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Enlightened Perl Organisation

The Genesis of the Name

Sat Mar 21 00:00:00 2009

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A recollection of how Matt Trout and I came about to use the word Enlightened in association with Modern Perl

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This is a short discourse on the history of the term Enlightened Perl. It is not a technical discussion and is based solely on my recollections of events.[1]

In the beginning...

The origins of how and when we started to use enlightened in association with modern Perl[2] can be traced back to a conversation Matt S Trout and I had in the latter half of 2005. At that time Matt was starting to become more involved with the project communities that are a major part of the wider Perl world, he had always been aware of them as a junior Perler and was a contributor to some of the libraries as well as being active on IRC. For my part I was a minor lurker on some channels but an avid listener to Matt's dialogues on various subjects concerning Perl, most notably the shape of some of the community projects, his assessment on the development of Perl libraries and the state of the language.

Matt was discussing how, as he perceived it, Perl was entering a new phase in its development, it was in a Renaissance period distinguished by the wealth of high quality libraries in development and the general sense from the community working on Perl 5. He made this distinction based upon the fact that there had been a slump in the Perl development up until this point that he was likening to a Dark Age and that we had come out of this into the Renaissance (to keep the analogy running). He also elaborated on the fact that many new libraries and langauge developments had started to learn from the still-in-creation Perl 6 along with looking at other languages and their libraries, projects and development.

The imagery was provocative and did seemingly fit the shape of Perl at the time, but I probed deeper as some of the elements of his argument intrigued me. Specifically Matt felt that this development was almost a radical shift in thinking. It had been assumed by many, up until that time, that development in Perl 5 would be a stop-gap while waiting for Perl 6 and that it would not be as innovative. But the modern libraries that were appearing, along with a change in focus in development with the understanding that although TIMTOWTDI[3] was an underpinning statement to PERL there was good reason to follow a 'best practice' and to obey development strategies of compatibility and consistency.

It should be understood that the people developing Perl 5 Libraries were not rebuking the development of Perl 6, nor were they on a crusade against the focus of the Perl Foundation, this was simply about the development of existing Perl projects and the evolution of them. There was also the strong undercurrent on the need to freely share practices and implementations of Perl that had been tested in a corporate environment.

The more that Matt spoke about the developments in the community and in the Perl 5 language the more I became convinced that we had grasped the wrong period for our metaphor.[4] The Renaissance was a period of history most clearly understood as a rebirth of classical ideals after a period of regression, it encompasses a revolution (of sorts) in education and science (limited to an understanding that science works only in relation to God's creation). This wasn't what we were experiencing as there was no 'classical' period that was being returned to, and there was no 'limited' revolution. What we had was a surge of ideas and revolutions in how we approached community structures, programming conventions, the development of the language. If anything the very nature of this change to my mind resembled the period of the, predominantly Western, Enlightenment.[5]

The Enlightenment is a period that is hard to define and even harder to date, as it doesn't encompass a simple series of events or an easy to follow shift in historical features. It is a period defined by a change in thinking, and in a rapid technological advancement spurred by revolutions. The Enlightenment covers a period marked by the Industrial Revolution, the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the shift in social mobility governed by wealth and ability as opposed to simply by birth. It is also marred by vast colonial expansion and exploration, the development of companies that we would consider super-corporations, the charting and taming of the globe. Many of the great thinkers who shifted the focus of intellectual enquiry away from the concept of God-appointed rights, or a natural law with the rights of kings to rule, were born during this period with their emphasis on liberty and reason. Emmanuel Kant tells us that the, "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity" while Thomas Paine gave us The Age of Reason and The Rights of Man. During this period we also see the impact of development for women as Mary Wollstonecraft writes her feminist work A Vindication of the Rights of Women in which she argues that women are only inferior to men due to education (specifically the lack of it) and that they should be treated as equals.

This to my mind fitted the allusion and gave us the imagery we were trying to express. There was also the fact that an Enlightenment can be seen in a religious sense to be representative of achieving a certain level of understanding or of being, it is often the step before one reaches the nirvana of choice, and this was no bad thing to add to our metaphor. The modern definition for enlightened is: "having or showing a rational, modern and well-informed outlook", which fitted the thoughts of all of us when we decided to form the Enlightened Perl Organisation.

[1] Which may be considered exemplary, facile, inaccurate and precise all in the same breath. Recollection is of course subject to the whim of focus and interpretation and therefore should not be treated as a gospel rendition, more a 're-imaging' (to steal a Burtonesque idea) of events.

[2] When I mention Modern Perl, I am referring to the practices and libraries associated with Perl 5, with a particular emphasis after Perl 5.6. Much of the practices have their roots in good software development as used throughout the ages, so probably from the 1960s onwards, as for the communities that use them they are a more modern phenomena in software circles but have their roots in socially-structured networks which are seemingly hard-wired into the species.

[3] There Is More Than One Way To Do It.

[4] The thought has occurs more than once when I get roused by the use of imagery that this may not be important and that any imagery that conveys the sense of what you are saying is enough. Then I remember that type of thinking is nonsense, as a society (and even perhaps as a species) we are spurred by the use of imagery, it is why we have metaphors, allusions and similies in our language. We identify with the image and become immersed in it, so that the whole shape of our reaction to a specific thing can be determined simply by the imagery we use to describe it, e.g. compare your response to 'he had thunderous eyes' to 'he had a lightning smile', both are storm images but one comes away with a different sense of the nature of the person eventhough very little has been said.

[5] Classifying the Enlightenment as the Western Enlightenment presents its own problems. While it is true that the Enlightenment was predominantly based in Europe with its strong colonial powerbase, and America as an emergent nation, it is incorrect to assume that its influences and affect was solely restricted to these locations. The Enlightenment had roots in the philosophies, teachings and religions of many countries but its impact, in a simple reading, was focussed on European nations.

Mark Keating is: Managing Director of Shadowcat Systems Limited
Director and Secretary of Enlightened Perl Organisation
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