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Monday, July 26th, 2004

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Lawyers vs. Programmers
There's a joke I heard in the SCA:

The SCA runs the way it does because its laws are written by computer programmers. The USA runs the way it does because its computer programs are written by lawyers.

Which is not strictly true, but lawyers have a huge impact in how we do things, from every decision made to avoid a potential lawsuit, to the increasing complexity and obscurity of laws, to the one-winner one-loser assumption in all political contests. It's become so pervasive that some people get law degrees without ever intended to practice law, just so they can function in their preferred profession. Now there's a change in society--lots of people are learning programming as part of their jobs and former programmers are carrying their skills on to new careers. Jeff Jarvis thinks this will push us toward a more transparent system instead of the deliberate obscurity lawyers like to produce to protect their guild. Another blogger points out that while lawyers want to maintain the status quo programmers are producing constant change.

I'm more interested in another difference between the professions. To lawyers "truth" is ultimately what an individual or group says it is--a judge, a committee, Congress, the Supreme Court. That's who has the last word, and everyone has to live with it. Programmers--and other kinds of engineers--test their theories against the real world. If it works, great. If it doesn't, no appeals to any court or amendment to a law will fix it--you have to change the design/theory/approach. I think our society would be a lot healthier if we routinely tested ideas against Reality instead of Authority.

Current Mood: thoughtful

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