Not made for this world

It’s hot tonight, and this is going to be mostly the whiskey talking while I wait for it to get cool enough to sleep. I’ve killed the mosquitos I’ve seen, however, so until then I have only Haskell to keep me company.

This morning, tef tweeted about monads, which sent the Haskell pack his way with barks of not getting it. Just now, pinboard was reminded of some guy’s rage against Esperanto, from back in the 90’s when the web was fun and mostly devoted to things like explaining how "The Downward Spiral" is a concept album or destroying Unix instead of each other’s mental health.

For the Haskell pack, I did a PhD in the type of math that necessitates a lot of category theory, and I have looked at your use of category theory, and judged it to be unnecessary and pretentious and mainly focused on making you look smart while being entirely trivial. But this is not that kind of blog post, one that gets too tangled up in whether category theory is useful to get to the point. (If nothing else, Pijul proves that category theory is useful.) We’re here to discuss how Haskell as a whole is nonsense if you’re not an academic. Our claim is that Haskell is a useless language for writing software that has users.

Our point is simple, and focused on IO. We propose that you can measure how user-facing a program or language is by measuring how much of its time it spends or worries about doing IO. That is, after all, the medium through which anyone who is not a program’s author (of which there may be many) will interact with the program. The time spent doing IO can be on the command line, via a GUI, over a network, or wherever; but to be a serious contender for user-facing programs, a language has to make IO be easy.

C is a terrible language for most new things today. Anyone writing new software in C, that they expect to be used by other than thouroughly vetted people, needs to be able to explain why they’ve chosen C. At the same time, a lot of us are still exposed to C through the BSD or Linux kernels and syscalls, the undying popularity of K&R, random software on the internet, or other vectors. The culture around C invented the modern language textbook, K&R, and the modern user-facing program, "Hello world", both of which spend most or all of their time dealing with IO to talk to you or other users.

I claim making IO as simple as possible, which C does for all its faults, to do is analogous to trying to making it as simple as possible for other people to talk to you in designed languages as you can.[1]. Esperanto shows you can fail at that goal, if you even had it, for it favors sounds native to European languages above others. Likewise, Haskell shows you can fail at the goal of making IO easy, if you even had it, for it does not.

Haskell is a purely functional, lazily evaluated language, with a type system. Like tef explains, that is great, until you run into IO. Up until that point, you could rearrange computations in any order you liked, if they needed to be done at all. As soon as you need to do IO, though, you need something to happen before another thing, which makes you very unhappy if you’re Haskell. It in fact makes you so unhappy that you’ll drag the entire lost-at-sea community of category theorists into the orbit of your language just so you can have an abstraction for doing IO that fits into your model of the world. This abstraction, monoids, then comes with the added benefit of being abstract enough that all of your programmers can spend their time explaining it to each other instead of writing programs that use the abstraction to do IO, and therefore deal with any actual users.

Haskell is where programmers go to not have users.

1. One could say that what I mean is something more like making FFI as easy as possible, but that’s missing the point and would just move this discussion to some other, less inflammatory, level that we’re keen to avoid.