⚠️ IMPORTANT 2022-11-15: Please help me find a job and move countries.

Doing work or seeking attention?

What follows is an excerpt from my journal. You guessed it: still no romantic poetry and fancy sketches to be found.

Publishing this is a comment in its own right, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Why do I publish all this, anyway? I can tell myself and others that I am doing it for the greater good, to give back to the commons, to promote some laudable value, do the work of the gods, and so on. If they ask for an explanation, I can provide plenty of them. Plus, I will remind them, directly or otherwise, that I am a philosopher, which might make them positively disposed to my words. A neat trick, right? How do I know that those justifications are genuine and not made-up? What if I am just rationalising an innate propensity for attention-seeking?

I see a peacock: it is beautiful. Wow! I might start feeling insecure and rush to belittle it, by arguing that its striking appearance is just a means of showing off and drawing attention to itself. Further, I might hint that I am unlike the peacock because, while uglier, I am wiser as I have overcome that basic behaviour. Have I now? Can I state that with certainty or am I basically a bully, masking my insecurity by attacking another life form that I consider inferior to me? Such bias!

The titular question is not a binary. Such a formulation is the product of brevity. The longer version is that there are permutations between those extremes, such that I might be genuine about doing all the work while still wanting some attention. There are lots of possibilities. So which one is it? Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that it never changes depending on the specifics of the case. Will I give a sincere answer? Even if I do, will it spring from a place of certitude or be an elaborate, even subconscious, attempt at obfuscating my ignorance while still trying to present and to flatter my features? What if I am a peacock at heart, but have a brain that complicates things? Isn’t the bird better in this regard, since it goes straight to the point?

Suppose I post selfies on my website and start showing off. Wouldn’t that make it the best dating profile I could ever create, assuming it is discoverable, since it will not only return that immediate feedback but will also show off all my other “feathers” (i.e. my publications) in a favourable way. Wouldn’t I then be trying to essentially out-compete the others? And if I ever post a picture fro some supposedly unrelated reason, how can I tell that I didn’t do it for this ulterior motive? And if I don’t post such a photo, can the decision behind it be a way of further masking my true intent to find companionship?

Questions! I answer one, ten spring in its stead. It never ends. Am I complicating things? Are we complicating things?

Let me return to the topic of doing the work. I can believe my narrative: “I do it for X”, where X is some lofty aspiration that makes me look good and sophisticated. Fine! But why am I doing it eponymously? Why can’t I publish under an alias and, perhaps, wear a mask? Wouldn’t that have the same effect? If, say, the gods want us to be happy and if my works are contributing towards that end, can I not make others happy while not telling them about me? Why must I go contrary to my stated goal by turning this into an egocentric affair?

Again, I have answers. Are they correct?

There are types of contribution where the contributor is irrelevant. Such as an edit that refines how part of a program’s code works to, say, optimise its performance. This can, in theory, be accomplished by a specially trained robot. The author’s name and their personality is inconsequential. It is of interest outside the narrow confines of such an optimisation, but it is not pertinent to the edit as such.

Suppose I have identified all such robototropic [Prot edit: robotic in their mode] entries in my corpus of work. Now that I am aware of them, why am I still producing them using my real name, displaying my face, and showing my personality? Wouldn’t, for instance, the Emacs community benefit equally if, say, denote was maintained by some secretive Emacs Fan 1234? Why must there be an association between its author and me?

I get it, my philosophy is more relatable when it is consistent with what I present. But can I not, at the very least, not take credit for all the rest? Wouldn’t that ease my concerns that maybe—just maybe—I am but a needlessly complicated peacock? Or would it simply be another way of hiding this fact, since I could then further support my rationalisations? By “rationalisation”, I have in mind something like: “Look! I did not take credit for THOSE, hence my claim to legitimacy.”

Say I get the attention I crave. Will I then stop? And if I don’t, will that be proof that I was not seeking it in the first place?

You see, friend, I cannot win. My point is that I am human. Shocking, I know… I too can be deceived, especially by a mind that never rests. Am I genuine? Am I seeking attention? Some state in-between? Who knows?