A Note on the Engineer’s FallacyMark Gullick
I had been aware for some time of the phrase “the engineer’s fallacy,” but unaware of its provenance and exact definition. I struck lucky on the ‘net, because this gentleman claims to have invented the phrase, and this short piece repays inspection.
Mr. Kelly’s definition of the Engineer’s Fallacy is pleasingly simple: “The Engineer’s Fallacy occurs when someone erroneously assumes that ‘logic’ (or, for non-STEM folks, common sense) dictates that their personal perspective is actually an objective fact.”
This highlights a clear category mistake committed by agitators — they can scarcely be called “thinkers” — of the Left. It is clear both from the media itself and from social media that “non-STEM folks,” as the writer nicely puts it, have instituted a whole epistemology based around the idea that objectivity does not dictate the nature of reality, but rather subjectivity.
We are all familiar with the meme “your rights end where my feelings begin.” It is instructive to watch the way the Left plays fast and loose with the term “logic.” Creatures of the Left tend to believe that their emotive and visceral response to a moral or ethical question is somehow a “logical” response, and those who oppose them are acting “illogically.”
Logic, of course, is an entirely inappropriate sub-discipline — really an adjunct to mathematics — to use here except in the most formal of applications. But, once a belief-set has the imprimatur of “logic,” it is afforded a quasi-mathematical certitude. Life for many Leftist performers is one grand sanctified syllogism of their own design.
To extend the Engineer’s Fallacy, there is also a tendency — no, an obsession — of the Left to treat human beings as though they were machines. There is surely no coincidence that this idea in intellectual history was given an accelerant by Britain’s industrial revolution. I call it the “lathe and fern” problem, whereby nature becomes increasingly redundant as a conceptual model or metaphor, and is replaced by the terminology and telos of the machine.
There is a line to be drawn through the history of literature and thought which shows the almost erotic yearning of the Left for mankind to be a machine. This is not simple human cybernetics. It is what links Descartes’ precursor La Mettrie’s L’Homme Machine with Mary Shelley’s (née Godwin, her father being the famous proto-Socialist William Godwin) Frankenstein with the work of B. F. Skinner and Lysenko. If man is a machine, then man can be repaired, maintained, altered in line with irrepealable physical laws, and, above all, fixed. Stalin — which means “man of steel” in Russian — and Lenin knew all too well the power of this metaphor.
This idea is far more frightening than any of the currently modeish AI scenarios. Once the Left, particularly the virulent and toxic new strain, have both the idea that man can be perfected using applied technique, monitored via surveillance, and produced and maintained on the mechanical model rather than that of the organic, and the ability to institute this, they will do so. If the Left gains control of even more of the West than they already dominate, you will cease to be a human being and will become instead a piece of faulty engineering merely awaiting its engineer.
This is not a new concept or strategy, however, and we would do well to visit Renaissance Florence.
Nietzsche’s acquaintance Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy alerts us to the role of the Engineer’s Fallacy and a clue as to the provenance of the dysfunctional dystopias many Western countries are becoming. Summarising Dante Alighieri’s writings on the political state of Florence — possibly the first “modern” state — Burckhardt has the following to say about the Florentine mania for political centralization:
The great modern fallacy that a constitution can be made, can be manufactured by a combination of existing forces and tendencies, was constantly cropping up in stormy times; even Machiavelli is not wholly free from it. Constitutional artists were never wanting who by an ingenious distribution and division of political power, by indirect elections of the most complicated kind, by the establishment of nominal offices, sought to found a lasting order of things, and to satisfy or deceive the rich and poor alike.
Burckhardt, and Dante Alighieri himself, are addressing the flaws of a Florence of warring Guelphs (Dante’s own party) and Ghibellines, but he might for all the world be speaking to us of our own blighted age, the “stormy times” we are currently negotiating in a sea-tossed bark.
The idea that is going to prove to be the most injurious to the future historical reputation of the times in which we live is the idea that a state can be built, run, maintained, and repaired in the same way as an engine. As Burckhardt firmly points out, this was exactly both the proposition and the fatal flaw behind Renaissance Florence. Although, of course, and to paraphrase Harry Lime in The Third Man, that period did produce rather more than peaceful Switzerland’s cuckoo-clock.
If we read Burckhardt’s paragraph again and unpack it, we will find all the elements of an awful epiphany, all the requirements of the Left to tamper with your life, all present and correct in 15th-century Florence and the yearning of its various despots for a state which could be operated like a device, a marvelous piece of clockwork. To review the elements Burckhardt presents is to regard a periodic table of doom in the hands of the Left, where it is now.
A “made” constitution, formed from a “combination of existing forces and tendencies.” Look at the speed at which faddish and light confections, such as the myth of transgenderism, become enshrined in protective legislation if it is “existing forces and tendencies” you seek. And here, in the lynchpin sentence “constitutional artists were never wanting who by an ingenious distribution and division of political power, by indirect elections of the most complicated kind, by the establishment of nominal offices. . .”
