdown list for labeling your comments, providing convenient label options such as "Revenge", "Retaliation", "Retribution", "Flame Strike", and "Long List of Corrections". Ideally it would allow you to select multiple comment categories.

Note: I will receive angry comments for that previous sentence, and also for this one, and for everything else I write for the rest of my life that makes it online, advertently or not. So will you, if you ever make the profound mistake of choosing that "Opinion" category in a blog post. You'll also be quoted out of context all over the web, because apparently by choosing "Opinion", you are also claiming that you are a Leading Expert at whatever random thing you're talking about.

I've been a huge fan of Dave Barry's writing for almost 20 years, but as of last week I have newfound respect for the man. He often points out that Alert Readers regularly send him angry factual corrections and even hate mail about his humor columns. How did he put up with it for his whole career? I'll never know.

I've learned a few things in the past week. They are Universally True Facts! Ignore them at your own risk!

One is that if you ever opinionatedly claim that a specific group of people tends to be pedantic, something interesting happens: a whole bunch of people will pedantically inform you that you are incorrect. But they're not just from the group you mentioned; they're from everywhere. Pedants will materialize from every dimension to correct you. The corrections vary, of course. Some folks will just be negating what you said, occasionally colorfully. Some will announce that the *other* group (there's always another group; people love taking sides) is even *more* pedantic. A few will announce that I've slightly misused the term "pedantic", thus invalidating my entire article.

I'll vouch one of my last-ever opinions: namely, that "correcting" someone's opinion is automatically pedantic. Corrections inevitably overlook the basic problem that all communication is intrinsically ambiguous. Also, the shorter a statement is, the less universally true it becomes. So if you narrow in on any statement that someone makes, ignoring the surrounding context and failing to give some benefit of the doubt, you'll always be able to find things to correct. But chances are good that you'll also have missed their point.

Anyway, I've since realized that my opinionated claim wasn't broad enough. Almost any arbitrary grouping of people connected to the web will have a tendency to appear pedantic, because the most pedantic people are very eager to post corrections (by definition), giving them a more vocal presence than their less pedantic and more forgiving peers. Plus, almost everyone is pedantic once in a while, depending on their mood that day.

By dropping just one word from the first of my two most infamous claims, I arrive at the slightly less incorrect opinion: "Pedantry: it's just how things work in the world." In the written, online world, anyway. Useful to know!

In an effort to partly forestall a flood of amusing corrections from pedants on the sharp lookout (a.k.a. "skimming") for errors here that they can denounce, I'll make the following statements of True Fact:

- I am a poorly-educated yokel, and I'm not an expert at anything.
- I speak only for myself.
- My opinions change daily, and I articulate them poorly.
- Everything I write is a baldfaced lie, except for the stuff you agree with.
- You're right.

Feel free to quote me directly on any of those statements, by the way.

The other big thing I learned, related to my second infamous claim, is that people evidently *really* detest tax collectors, more so than I'd ever have guessed. Politicians, take note.

OK then! No more opinions from me, ever again. And I hereby revoke all previous opinions that I've ever stated or held at any time, however briefly. And as a nice catch-all algorithm, let's agree that if I ever again accidentally voice something resembling an opinion or a possible factual error, whether you agree with it or not, then we'll just assume I'm wrong and you're right.

I suppose I should say something about Ruby, in keeping with the theme of this blog:

I like Ruby, but I miss list comprehensions from Python.1

However, some quick searches seem to indicate that someone somewhere has implemented them for Ruby, somehow. I guess I'll go take a look!


[1] attention, pedants: I also miss them from Haskell.


Pete Lyons
2005-12-30 10:10:25
The fact that you touched a nerve is a good thing. If a large group of people dont either want to punch you or kiss you, after writing an opinion piece, it probably wasn't worth writing in the first place.

2005-12-30 10:26:52
Dude, you post that Python folks are losing programmer mindshare because their culture turns off outsiders, and you are surprised that you get a little hate mail? Next time, just fire off your opinion, and accept, gracefully, the response. Love it even.

