Monday, October 28, 2013

Knish: Cargo Cult vs. Real Engineering: Why Failed

Ol' Backwoods reads Daniel Greenfield down yonder at the Sultan Knish blog a good bit.  I don't know if Mr. Greenfield is an engineer, but he understands that it is about, and why the boobs who created don't get it.  Read the whole article, but this is the really good part, from my perspective as an engineer:
   Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won't work because you want them to, they won't work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right. 
   That's modernity. It isn't glamorous. You can see it in black and white photos of men working on old planes. You can see it in the eyes of the astronauts who first went to the moon. You can read it in the workings of the men who built the longest suspension bridges, laid undersea cables and watched their world change. They were moderns and their time is done. They have left behind savages with cell phones who make decent tinkerers, but whose ability to collaborate falls apart in large groups.  
   The difference between savages and civilized men isn't that savages are dumb and civilized people are smart. Savages can individually be quite clever within their parameters and civilized folk can be quite stupid. It's the ability to extend that intelligence in groups that makes for a civilization.
   Savages cannot work together. They can fantasize, but they can't build anything bigger than a small group can manage. Savages are warriors, but not soldiers, they are tinkerers, not engineers, they are inventors, not scientists, they cannot work together on a large scale and thereby push past their own limitations as a culture and grow. They may have individual geniuses, but they cannot pass on what they learn. 
   We have not yet been reduced to savagery, but our incompetence increases in large groups to such a staggering extent that it often seems not to be worth the trouble. Individual geniuses can occasionally carry large groups on their shoulders, micromanaging them, terrorizing them and motivating them, the way that tribal chieftains do, but without that singular personality the whole thing collapses. 
   The United States government is the ultimate giant unworkable mess. It is a living cargo cult where everyone marches around following routines that are supposed to yield great prosperity, but never do. The processes themselves are broken and make no sense, but the cargo culters of the government cannot and will not hear that. They know that the government will magically make everything work. ...

   The cargo culters on the islands, who once witnessed the might and power of the American military during WW2 make American flags and uniforms, they build airstrips and wooden control towers, and wait for the planes to land and make them rich. They don't understand why these things should work, but they do them anyway because that is how they remember it happening. 
   Our own cargo culters invoke FDR and JFK, they talk about the New Deal and the Great Society, they make grand promises and roll out big programs, and then they wait for it all to work. They don't understand themselves how or why it would work. But government is magic and the appearance of a thing is just as good as a real deal. 
   Build a website and it will work. Pass a law and they will come. Get a degree and you're competent. 
   There is no need to know how to do a thing. You don't need engineers or competent men. All you need to do is remember the great dreams of the past, listen to a few inspirational JFK speeches and then carve a computer out of wood and wait for free health care to arrive.
   In cargo cult America, the food is free, the cell phones are free and the money can be printed forever because government is magic.

The incompetence of the Federal government and its devotees is the second greatest hope America has at this point.

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