Paul Graham on America’s Heritage of Disobedience

On the Fourth of July, the day when we celebrate the treasonous act that led to the creation of our nation, I think everyone should read Paul Graham’s essay about what makes America great:

Hackers are unruly. That is the essence of hacking. And it is also the essence of Americanness. It is no accident that Silicon Valley is in America, and not France, or Germany, or England, or Japan. In those countries, people color inside the lines.

I lived for a while in Florence. But after I’d been there a few months I realized that what I’d been unconsciously hoping to find there was back in the place I’d just left. The reason Florence is famous is that in 1450, it was New York. In 1450 it was filled with the kind of turbulent and ambitious people you find now in America. (So I went back to America.)

It is greatly to America’s advantage that it is a congenial atmosphere for the right sort of unruliness—that it is a home not just for the smart, but for smart-alecks. And hackers are invariably smart-alecks. If we had a national holiday, it would be April 1st. It says a great deal about our work that we use the same word for a brilliant or a horribly cheesy solution. When we cook one up we’re not always 100% sure which kind it is. But as long as it has the right sort of wrongness, that’s a promising sign. It’s odd that people think of programming as precise and methodical. Computers are precise and methodical. Hacking is something you do with a gleeful laugh.

I’m proud to live in a country where people resist coloring inside the lines.

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4 Responses to Paul Graham on America’s Heritage of Disobedience

  1. Aaron Massey says:

    Great essay. Thanks for sharing.

  2. AT says:

    People in US also elect people who are extremely bad at coloring inside the lines. This is very true. Their strokes keep shooting out, particularly when they are using the red crayons. As a US citizen, I would rather teach my kids to color inside the lines, lest they should end up with the “wrong sort” of unruliness.

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