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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Front-Door, Back-Door – The Either/Or Mind Sets of Scientist, Engineers and Technologists

Front-door and back-door is a phrase I came across when reading a book about the knowledge era (The Knowledge Society by Marc Luyckx Ghisi). Front-door/back-door is a term that describes a characteristic of the way many scientists, engineers and technologists think. Basically it means that choice is reduced to two options: either we continue forward along the path we have previously followed, making so-called progress (i.e. we go out of the front-door), or we turn back, and resort to some earlier less sophisticated existence (i.e. we go out of the back-door). No thoughts here of walking different paths, just one path to follow, regardless of the consequences. This is social Darwinism at work, and most scientific, engineering and technology types are social Darwinists, and a frightening lot they can be. Truly mad, yet many would dare to say so – something of a modern day heresy to do so. And what one can say about people caught up in dogma, is that for them, heretics are dangerous people, for they sow the seeds of doubt, and raise questions for which the dogma has no convincing answers.

Having worked with scientists, engineers and technologists for most of my professional life, I have encountered this simplistic front-door/back-door belief many, many times, so much so that it has become a recurring theme in my writing (see for example my novel Moments in Time which is due to be published in early 2014).

Back in 2012 I attended a lecture (organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers) entitled “Is the World Running out of Energy?”  Of course, this is not so, we are just using too much energy, and of the wrong kind (e.g. fossil fuels). At the end of the lecture, making my way out of the room, I stopped and told the lecturer that the title of her lecture was the wrong question to ask, and what we should be asking is: “Are we using energy that we do not need to use?” The reply, was of course, that this is true, as we are indeed ridiculously inefficient when it comes to energy use. My reply was that this was not my point. What I wanted to communicate to her, was that the way society is structured, organised, and operates creates demands for consumption that can be avoided and which are also unsustainable, which was the underlying reason for my question. What we need to do is to change structure, organisation and modes of operation.

The speaker’s reply was one that could have been predicted: “We cannot put back the clock,” she said, to which I replied “I was proposing to put the clock forward, and leave behind outdated ideas and ways of thinking.”

So, yet again, no thoughts in this person of walking a different path! In fact, no thoughts at all, because such people on the whole do not do much thinking, and this is a serious problem that is leading the world to the edge of doom. This is something that most know is true, but we prefer instead to maintain the collective delusion that all will be well. This is also something that I write about in my stories. Incidentally Voltaire in his novel Candide provides a good definition of this type of blind optimism: “Optimism is a mania for insisting that all is well when all is by no means well.”

The problem with not thinking is that your awareness of this circumstance is virtually non-existent. So, the problem gets ignored; which is why I write. Is anyone taking note, or am I Cassandra?

I once told someone what defines most engineers: “An engineer is someone, who, if you ask him (it is usually a “him”) to build a bridge, he will build you a bridge; an engineer is also someone who, if you ask if a bridge is needed, will still build you a bridge.”

We have as a civilisation reached a point where we need to begin to walk a different path, to reinvent some of the foundational aspects of our societies: religion, science, technology, engineering, free market capitalism, and so forth. Yet you will not find consideration of such matters among the bulk of people who, one can say, are the practitioners in these various domains. What you will find however are a lot of collective delusions (like for example the thought leadership claims of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and that other engineering institution, the Institution of Engineering and Technology). This is what happens when people become caught up in ideologies, start to believe their own propaganda, engage in hubris, and live the story of the emperor’s new clothes.

This is why I wrote my books Encounter with a Wise Man, A Tale of Two Deserts, and Moments in Time, which highlight the ideological tendencies, delusions, and madness that are creating a world that no sane person would want to be a part of. It is also why I urge people to stand-up now and take peaceful action to bring this madness to an end. We have the means – your vote, your wallet and your lifestyle choices. And people should act soon, as time left to avoid the inevitable consequences of our present path grows short.

There are choices, and also far better worlds, which, we as individuals have the power to make happen. And if you think this is about socialism then you are indeed a lost soul, caught-up in a world that long ago ceased to be relevant. This, one can also say, is the story of progress; somehow finding a way of handling all those people that for reasons of fear, lack of vision and imagination, ideology, and vested interest, will try to stop an evolution towards this better world. And about how to do this, I have said a few words in my book, A Tale of Two Deserts, and I will say much more in due course in future blogs. Self evidently, one cannot build a better world by resorting to the traditional methods for dealing with opposition used in the world one is trying to replace.

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