I was watching “Going clear”, a documentary about the “church” of Scientology. It details the creation, growth and present state of the religion/cult. It’s a display of how people end up following ridiculous rules, religious or not.
The documentary consists of narrated history and a multitude of interviews from former top-level executives to public figures. Out of which, the likely most recognisable is Paul Haggis. These interviewees obviously no longer participate in those shenanigans. They are free to provide insightful commentary on how people end up in, stay and finally leave these groups.
Haggis summarised some of these thought patterns:
“We lock up a portion of our own minds. We avoid things that could cause us pain just if we looked. If we can just believe something then we don’t have to really think for ourselves, do we?” - Paul Haggis
Following rules and regulations based on faith and belief alone is indeed dangerous. When one never stops to think about the source for a decision, they are unconsciously making an investment on the source. The magnitude of the investment is defined by the outcome of the decision. Simplified, they generate sunk costs on faith.
Consider these Scientologists, who abandon their family based on some crazy rule by their group. Abandoning the cult would abandon the investment, leaving them with a kind of double negative. And it certainly doesn’t make a positive. They are, in a sense, on a path from which it is increasingly difficult to return to where they once made the decision. These things happen on many of the worlds religions, cults, and whatever groups people come up with.
Dogmatism in writing software is somewhat unique, for the industry is relatively young. Software developers have little rules and regulations enforced by law. The ones we do have, are usually provided by the context in which the software is written, and for what purpose. But there are no standard rules that govern how the outcome of software is reached.
Still, these diverse schools of thought emerge every know and then, and people get stuck with them. I think we should accumulate tools for different purposes. Instead, people end up adopting a religion. They religiously follow an idea and overuse whatever it is advocating. The end result there is likely just a perverted version of the original idea.
Consider DRY, different tests, design patterns, agile, MVP, and the like.
These are generally good ideas, ruined by overuse or distilled by hype. Sometimes, instead of following something to the letter, people extend or tweak an idea to fit their own needs. This has the weird effect that people following the original one tend to keep following the newer version of it. Because they have invested time on it. It’s more uncommon for people to stop and reform, or “fork” the original idea at this moment. Mostly because it is cumbersome, and also because the change happens slowly over time.
The documentary reminded me about Dave Gray’s talk about people living in bubbles of belief. We constantly go through this pattern:
experience -> relevancy -> assumptions -> conclusions -> belief
Once a belief is formed, outside influence conflicts with existing assumptions and conclusions. Beliefs are constantly fortified by one’s own experiences and thoughts. This is also a way of protecting one’s mind against uncertainty and the unknown. Gray calls this the bubble of self-sealing logic.
There’s strategy for breaking from this bubble, Gray calls it “liminal thinking”. Briefly put, it means thinking outside the bubble, and willingness to consider alternative options. Liminal here referring to the area where one’s bubble reaches someone else’s.
Avoid claiming anything to be a 100% certain, apply “Bayesian thinking”. If stating something is certain, you lock yourself in that position. I think too many problems occur when people are unwilling to change their mind and consider being wrong. Naturally, I’m guilty of this too. Still, I cringe every time people criticise someone for changing their opinion after receiving new information.
think for yourself, question authority
Or rather, question everything. Though no one can do this all the time without going crazy. But I strive to, once in a while, reflect and dispute commonly held rules, habits, principles and beliefs.
I don’t generally look for totally discarding anything and then going for the next thing. Rather, I think I’m in a constant mess of different ideas and views.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” -Bruce Lee