The Grey Chronicles

2010.February.1

The Engineers As Scapegoats



Florman: Blaming TechnologyAs a follow-up to his previous book, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering (1975), Samuel C. Florman’s book, Blaming Technology (1981), subtitled: The irrational search for scapegoats presents an erudite case for technological progress as well as a convincing defense for engineers. Although he specifically stated in his Introduction that “I do not propose to do battle on behalf of the engineering profession,“ I believe his book, a collection of essays previously written for Harper’s from 1976 to 1980, takes the side of the engineers, the rightful group attributed with the advancement of technology.

Florman used the term technologists to refer to engineers, the creators of technology, as opposed to the term: scientists, exclusive to physicists, biologists, et. al. Technology is the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems.

Although written some twenty-odd years ago, Florman’s Blaming Technology is still as relevant today as when it was first published. Many of his premises about engineers still rings true to the present era, such as:

The Myth of the Technocratic Elite “No matter how complex technology becomes, and no matter how important it turns out to be in human affairs, we are not likely to see authority vested in a class of technocrats. … Not only are engineers underrepresented in the ruling classes, but those who are there have generally given up the practice of engineering.” (pp. 40-41).

Even today, a singular class of technocratic elite do not exist. Even the term technocrat is only sparingly used as an epithet. In the Philippines, although engineers are in the corridors of power, they have relegated their practice of engineering in favor of other fields. An engineer leading a corporation becomes more of a business manager rather than an engineer.

Hired Scapegoats “Engineering, for almost all of recorded history, was closely linked to the military. … Society establishes its own goals, and engineers, like jurists, educators, politicians, and the rest of the body social, work toward achieving these goals. … This is not to say that engineers are automatons without conscience or conviction; they are philosophically an integral part of the community.” (pp. 45, 49-50)

Likewise, the engineering brigade of the Philippine Army pioneered the construction of the myriad of roads and bridges connecting the several thousands of islands comprising the country. Today, the societal goals are still paramount to any work the engineer does. The Filipino engineer also acknowledges his communal responsibilities, most specifically on environmental concerns.

Codifying the Future “Engineers tend to concentrate on the job that needs doing, and they implicitly place their faith in the ingenuity and good sense of future generations.” (p. 119) … … “Every engineer knows that the profession is relatively powerless. Engineers do not make the laws; they do not have the money; they do not set the fashions; they have no voice in the media.” (p. 128)

The engineering professionals are ruled by Philippine laws authored by elected officials. It was only of late that representatives of their professional societies have been involved in codifying the new versions of respective engineering laws. Still, there are some aspects, e.g. the scope of authority of municipal electricians versus the registered electrical engineers, where the revised laws have failed to address.

The Feminist Face of Antitechnology “For until upper-class aversion to engineering is overcome, or until lower-class women take to studying the sciences in earnest, engineering will remain largely a male profession.” (p. 123) … “But the ultimate feminist dream will never be realized as long as women would rather supervise the world than help build it.” (p. 130)

There are only a handful Filipina engineers in the country, and most of them are civil or chemical engineers. It is really a rare treat to met lady mechanical or electrical engineers. Although degree holders of engineering or licensed to practice, most Filipina engineers once married opt to become housewives, thus a great loss to the engineering profession.

The Spurned Professional “The engineering profession today finds itself confronted with growing public suspicion, government neglect, and industry exploitation. It is still great fun to do engineering, but increasingly difficult to be an engineer.” (p. 151)

Similar to American engineers, Filipino engineers are thrown into the limelight only when something fails: a collapsed building in an earthquake; a blackout across several communities; a factory razed to the ground then usually and predictably blamed to faulty wiring. It should be noted that any construction involves engineers, architects, contractors, suppliers, etc. and each might be contributory to the failure. Yet, Filipinos immediately point the engineer at fault irrespective of the other factors in these projects. Lest we forget, the engineer is still human!

Moral Blueprints “Engineering has a place for both the creator and the guardian; the dynamic tension between the two, crucial to social vitality, has been obscured by the shapes of the new engineering ethics. The guardians are not necessarily more altruistic than the creators.” (p. 175)

In the Philippines, engineering ethics is part of the various engineering curriculum. Unfortunately, some are taught by lawyers who usually are not engineers by training. Thus, the focus of the subject is more on ethics in general rather than the application of ethical engineering practices.


Notes:

Florman, Samuel C. (1981). Blaming Technology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. 207pp. back to text.

Florman, Samuel C. (1975). The Existential Pleasures of Engineering. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975. 207pp. back to text.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts herein do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions. Read the full version of self-imposed rules for this blog: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, the posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Comments are moderated to keep the discussion relevant and civil. Readers are responsible for their own statements.

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