These engineers, who do not mean you well, are all around us, swarming, buzzing, interfering with your life with no necessary mandate from you required. This is a dangerous time to believe if you are at all attracted to freedom of thought. Engines are not, cannot be, free.
So, then. See the Leftist. She would be Our Lady of the Engines. She would set and reset, calibrate, adjust, monitor your progress. And she would provide diagnostics in the event of you malfunctioning. The work of the engineer is not limited to creation but also encompasses maintenance. You must be made to work properly. Your future is not as a free human being, but a pleasing — or displeasing — statistic. You will not have a life as you now understand it, merely a service record. All is the same to the dispassionate engineer.
Let us leave Renaissance Florence, and its almost macabre foreshadowing of our own doomed epoch, although we cannot depart without at least paying our respects to that most mysterious of Renaissance men, Niccolo Machiavelli:
[Machiavelli’s] most complete programme for the construction of a new political system at Florence is set forth in the memorial to Leo X, composed after the death of the younger Lorenzo Medici, Duke of Urbino (d. 1519), to whom he had dedicated his Prince. The state was by that time in extremities and utterly corrupt, and the remedies proposed are not always morally justifiable; but it is most interesting to see how he hopes to set up a republic in the form of a moderate democracy, as heiress to the Medici. A more ingenious scheme of concessions to the Pope, to the Pope’s various adherents, and to the different Florentine interests, cannot be imagined; we might fancy ourselves looking into the works of a clock’.
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Mr. Gullick would do me a great honor if he read and commented on this particular piece of prose:
I most certainly will. I am an admirer of your work
Far too intellectual and wordy for ordinary folk I’m sad to say. The left (or more correctly today ‘globalists’) desire certainty. Nationalists desire potential. Certainty demands uniformity where as potential decrees both success and failure are permitted in unequal measure.
Debt slavery is certain. Freedom from materialism allows spirituality to flourish. (Religion is not spiritual but purely an extension of certainty and thus politics.)
Your choice is between materialism or spirituality. The left and their globalist allies are a bunch of soulless perverts intent on material domination.
The nationalist’s dilemma is whether to imitate the left and globalist desire for wealth, or whether to seek a non materialist path.
Most nationalists are not aware of either true spirituality or life without materialism. That, however, is the real choice: materialism or spirituality.
Well, I enjoy writing for Counter Currents precisely for its diversity of thought. If you don’t like the approach of one feature then, like they used to say of London buses, there will be another one along in a minute.
What he calls the engineer’s fallacy…I think that’s a bad description that’s far too kind and that misses the point… I would just call it an attempt to bolster one’s own trolling (by presenting it as fact as he goes on to say)
The term ‘logic’ itself is rarely used by clever people. It’s one of those weird words that we associate with intellectual rigor yet has a natural filter built into it so that no one above a certain IQ threshold actually uses it. The claim that one’s opinions are ‘logical’ is entirely the domain of the lowest IQ trolls on the internet where it’s used in an accusatory way to enhance the allegation made by the troll.
This gets into something Jim Goad said in the podcast which was recently posted here. He is absolutely right about not wanting to communicate with people online.
The way people talk to each other on the internet is simply deranged. A significant percentage of online comms is putdowns and trying to ‘own’ the other person with some edgy comment or trollish accusation. The internet does not foster normal healthy discourse, it fosters unhealthy, insane crap.
“The internet does not foster normal healthy discourse, it fosters unhealthy, insane crap.”
Then why do you use it?
I do tend to agree with you to a certain extent, though. A lot of garbage is thrown out.
On the other hand I would argue that on some occasions I have seen discussions around disagreements (on for example historical happenings) that have been very enlightening, and something I would never had access to if not for the net.
Most newspapers, to take another example, have very much strangled the comment sections. I refuse to accept their excuse of “too much garbage” being written. The real problem for them of course, are all the intelligent comments that rebuke whatever story the journalist try to convey. Far too embarrassing.
Orthosphere.wordpress.com actually has a really great comments section. Often, the comments are more enlightening to read than the OP essays they’re posted under.
But, it’s by far the exception to the rule.
Also, most of the people who write for that site, as well as read it, are out-of-touch stuffy Christian paleo-con Boomers. No offense to them.
So its a double edged sword / catch-22: the types of people who have interesting things to say aren’t the type to be polite and courteous in online debate comments sections, and the people who are polite and courgeous are often stuffy out-of-touch intellectuals.
The forum “gameruprising.to” has a lot of good stuff, and its not completely 4Chan-tier in forms of rhetoric, but its not exactly high-brow either
“If man is a machine, then man can be repaired, maintained, altered in line with irrepealable physical laws, and, above all, fixed.”
The Left defines Man as a Blank Slate, which is essentially equivalent to “man as machine”.
