Friday, April 7, 2017

I Have Stopped Reading Dilbert

I stopped reading Dilbert just after New Years.

My reasons lack a political angle.  I was aware that Scott Adams wrote and spoke in ways that offended large portions of the civilized world.  His particular crimes didn't stick with me.  Call me uninformed or lazy, or maybe I'm subconsciously part of his camp.  A comic strip read while eating cereal was not a rousing celebration of one man's beliefs, and it certainly didn't help Mr. Adam's bank account.  I got to laugh.  Sometimes.  I rather liked Wally.  And Dilbert himself was a good illustration of the "engineer's mind" applied in the setting where the engineer does his best work.  You know, inside simple systems, with four panels and minimal drawings and the circumstances under the tight control of one man making tidy lines.

Engineers can be brilliant, no doubt about that.  But it's a genius that thrives in the narrowest of circumstances.  Some big brains are very good at assembling tidy stacks of principles.  If-this-is-true, then-this-follows, and that-means-such-and-such.  That's why bridges rarely collapse.  There are rules, and every engineer can apply those rules, and the great ones can do it with creativity.  And sometimes, yes, there's real beauty in the structures.  Though I suspect most of that is the result of the mathematics buried inside the arches, plus the lovely red that comes when the iron rusts.

My wife sent me the above link this morning.  I finally read the blog a few minutes ago.  Am I surprised that the author is alt-right?  Not much.  And on a different topic:  Do I believe there's any truth in what he's claiming?  No.  Using nerve gas in a battlefield is complicated.  Using it on civilians leaves evidence beyond the useful bodies.  This is a small neighborhood littered with warring, deeply paranoid powers.  Russians and Turks, Israel and the US.  If I'm in charge of this elaborate operation, my first second and fourth concern is that everybody believes the false story, not the real one.  (My third concern is that I don't kill myself by mistake.  Sarin is famously amoral.)  But if I'm Assad, one gas bomb gives me distinct benefits.  First of all, I'm not killing my own people.  These are vulnerable sacks of meat that my sworn enemies cannot protect.  On this war's scale, the attack is little more than a well-placed barrel bomb.  It is a message of intent.  I killed more than a thousand people back in 2013, and the last President didn't attack me.  I want to scare two million refugees into Turkey and points north.  Meanwhile, the new President has been making sweet noise about me and my fight against terrorists.  Who look a lot like the people who are foaming at the mouth, I might add.

So no, I don't buy any self-serving notion that pretends to be theory.

Is Scott Adams stupid?

Probably not.

But the engineer's mind has limits.  To him and his species, there is a knowable logic to the universe.  There are rules to learn, and the engineer doesn't just master these rules, but he also learns that he's very good at this specific kind of thought.  Belief will eventually become just as strong as any good bridge.  To the engineer, only idiots and the weak-willed let themselves break under the weight of too much information.

Trump is not an engineer.  Not even close.

But Steve Bannon might be.  Since he doesn't draw a comic strip, I don't know much about him.  But I wouldn't doubt that he's a very bright fellow who holds a few key faiths, and each of those faiths felt so true when he acquired them.

And what about me and Dilbert?

I stopped reading the comic when 2017 began.  I quit reading the last five strips that I remotely cared about, and for no reason except that nothing seemed to change in any of their stories, and the laughs were getting scarce and stale, and it is amazing to realize that your day is made better when you stop doing one little thing that isn't paying dividends.

I'm not an engineer.

My mind, for better or worse, wants to change.

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