The issue of Lisp is, I think, an empirical one.
Back when GNOME made the move away from Sawfish for Metacity, at about the same time Sun came aboard, one of the wingnuts on Slashdot made a pejorative comment about the Sun programmers, questioning their abilities if they couldn’t handle the Lisp required to maintain Sawfish.
The thing is, most everyone learned Lisp in school, right? And pretty much no one uses it now, right? I was reminded of this by a comment today from Joel Spolsky:
I think that if you try to ignore the fact that millions of programmers around the world have learned lisp and don’t prefer to use it, you’re in the land of morbid cognitive dissonance. And this attitude that “lisp is only for leet programmers so it’s good because only l33t programmers will work on our code so our code will be extra good” is just bullshit, I’m sorry. Plenty of brilliant programmers know lisp just fine and still choose other languages. Most of them, in fact.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Lisp since I wrote a piece years ago about Greg Chaitin, the mathematician. Or is he a computer scientist?
I was sort of star struck, and we had coffee at a place across the street from the university, and he tried to explain to me randomness and halting and incompletness. And he told me that there was nothing quite so elegant as a Lisp. In retrospect, trying to write about mathematics was a fool’s errand, and I don’t try it much any more. Words can never do justice to the scribbles Chaitin sketched out for me as he explained to me the incompleteness of the real numbers – proved it for me, right there on a coffee-stained table. (I still love that juxtaposition, the purity of the ideal of the incompleteness of the real numbers on a coffee-stained table. The place is a pawn shop now.)
I didn’t really know anything about computer languages then, and I imagined a Lisp as a shining city on a hill, a place where the purity of the ideal was made tangible, incarnate in code. And I suppose that’s still what Lisp is, but down here by the docks where the work gets done, people seem to have set aside the beauty of Lisp for what must apparently have been more practical concerns.