This definition reveals a VERY important point about the Left: the ENTIRE credibility of Leftism rests on the validity of Man as Blank Slate. The Left would utterly collapse if/when the Blank-Slate Theory of Man is disproven.
Note that every agit-prop the Left is pushing today has the objective of propping-up the Blank-Slate Theory of Man. It’s THAT important to them.
The Left cannot afford for this Theory to ever be invalidated. Blank-Slate is their ideological Achilles’ heel. Disprove Blank-Slate, and Leftism will collapse.
But the sciences of bio-evolution, genetics and the statistical measurement of cognitive and temperamental trait gaps across races have not yet provided the hard smoking-gun evidence needed. What is needed from these sciences is a breakthrough that will deliver the knockout-punch of evidence needed to defeat Leftism at its ideological core.
Until then, we must continue to witness as our Western culture collapses under the weight of the Left’s vain attempts to force the real world to fit within the fiction of Blank-Slate Man.
Evidently the “scientific” publication Nature is going to start enforcing “antiracism” in their papers.
Let that sink in. They will be formally, and actively, enforcing the blank slate as some sort of unimpeachable law—no different than the law of thermodynamics or some other unquestionable certainty.
Dark times are upon us.
Without questioning its applicability to the Left, reading this quote:
” Constitutional artists were never wanting who by an ingenious distribution and division of political power, by indirect elections of the most complicated kind, by the establishment of nominal offices, sought to found a lasting order of things, and to satisfy or deceive the rich and poor alike.”
…surely calls to mind nothing other than our much praised “Muh Constitution” and its accompanying worship of The Fathers, who might in this context be called The Engineers. Conservatives in particular but also Americans in general have been taught to marvel at its intricate structures, its “checks and balances”, its whole Rube Goldberg mentality, where great issues are “decided” by “compromises” — slavery? No problem, we’ll make it legal only below this survey line, and only count the slaves as 3/5 of a citizen. Problem solved!
I believe there is a book in its praise entitled “A Machine that Would Go of Itself.”
It is the foundation of American Exceptionalism, i.e., self-love (to hell with soccer, we have the World Series!). Funny thing, despite its blindingly obvious magnificence, the way it solves all known problems, no nation has ever adopted it for themselves. (Except Liberia).
Truly a nation of con men and snake oil salesmen.
I think that the American founders are covered under “the Left.”
Hardly a nation of con-men and snake-oil salesmen. Not as originally populated.
The genius of the American Founders is that they understood human nature accurately. They understood men to be vain, selfish, spiteful and above all, desirous of power and corrupted by power. They had no illusions such as “the natural goodness of man”.
And so the Founders designed a Government which, BY DESIGN, neutralized the action of these vices by requiring that, in the work of governing, men be pitted against other men, thus forcing their vices of character to cancel out, or at least be put aside, for the common purpose of reaching decision.
A miracle of governmental design. If subsequent generations of Americans had not allowed America to be ethnically and culturally distorted, our miracle government would still be operating for us.
I have read the alleged reasoning behind the 3/5 clause, but why not include all manner of livestock in the document? Slaves of the time had more in common with the cattle than the voters. Why were they attempting to humanize those that should have been returned to sender as damaged goods? It’s not too late and we’ll even pay for shipping!
Good post; FWIW, I ‘heart’ the World Series; soccer is a bunch of kids chasing a ball. Yes, I know I’m OLD.
Brits used to say that football (soccer) was a game played by gentlemen and watched by hooligans, whereas rugby was a game played by hooligans and watched by gentlemen.
The saying, as I recall it, goes thusly :
“Football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, and rugby union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
The jest refers to the divide between England’s public (i.e., private, fee-paying) schools and England’s state schools. The posh institutions insisted that boys play the brutal game of ‘rugger’ (and cricket) whereas schools for the lower orders championed football (soccer).
No gentleman should live his life without getting into at least one brutal brawl with hooligans. The rugby pitch is a good place to have such a brutal brawl under controlled conditions.
Re “agitators of the Left have instituted a whole epistemology based around the idea that objectivity does not dictate the nature of reality, but rather subjectivity” :
Now wait! Sure, I can recall when postmodernists assured us that the words of our language are simply chasing each other around the dictionary with no connection to what the rest of us amusingly call ‘reality’.
And the feminist slogan “objectivity is male subjectivity” was also à la mode.
But aren’t today’s Leftists now constantly admonishing us to “follow the science” with regards to Covid and climate change?
Telling our enemies to always follow the science when debating racial biodiversity, genetic differences between the sexes, or when defending eugenics could now be a useful come-back.
Having just reread Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a week or two ago, I must say that if the author cites it here as an antecedent to leftist social “engineering” he is quite wrong.
It is difficult to conceive of an interpretation of the novel that does not characterise it as both specifically anti-technology and generally anti-“engineer” (in the sense in which the article above uses the word).
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