Integrity and Programming


I started writing this post a few weeks ago, but it has been growing inside of me.

There were two reasons why I intentionally learned to program as a young teenager.

  1. I read an article about Margie Profet in Omni Magazine that discussed how she became programmer because she was able to use her mind and support herself while she figured out what to do with her life.
  2. There was always a right answer. I never had to guess whether or not I had done a good job or if I was qualified for a job – because the program would either work properly or not.

I did end up becoming a computer programmer and loving it, but these points of view had some wide ranging ramifications.

The first was figuring out what to do with my life. I used to paint. I never considered becoming a painter because it did not seem like a respectable career, or a cerebral career. Painting did not seem to involve hard work, although it was something I definitely worked at, and practiced. I had so many incorrect assumptions as a kid! But what I was able to do with programming was to actually thing this was a valid question – that life is something to figure out – like a computer program.

Life is really something to be lived…. danced, played, explored. That I was able to support myself with this thing “programming” or “tech” that was some how “different from my life” allowed me to fracture myself and live with a certain detachment.

The second ramification – was that I was able to our source my judgement.

Both of these relate to the notion of integrity. Integrity is a state of wholeness, something I have probably never felt – I have always felt fractured between what appeared to be competing interests, friends, demands, obligations, protocols. I lived in a very reactive state as a child, responding to the demands of my caregivers rather than acting out of my own volition. Nothing I ever did of my own free will ever was correct.

We can see why someone would then outsource their standard of correctness to a compiler.

My whole life I thought I was so smart to find programming, to be able to outsource these parts of myself. But really they are a sort of horcrux that have fragmented my soul and only now am I putting things back together.

Often times I don’t need a compiler or interpreter to tell me if my code is correct. I know that. Instead, there are types of correctness that a compiler cannot determine such as ethics, ease of use, generation of a flow state, of happiness rather than frustration. The software industry attempts to create algorithms in order to outsource the validity of these things too. We use A/B testing to find the optimal button placement for purchasing. But who said correctness was equated with purchasing? Maybe in one lens it is, but in many other lenses it is not. As we attempt to algorithmize (is that a word) all interaction, this outsourcing of correctness will feed into fields that are not even technological – like customer service.

There is no way to outsource this standard of correctness, what we can call integrity. It involves a mapping to the creators body. There are tools, psycho and somatic technologies to enhance integrity, and perhaps guidelines to encourage integrity, but one of the problems with cybernetic technology is that as we create metrics and optimize to these metrics we can imagine that we are being correct, but this is a false consciousness.

I started thinking about this topic a few weeks ago while listening to this Conner Habib podcast. The people and activities of programmer and the tech industry is in many ways unrecognizable from the field I entered almost 20 years ago. There I was surrounded by anti-corporate polymaths, as fascinated by number theory as by Gurdjieff and with interests and practices ranging from jazz trombone, to acupuncture, to ancient Greek. Programming was an exciting and powerful way to manifest with your mind. It was a type of magic.

This is changing and I think within the next 10 years or a lot of programming will be replaced by machine learning. This saddens me, because the practice of programming itself is a great psycho-technology, if we can remember not to outsource our integrity.