[Python-ideas] Retire or reword the "Beautiful is better than ugly" Zen clause

Davide Rizzo sorcio at gmail.com
Fri Sep 14 16:09:06 EDT 2018

Regardless of whether the original posting is a trolling attempt or
not, the argument does have value that I want to corroborate with an

At one Python conference in Italy, participants were given an
elegantly designed and well-crafted t-shirt with a writing in large
characters that read "Beautiful is better than ugly" in reference to
the Zen of Python. Back home, a close person who is not a Python
programmer nor familiar with PEP 20 saw the t-shirt. They were
horrified by the out-of-context sentence for reasons similar to what
has been already stated in support of this argument. It prompted them
of lookism and judgmentality, and found the message to be disturbing
in its suggestion to compare by some standard of beauty and to
discriminate. Let me add some context: this person is socially and
politically active (maybe what someone would call a "SJW"; definitely
not what anyone would call "politically correct"), and is specially
sensitive to issues of discrimination and sexism. This was enough,
though, for me to wonder what kind of message I would be projecting by
wearing that writing on me. I've been since then discouraged to ever
wear the t-shirt in any public context.

This story might have limited value because it's one anecdote, and
because the central point is the impact of the clause when taken out
of its original context. I don't want to construct this as an argument
in favor of removal of the clause, but I want to mention this as
evidence that it does carry emotionally (negatively) charged content.
If this content can be avoided without compromising the purpose and
function of the message, than by all means I would welcome and support
the change. It's meaningful, as a community, to show willingness to
respond to discomfort of any kind.

In this case, I even see the potential to convey the original message
in a more powerful way than the current formulation does. I'm not a
good candidate for this, as the chosen language for this community is
English, which is not my native language nor a language I feel very
good at. I appreciate the poetic style of the original, and I think
that Tim Peters has done an outstanding job at capturing these ideas
into easy and humor-rich language. The opportunity would be to express
the idea of aesthetic appeal of code in some way beyond the simplistic
judgmental labelling of "beautiful" vs "ugly". To be fair, in my
experience this has been a source of confusion to many Python
newcomers, as the notion of "beauty", as with any other value
judgment, is highly relative to the subject evaluating it. I've seen
people think of the Python community as conceited because they would
think they possess some absolute metric of beauty.

One way out of the impasse is to draw upon the feeling behind the
adjective. We call "beautiful" something that appeals to us, makes us
comfortable, or inspires us awe. Ugly is something that makes us
uncomfortable, repels us, disconcerts us. "Let awe and disconcert
drive you"? "Attraction and repulsion are important"? "If it disturbs
you, it's probably wrong"? I know these are terrible and will all fail
the spirit and the style of the original, but I'm dropping suggestions
with the hope to stimulate some constructive thought on the matter.
I'm fine with PEP 20 being unchanged; and my goal is not to find a
replacement or urge for a change, but rather to be willing to think
about it.


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