Michael West’s Comment of the Day was less a commentary on a post than an observation triggered by it. There’s been a lot of lawyer-style analysis around here of late, so it’s high time for an engineer’s perspective—in some respects the reverse of the legal problem-solving method– to be highlighted, in reaction to the post, “Observations On The Unethical Tweet Of The Month.”
Science is a wonderful thing. The rise of empiricism as a practiced discipline by professionals from it’s rudimentary roots in ancient philosophy has allowed mankind the ability to learn beyond his superstitious ancestor’s imaginations. And combined with that human imagination – the knowledge gained by science has empowered us to manipulate, to engineer, incredible solutions to direct problems as well as reduce mere inconveniences and discomforts to non-entities.
Scientists and engineers, by merely studying a problem, determining predictable laws that govern the interactions within problems and using that knowledge to develop a solution, opened up the power of man’s intellect.
But therein lies another problem. We think we can engineer, we can manipulate our way to solve everything. We think we’ve studied the factors going into a problem so thoroughly that we know the right solution. I’m an architect, and we have a saying – “A problem thoroughly defined is more that half-solved”. By “defined”, we mean, researched, studied, determined our constraints and our opportunities. Very rapidly, in the design process – the more we spend in studying the problem the more our options are narrowed down to one or two appropriate solutions. Soon, the solution presents itself.
We, as a society, have gotten so good at defining and researching the data surrounding our societal problems that we think we can narrow down to a singular solution that will solve them. We’ve elevated “experts” to demigods of policy. But there’s hubris here – society’s problems aren’t the same as “how do I get from this side of the river to that side? Oh! A suspension bridge is best here!” or “How do I maximize summer shading but winter sunlight on this backyard patio? Oh, angled louvers on a pergola are perfect!” Society’s problems are, first of all, never able to be so thoroughly studied that we think we can confidently define the problem, and second of all, are only half data driven anyway.
I can study an area and see that 50% of the people live below the poverty line. But that doesn’t tell me much about the real problem as much as it says “there’s a problem here.”A one dimensional policy maker might say “let’s just give them more money”. Further study may indicate causes of the poverty, and the two dimensional thinker might say “fix those causes”. And yet, even further study might indicate that there are deeper root causes behind *those* causes, for which the 2D thinkers solutions would only exacerbate.
Our hubris in thinking we can engineer a better society flows from these two points: we’ll never be able to full study a problem to its deepest level, for at their deepest level, society’s problems are almost always a discrepancy between idealized value-sets and actually practiced values, something raw data cannot define. It can only hint at symptoms.
Modern progressives have increasingly latched onto a religion run by a priesthood of “experts” – people who are so deep in the data, you will be thoroughly impressed. But they fail to recognize that at the end of the day, it is values that should drive policy, not data. As their religion becomes more doctrinaire, anyone who questions the people who know the data become heretics. Never mind the value-set of the experts. Never mind that their values may not do anything to solve the underlying problems the data describes.
As all engineers believe problems should be solved and eliminated, increasingly, in the religion of the progressives, society’s perceived problems also include people who don’t buy into the progressive religion.
In this, Progressives share the exact same evil fervency that the extremists of the French revolution had and also the same fervency that the Communists and Nazis had. If you don’t agree with them, you are a problem and you should be eliminated. Our little doctor friend [the medical student in the post who proudly tweeted about punishing a patient who mocked her woke pronouns requirement] above hasn’t advocated the murder of those she disagrees with – yet. But she has certainly shown she enjoys hurting those she disagrees with.
And, in that sentiment she’s taken the first step on the road to join history’s worst monsters.
As an aside…I’d love to ask progressives, “Let’s pretend that the Nazis didn’t actively pursue the murder of minorities. Is there anything then, on the Nazis’ program of society, that you actually would disagree with?”
I won’t ask them “Is there anything on the Communists program of society, that you actually would disagree with?” because I’m afraid I already know the answer.