Tuesday, November 01, 2016

When Your Profession's Standards Do Not Apply

There was one situation in which someone came to the Internet talking about how artists are arrogant. He then went on with, “Can they program Java? No. Can they program PL/SQL? No.” My question is, who is being arrogant?

This person was judging another profession by the standards of his profession. He claimed that his profession was the universal judge of what people should strive to be good at. The correct response to such a statement is, “Can you fly an F-23? Perform heart surgery? Argue a case before a court?” It is not an artist's job to program Java. It is an artist's job to produce art.

I made the same mistake when I was younger, and it was a very bad mistake to make. When I was maybe 14, I was talking to another student about how many people are not good at academics, and she said correctly that they may be good at something else. Many people believe that their professions are the most important ones. They are part right and part wrong. They are right to say that what they do is important. They are wrong to say that nothing else is.

I find this attitude all around, and it is a very bad attitude. Yes, engineering is important; but so are any number of other things. Yes, medicine is important; but so are any number of other things as well. You do not judge other people according to how good they are at your profession. You judge them according to how good they are at theirs.

Then there is the attitude that some professions should not be there at all. This is something from Pol Pot. He thought that only manual workers were real workers and that everyone else was an exploiter or a parasite. His people didn't gain very much from such attitudes. They wound up in labor camps that did not produce much of anything at all.

Among engineers, there is all sorts of rumbling about some professions being supposedly parasitical. Many of them think that they are the only sane people in the world. What would the world be like if it was run by engineers? That actually has been tried. It was called the Hoover Administration. It did not work out as well as advertised. I find it ironic how many of these people have contempt for creative professions but worship Reagan, who had been an actor. Many of them also are in favor of Ayn Rand – another creative professional.

I do not think that it is possible to get rid of arrogance. It is however possible to get rid of groupthink. When people who think the same way get together, they frequently do stupid things. When I was in school, two women who were English teachers got together and started to act in a very nasty and snobbish manner. They thought that they were better than others – an attitude of course that is in no way limited to them or to English teachers.

It is valid to see what you do as important. It is not valid to think that nothing else is. Confucianism does not apply in the Western countries. If you are a doctor and your daughter wants to go into sales, that does not mean that she is bad or disobedient. She has the right to her own choices. Let her go into it but encourage her to be good at it.

I have no idea what profession my daughter will choose, and I am not pushing her in any direction. I will however tell her what she stands to expect in any given case. I will inform her about the world enough that she knows what she would be dealing with.

It is valid to see what you do as important; not at all valid to think that nothing else is. And on the software engineers' forum that is the Internet, I find such attitudes all around. They think that psychology and sociology are pseudosciences or worse. They have no use for the arts. They think that religious leaders are conmen. I would like to see what the world would look like if they had their way.

Intellectuals are also frequently targeted; and it is here that the real error is made. Business and engineering – as well as such things as democracy – owe vastly to the intellectual. It is intellectuals like Voltaire and Locke that provided the intellectual basis for Western democracy. It is intellectuals such as Adam Smith that articulated the philosophy of capitalism. And it is intellectuals like Ayn Rand that these people read.

The engineers are of course not the only people who make this error, and we see plenty of others making them as well. When I was in school that was mostly educating lawyers, they thought that academic learning was worthless and that the only thing that mattered in life was common sense and social skills. That may be the case if you are a lawyer; it is not the case if you are an engineer or a scientist. Lawyers made universally binding the standards of their profession. They were just as wrong to do so as are engineers when they do the same thing.

I do not necessarily see the values of lawyers or engineers as being either superior or inferior to the other. I find completely inferior their attitude that they are important and that nobody else is. Neither lawyers nor engineers by themselves would be able to create a livable country. A livable country would require both. And it will also require many others, including such people as artists and psychologists.


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