Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Failure of Moral Progress: The Tragedy of Javascript

From hope to despair, then to hope, then to despair again, is that the fate of all civilizations? To give in to sloth and decay, their monuments to reason covered with the slime of intellectual and moral weakness? To sink again and again into corruption, incompetence, venality and death ? Is hope for progress mere pablum for the weak minded to keep them enthusiastically at their tasks until it is too late and their fate is sealed?

Something has been revealed to me recently that would make me think so.

A computer language is many things but one of them is a (usually formal) specification of a grammar and a syntax that is useful to the bipeds in expressing their ways of doing things, what are sometimes called algorithms, named for the jazz trio of Johnny von Neumann, Alan Turing and Alonzo Church whose band, The Algorithms, dominated avant garde jazz in the 1930s up into the 1950s and whose influence is still heard today. Although writing computer algorithms is a very personal and idiosyncratic form of expression, the notation that the individual artists (and groups of artists) use to express themselves will subtly affect the elegance of the algorithm and can by its nature guide and channel what can be expressed. They may all be Turing equivalent at some theoretical level but they "feel" very different.

There is no one such formal language, there are many, and there will be many in the future. Like music and music notation, they will evolve and some will be appreciated by an elite, and some will be used by the masses. Some, like SNOBOL are esteemed but not in current usage. Others like C++ (pronounced "C Double Cross") are as common as flies on shit and just as attractive.

As in all things there is the matter of taste and the issues of elite style vs common style. The avant garde must by its very definition be avant, changing and moving forward.

Even so, we can look on in horror or at least puzzlement when something that is fundamentally flawed, something that we know is just not going to be good, becomes established and then through the vicissitudes of the uncaring fates explodes onto a hundred million computer screens to become encrusted into just as many computer programs and taught to our children and then to their children in perpetuity.

I have just looked more closely at HTML 5 which is already everywhere and soon will be truly everywhere. One day there will be an HTML 6 no doubt but until then it is HTML 5 that will be used to mark up what our civilization has to say about itself. HTML 5 is a synonym for Javascript, as Javascript is integrated into the very essence of HTML 5. There can not be one without the other. Where you find HTML 5 you will find Javascript.

The more I learn Javascript the more I realize that Satan and the Illuminati, another band from the 1930s, must be chortling with glee at the little joke they have played on our world. For Javascript is a pastiche which pulls a little from column A and column B and column C and Java and Scheme and C and blows smoke in our face. It is a tale told by a billionaire, Mark Andresson, who was in a hurry at the time and would we have done any better if we were in his shoes?     I would hope that we would, but it is very hard to know until we are tested, and we probably never will have that opportunity.   It is what it is, however.

Javascript is not the best we, the computer community, can do in a perfect world.  But it is not a perfect world, and at least Javascript is not the worst that there is out there.    At this point, it is just a fact of life.


HTML 5 Working Group

HTML 5 on Wikipedia

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