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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


Defending the freedom to fail

sovereignty, freedom

As a nation matures its government develops an ongoing battle of ideology. The battle revolves around the question of whether the government should save people from themselves. 

Since the beginning of human existence, people have done things that are not in their own best interest. Whether the topic is obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, driving patterns, spending, etc. there is a government agency trying to protect people from themselves and influence behavior. I am not opposed to government trying to educate people and influence behavior…as a principle. But I am unsure of what to place the line on where it becomes counter-productive.  

When a person makes the decision to consume vast amounts of alcohol on a daily basis, historical data will indicate that the probability that this individual will see a decline their lifestyle will be rather high. When this individual finds himself living in the streets after losing his house, job, marriage, etc, what is the government’s responsibility in this matter?

Being a parent, I have found that the basic nature of people is to take the easy way out and to take as little responsibility for one’s self as possible. For example, one of my sons signed up for a school fundraiser.  He was to sell a certain amount of product to get an award. I told my son to do his best in selling the business discount cards and I would pay for the remaining unsold cards. Knowing that I would cover him in case his efforts were unsuccessful, he never sold even one of the cards. I ended up with the entire bill. Sure, he claims that he gave it an abundance of effort; he just wasn’t able to sell any. When reviewing the results, it became clear that I was the one who made the mistake. I gave my son an easy out. He had no skin in the game and thus the results of his efforts were inconsequential. 

As sovereign beings we have the freedom to succeed. This freedom to succeed always carries with it the freedom to fail. If one is not free to fail, one cannot truly succeed. In my son’s case, he reaped the spoils of success, while failing. I felt like a failure as a father because I taught my son the wrong thing. I taught him dependence, not rugged individualism.

A historian named Alexander Tyler is reputed to have predicted that the American way of life could not endure because people do not want to take responsibility for their own choices. In a democratic society, he said, “people will invariably hand over their sovereign responsibility and freedom to that government which promises the most benefits and protections.” He further observed “a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.” 

The bank bailouts and GM bailout come to mind. The government provided the safety net with a short term perspective. In the short term, the bail out was great. People kept their jobs, the bank collapse did not ripple through the economy and people would show gratitude for the bailout. But long term, these companies would engage in even riskier behavior and show less restraint because they know the government will bail them out again. 

However well-intentioned; this elitist approach to solving the problem of failure actually makes the situation worse. It is a horrible, malignant and degrading thing to take away a person’s right to fail. It is an active enslavement and an insult against a person’s sovereignty. 

The freedom to fail is directly proportional to a person’s quality of life. If you doubt it, look at the inner city in which the freedom to fail was denied to a high density of people. Their life, their material environment and their quality of life has also deteriorated.

The same holds true for an individuals’ career choices and planning. The incentive to get a good education and employment is much lower on the priority list if government will rescue the individual from poor choices. If you can get an $18/hour lifestyle without working for it, why work? The two choices available to you; 1)don’t bother to learn to read or write, sit at home and get an $18/hr lifestyle, or 2) get an education, find a job and work hard to start at $18/hr. In the Democratic world view, both choices are equally valid and provide the same outcome. But only one choice has a higher degree of certainty.

I had worked with an individual who began exhibiting signs of alcoholism. Eventually, the HR department asked him to submit to a sobriety check, which he failed. His employment was terminated after failing a second chance. When he hit rock bottom; lost his job and his marriage, he expected the government to provide housing, food stamps, medical and dental assistance. Never did he try to get help for his addiction. I don’t blame him for his predisposition to alcoholism but I do blame him for not getting help.  This individual made poor choices and expected to be rescued from the consequences of his poor choices. 

The truth was that this individual never tried to take advantage of the ‘Life Matters’ program the company had provided. Nor did he ever go to an AA program on his own. 

I told him that government can’t and shouldn’t rescue him. We must live by the choices that we make. If we don’t have the freedom to fail, then we aren’t free.   Failure is a better teacher than success. Failure is a better motivator than success. And failure provides a better life example than success. 

The sad part of the story is that some of his friends enabled his self-destructive lifestyle, by excusing his choices, getting him alcohol and covering his behavior.  He would have come to the end of himself much sooner if only they had shown some tough love and demonstrated the courage to get him real help.

The item that separates liberals from conservatives is that conservatives have placed individual liberty and the resulting consequences at a higher priority than security and the safety net.

Once we surrender our sovereignty to the government, government becomes our master and we deserve just what we get – or don’t get. However, when we all take responsibility for our own lives, our own success or failure, then “We the People”become the sovereign masters of our lives, not the government.

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