UpFront: About the Politicians
By Brian J. Hogan
At the risk of offending you, may I point out that none of the candidates seeking political office this year are saying much of any merit about manufacturing? And should one of them mention manufacturing, it's as a source of "good jobs at good wages." There's no indication in any speech I've heard that our political candidates view manufacturing as an important component of western civilization; it's simply a money tree to be shaken and used, not an activity to be understood or considered especially valuable.
Of course, I suppose the same point could be made about technology. To most of the candidates technology is a good thing, but they simply don't go beyond that observation. To them technology, like manufacturing, is apparently a sort of natural force that has always existed, not a product of a particular way of relating to the world around us.
Back in 1959, the late British novelist (and physicist) Charles P. Snow gave a lecture called The Two Cultures at Cambridge University in England.To summarize very broadly, he observed that the educated part of the world was dividing into a science-based culture and one based on the liberal arts—as understood in this modern world—that was ignorant of, or hostile to, science and the technology that emerges from science. Snow was roundly damned by many intellectuals, and he later backed off his comments. But it seems to me that he got his teeth into something important, however imperfect his argument.
Everyone who reads this magazine, or writes for it, is involved to a rather significant degree in modern technology. To us, the scientific method (however imperfectly comprehended) and the fields of endeavor that apply it to understand the physical world and meet the needs of the human race, are part of our lives. But in the great world around us, ours is a minority experience. What we accept as the norm is a strange, dark world to people not involved in it, and I believe that fact expresses Snow's fundamental insight.
Today, political figures throughout the West seem to be drawn from a class of people who use technology but understand almost none of it. Thus, the people who wind up running governments and newspapers and universities in great industrial nations tend to be people who know little or nothing about the technology that supports the economies of those nations. Is it permitted to suggest that this situation can't be stable over a truly long term?
Somehow, our political figures have got to understand that technology, and manufacturing as a specialized field of technology, must be valued and respected, not treated as mere implements manipulated by nerds.
This article was first published in the April 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.