For better or worse - putting it down on paper
Kenneth D. Gough
Apr 7, 2014 at 9:30 AM
I’m an engineer, which means that I am trained to believe in what works. You may dream and theorize to your heart’s content, but to an engineer what counts is what happens in the real world. No matter how often you solve the equations, or how many you solve, it’s impossible to argue with a collapsed bridge or a crumbled building, or, the hardest example in my life, the smoking wreckage of a space shuttle falling from the edge of space to the ocean below. Fortunes and lives depend on engineers getting it right. As one of my grandfathers was fond of saying, you can put anything on paper, and it will lay there and take it all day long.His wisdom in that respect did not, unfortunately, prevent him from drinking himself to death. At an age when “irony” should not be part of one’s vocabulary, the irony of that was not lost on the 12-year-old boy who helped carry his grandfather’s coffin to his grave.This is the great paradox of humanity. There is no denying our progress in technical matters, from our understanding of subatomic particles to the structure of the universe itself. In less than 70 years we went from Colossus, a multi-ton proto-computer used at the famous code-breaking center at Bletchley Park during World War II, to smartphones with thousands of times its computing power. The overall structure of DNA was only described in the late 1950s; now we map it piece by piece, and are working out in detail how it directs the workings of organisms.But man himself — that’s another matter. As has been true since the beginning, we are our own worst enemies. The first story in the Bible is the creation of the world by God, who declared everything in it to be good, and the second story is the rebellion by Adam and Eve against God’s explicit command. God gave man free will, which he promptly used to remove himself from God’s grace, and has ever since. Take it as revealed truth, or as profound myth that tells the truth, whichever you prefer — but if you are honest, there is no denying its truth.The latest evidence: Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most brilliant actors of recent years, found dead with a needle in his arm. It is as if he said, yep, heroin can kill you, everybody knows that, and they’ve told me personally several times in rehab. Now please excuse me while I shoot up. Shall we go down the list of the famous and infamous who wasted their lives on booze and pills and assorted illegal substances? No need — you already knew someone personally; or, more likely, more than one.Yet the central organizing myth of the political left is the moral and intellectual progress of mankind. In their imaginings, man is becoming a better, more moral being. Slowly, to be sure, but just as surely as we make progress in the material aspects of life. And we frustrated conservatives can only shake our heads and complain: In what alternative universe, because there isn’t a shred of evidence it’s happening in this one.My engineer’s training comes in handy at this point, because we are taught to look at the evidence dispassionately and come to the conclusion that, like it or not, the evidence compels us to reach. Easier said than done, though, because, being human, it is next to impossible to approach any subject, much less that of human welfare, without preconceived notions, unconscious biases and personal hopes. Nonetheless, we are charged with the duty to try.And the conclusions reached is that, sadly, in the real world, leftism in all its many forms just doesn’t work. The end of monarchy in France didn’t look like equality, brotherhood and liberty, it looked like The Terror and the Napoleonic Wars. National socialism didn’t look like the triumph of a master race. It looked like the shattered Europe of 1945 and millions murdered with industrial efficiency in the death camps. International socialism didn’t look like the dictatorship of the proletariat leading to the dissolution of the state. It looked like brutality and mass murder in the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Democratic socialism doesn’t look like a peaceful utopian welfare state. It looks like the slow dissolution of Western Europe, which is committing demographic suicide and hasn’t the spine and self-confidence to defend itself or even justify its own existence. And here in the United States, progressivism has not ushered in a new Golden Age. It has given us $17 trillion and growing in debt and Obamacare.These are the facts, and facts are stubborn things. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to deal with them.Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is president and general manager of Accurate Machine Products Corp. in Johnson City.