I like list comprehensions too, but the new new list comprehension is a list generator, no? Which shows that Pythoners at least occasionally learn from their mistakes. But Guido doesn't fears real continuations, so generators aren't as powerful as they could be. It seems, however, that the next version of Python will be more Rubyesque in the behavior of yield.

Can you also slam Python for decorators? That evil wart on the language was the moment where I not only left Python for Ruby, but was glad to do so. Decorators == evil. It's like falling in love with another woman and feeling guilty about it, only to have your old love develop a really horrendous

Tom Fakes
2005-12-30 11:32:52
I may be going against Universally True Fact here, but I liked your previous opinion posts.
2005-12-30 13:00:48
Did you actually remove the original article? At least I guess you're refering to "A little anti-anti-hype". I quite liked the article, but am not able to open or find it now.

Though I still have the full text in my feed reader.

2005-12-30 15:36:52
>> I've been a huge fan of Dave Barry's writing for almost 20 years

and with that, i stopped reading

John Wilger
2005-12-30 16:57:37
> Everything I write is a baldfaced lie, except for the stuff you agree with.

I believe you intended to write, "Everything I write is a [bold-]faced lie..."

To the best of my knowledge, persons lacking beards and/or mustaches are neither better nor more prolific liars than the rest of us.


Izidor Jerebic
2005-12-31 00:53:58
Well, it seems that the reaction somehow confirms your articles, doesn't it?

I really liked your articles (especially the one with Smalltalk) and wanted to send the links to some other people, because the usefulness and importance of hype/marketing to programmers was so clearly explained.

I suggest you return the articles, and keep on writing.

Kartik Vaddadi
2005-12-31 06:36:16
Reading Anti-anti-hype was an instructive experience for me. I agree with most of it (except the faith-based arguments thing) and it gave me a perspective I didn't have before. And I'd *MUCH RATHER* read an article that is an exaggeration than one that makes a point subtly and risks it getting lost. It'll be a pity if people stop writing posts like this one.
Bob Hutchison
2005-12-31 08:29:15
Actually, I think he meant 'bald-faced' rather than 'baldfaced'. He actually left himself open to the worst kind of pedant -- the grammarian :-)
Henry Maddocks
2005-12-31 14:20:01
I thought the anti-anti-hype article was one of the best programming language 'opinion' pieces I've read in a long time. I was going to link to it but it appears to have disappeared. Shame.
2006-01-01 12:01:47
I don't think you should have taken your posts offline. Worse atrocities have been committed than the bit of opinionated opinions that you expressed. And they weren't really that far off.

This is all just my opinion of cours.

Steve Yegge
2006-01-01 17:37:37
I've moved my articles here: http://www.cabochon.com/~stevey/blog-rants#ruby

I don't care if random people on the net don't like what I wrote. That's going to happen no matter what I write.

However, I seem to have deep-running philosophical and technical differences from the other O'Reilly Ruby bloggers. It doesn't make sense for me to post here if it's going to ruin the overall harmony of the blog, and force the others to declare their disagreement every time I write something -- and so far, I'm 3 for 3.

So I'm out! I'll go figure out some other place to blog. In the meantime, my blog-rants archive page will have permalinks to the two Opinion columns I removed from this blog.

James Britt
2006-01-01 20:44:11
"It doesn't make sense for me to post here if it's going to ruin the overall harmony of the blog, and force the others to declare their disagreement every time I write something -- and so far, I'm 3 for 3."

4 for 4: Harmony is over-rated. Speak your mind.

Happy New Year!

Jim Elliott
2006-03-12 23:07:07
Don't stop posting opinion pieces! I came here hunting for these after reading your awesome Tour de Babel. I agreed with almost all of that, much to my delight. I wanted to post something on my O'Reilly blog in the unlikely event nobody here knew about you. Yes, I'm naive enough to have considered that a possibility. [blush]

Your opinions are fun to read and informative! Keep 'em coming.