Monday, November 14, 2005

What I Believe

William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways notes the Two Commandments of the Hopi Indians: “Try to understand things” and “Don’t go around hurting people.” That's a good start. I wouldn't object much if somebody wanted that in their courthouse.

It's occurred to me that the programmer's question: "Does it scale?" is simply a special case of the Golden Rule. We should conduct ourselves ethically because otherwise, things will be worse for everyone.

"Does it scale?" To take a trivial case: I signal when I change lanes because I want to live in a society in which people signal their lane changes. But that's also exactly why I don't rob banks. And so forth.

Believing falsehoods is wrong. Propagating them is worse. "Democracy," said GB Shaw, "will never be a workable form of government until the common man resents a fallacy as much as an insult."

"Mencken's Creed" comes pretty close to What I Believe:

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

"Shake off all the fears and servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." --Thomas Jefferson

Physicist Steven Weinberg:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.

"...I learned that the aim of this conference is to have a constructive dialogue between science and religion. I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment. "

Moving from the general to the more specific: My father's Four-Fold Path of the Things That Make Life Worth Living: girls, cars, cameras, and audio.

And continuing the move downscale to the details, some principles that guide my photography:

"The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking." - Brooks Anderson

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

"No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film." - Robert Adams

"Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn't photogenic." - Edward Weston

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