Why Engineers Should Win

If you accept my argument that engineers generally don’t win arguments because they tend to rely on reason instead of rhetoric (even if you don’t accept my example that spam is preferable to junk mail) then you’ll be glad to know I have  a prescription for engineers that will help them win arguments.

But before I get to that prescription I’d like to point out two important premises. First, winning arguments is desirable; Second, winning arguments via rhetoric isn’t really winning.

I have some friends in the hacker/engineering community who are simply disgusted and ready to drop out of mainstream society. In many ways they already have. They have their own culture, their own activities, and their own vernacular.

Q: Why did the hacker surrender his spoon but not his fork?

A: Because spooning is privilege but forking is a right.

If you get this joke you’re an engineer (of the hacker persuasion). Don’t ask me to explain it to you 🙂

“Why bother with the muggles if they’re just going to abuse us with their outmoded ideas about sexuality, gender, religion, intellectual property, and what constitutes an worthwhile activity?”

But there are several good reasons for dealing with the main stream, and helping it become more efficient, effective, and generally more happy. The muggles are our parents, brothers, sisters, and children and we owe them something. They are suffering needlessly. If you can help someone but stay your hand that’s just as bad as doing direct harm. These are all excellent but tired arguments. The best reason for engineers to engage society-at-large and start winning arguments is that we don’t have our own private planet. A couple of more Chernobyls, a few more degrees of global warming, a few more years of developing world famine, and it’s game over for all of us.

“Kk” you say, “I grok it. Let’s all go learn rhetoric and NLP and beat the muggles at their own game!”

Unfortunately that happens all the time. I know lots of people who started out as engineers and ended up as salesmen, managers*, and investors. Once you change your thinking patterns to base arguments on rhetorical techniques (winning on style, winning at any cost, winning as an end in itself) you lose the the ability to figure out the reasonable thing to do. Like Stockholm Syndrome once you take up the sword of your enemy you become your enemy.

If we really want to win arguments, we can’t win on mainstream terms, because then we lose. We have to win arguments on our own terms. See if you can guess how before I write  my next post…

* Mea culpa.

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