March 18, 2009

To The Fans of Sociology, Political Science, and the Arts In General, I Suppose

Chapter 43

Coming from engineering, it is easy to (biasedly) say that the set of skills developed throughout the program are much more practical than many other programs. First, you have to have exceptional grades in order to get into the program, and then you are required to persist through a rigorous set of technical courses that enable you to think about problem solving methods for anything from design to planning to mitigation.

However, I am convinced that the people that are most concerned for the state of the world are not necessarily the engineers, albeit, they can certainly have a lot to offer to the betterment of the world when given the authority to do so. Instead, I think that proportionately, students of Sociology especially, (and to some extent Political Science and maybe even other Arts students). These students are trained to be the great communicators of our time, and it is only through communication to all the different powers (and non-powers) of the world, will we be able to make the change that we need to see. In addition, the students who are dedicated to their education will likely be the ones who want to have a thorough understanding of the greatest inequalities in the world, and the reasons behind them.

My biggest concern for us engineers is that even the most hard-working committed engineer may not fully realize the full extent of the impact of what it is they might be doing. Ethics is a large part of how we are trained to conduct ourselves, but to me it is really more just a matter of learning where to draw the line is. Engineers can go and implement solutions and systems for anything anywhere, but to really understand what the greatest good for the greatest number is, is something very challenging, even for the smartest engineers in the world. A lot of this comes from a book I read a few years ago called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by Perkins who detailed what was involved for engineering firms to go into third world countries, under the guise of developing the country's services and henceforth, economy. It went on to explain how a lot of the financial investment by American firms would ensure that the country getting the investment would be forever in debt to the World Bank and IMF, and have to compensate these two major players in any way they can, as a result.

I want to see this change. Not now, but RIGHT now.

Surely, I am not the lone engineer who feels this way, but it is a matter of binding these engineers together who can conceive of the idea that there might be a better way. This brings us back to the communicators. These people have a broader understanding of some of the things in this world that matter, with respect to having a sustainable planet earth for decades, centuries? to come.

Before I go on though, I want to make things crystal clear. Just because a person studying the Arts might have some comprehension of social constructs (like marriage or family), or globalizatioin & environmental degradation (like Greenpeace Tar Sands campaigns or FTAA/NAFTA policies), or of the reinforced hierarchical systems within government that are designed to hide us from the corruption that exists within (Harper's Tories), it does not mean that these people are some unique elite brand of altruistic idealists that think their open-mindedness & higher moral standards make them better than you or I.

Rather, these people (irrespective of amount of formal education), are simply one of our last remaining hopes that we have to try & communicate the economic and political power-men of the world as to what it is that they must do in order to manage, maintain, if not meliorate our planet. This includes everything from social issues like crime, eldercare, and family planning (think "Octo-mom"), to environmental issues (climate change, solid waste management, air/water quality protection), to resource depletion (water, oil), to the major economic issues and the legislation currently in place that will maintain our focus on the protection of the "corporation", rather than making allowances for promoting subsistence living (think small-scale farming).

It is up to these Arts Majors, especially, to be fully functional on every level; starting with working as/with teachers in our schools, and working as/with Ministers of Education in government. They must act on local levels to get councils to understand more fully the issues of sprawl, the root causes of crime, and importance of an exceptional public transit system. They must act on a provincial/state level so that these areas can understand how their decisions, when amalgamated, can effect the entire country (and how it is perceived around the world) (think tar sands). On a national level, they can almost be viewed as a nonprofit lobbyist group looking to hold their MPs in check, such that they will be acting on the behalf of their constituents. It is soooo important for a country to be seen as a leader, and by not recognizing water as a human right, for example, extreme counter-production occurs and the country as a whole is seen as a setback to progression towards living on a sustainable planet.

- The Role of the Engineer -

It is both a privilege and an honour to be recognized as a professional engineer. Even with the hundreds of graduating students that the U of A pumps out every year, these kids will only make up a very small fraction of the world's population, and with such a skillset, they are usually pretty well appreciated and compensated for their abilities to solve problems. But in these times, I think we must ask more from our engineers. We must encourage them to work more effectively with the "communicators" who could benefit from their technical expertise in realizing what types of systems will be sustainable to implement, with as minimal negative impact on everything as possible. It's a matter of priorities. An understanding that many things may be have some detrimental effect as the result of implementing some system or technology or structure for some people some place. The "ethical" dilemma must be taken to a much further extent such that we engineers will strive to understand "who really wins" and at what costs. It's a matter of the communicators understanding what possible solutions engineers might have to offer, and then, delivering that information and convincing the WORLD what must be done, and the critical path in order to get it done... before it's too late.


And progress is not intelligently planned
It's the facade of our heritage, the odor of our land.

They speak of progress, in red, white and blue.
It's the structure of the future as demise comes see things through.

It's progress --- 'til there's nothing left to gain
As the death of new ideas makes us wallow in our shame.
So before you go contribute more to the destruction of this world you adore
Remember life on earth is but a flash of dawn and we're all part of it as the day rolls on.

And progress --- it's the message that we send.
One step closer to the future, one inch closer to the end.
I say that progress is a synonym of time.
We are all aware of it, but it's nothing we refine.
And progress is a debt we all must pay.
Its convenience we all cherish, its pollution we disdain

And the cutting edge is dulling, too many folks to plow through.
Just keep your fucking distance, and it can't include you.

It's progress! 'til there's nothing left to gain!

It's progress! it's a message that we send!

And progress is a debt we all must pay!

-bad religion, 1989

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