To the victor, the potatoes

I remember when I wrote my first application. I was young and inexperienced – an unskilled programmer trying to learn the ways of the Force. The code – ah the code! – was a real mess. But hey, the application was up and running. And I was happy to make things work.

At some point, I got interested in opensource. It was way stronger than me. But how would I embrace the cause? I’m not a perfectionist, but I knew my code – at that moment – was bad, and I was afraid of being ridiculed because of it. Reluctantly, I took the first step and published my first code in the wild.

Get ready for the most random quote ever posted in our community blog. It’s from a Pokémon game: “You’re a rookie trainer, aren’t you? I can tell! That’s OK! Everyone is a rookie at some point!” Truer words were never spoken.

We only gain experience with time. Time helps us write better code. More than that: time helps us be better people.

No man is an island. Living in a very competitive world, we sometimes forget about our neighbour. The daily routine sometimes makes us close our eyes to others. We can’t let that happen to us. Helping other people in their journey – even a simple “good morning, have a nice day!” – frees us from the indifference and apathy of a typical cold-blooded human. And – believe me! – makes us better people.

The title for this blog post might be a little strange. It’s a famous passage from Quincas Borba, a novel by the Brazilian novelist Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Machado de Assis is surely amongst the great writers of all time. When I was a kid, we had to read at least one of his books for a literature class. And I picked that one. The full passage is as follows, a jewel of the Machadian literature:

Imagine a field of potatoes and two starving tribes. There are only enough potatoes to feed one of the tribes, who in that way will get the strength to cross the mountain and reach the other slope, where there are potatoes in abundance. But, if the two tribes peacefully divide up the potatoes from the field, they won’t derive sufficient nourishment and will die of starvation. Peace, in this case, is destruction; war is preservation. One of the tribes will exterminate the other and collect the spoils. This explains the joy of victory, anthems, cheers, public recompense, and all the other results of warlike action. If the nature of war were different, those demonstrations would never take place, for the real reason that man only commemorates and loves what he finds pleasant and advantageous, and for the reasonable motive that no person can canonize an action that actually destroys him. To the conquered, hate or compassion; to the victor, the potatoes.

In the novel, Quincas Borba is a philosopher who created a theory called Humanitism, which could be roughly summarized as the survival of the fittest. It’s a satire for both Comte’s Positivism and Darwin’s Natural Selection, a way of exposing the inhuman and unethical character of the survival of the fittest when applied to men.

I’ve been thinking of this question for a long time: should we share the potatoes? No.

We have something far more valuable to share than a mere potatoes: our knowledge. Sharing what we know gives everybody the chance of surviving. A community built with knowledge and valuing everyone in particular is healthier than a bunch of crumbs.

It’s been a privilege to be part of our TeX community. Everybody is welcome. And we try our best to make people feel that way. From a TeX newbie to an experienced TeXnician, everybody can help, either asking or answering questions. My great friend egreg brilliantly said that “without problems to solve the knowledge doesn’t improve”.

If you have any questions, please ask! Don’t be afraid. And if you can contribute to a question, either by answering it or even adding a comment, please do it. Everybody benefits from our actions, especially our community.

Help us make our community even better. Ask questions, write comments and answers, give advices, upload packages to CTAN, fork repositories, join a project, chat with other members. To the victor, the potatoes. To the wise, the community.

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