The Bent Ruler

Mr. Gearhart, entering his senior year in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, is from the rural community of Beth­any, Missouri. His career goal is to work in medical electronics. This article won him first prize in the Spring 1968 Tau Beta Pi and Greater Interest in Government Essays Contests and is reprinted here by permission.

Of all people who should not be T. S. Eliot’s "hollow men"—with "head-pieces filled with straw"—it is America’s engineers. Our gray matter contains a thorough knowl­edge of our technical field and at least a smattering of the humani­ties. The theoretical must with­stand constant testing in practical application; balance is thereby ob­tained between dreams and per­formance of the possible. It should follow naturally that as we trans­late highly technical knowledge into everyday scientific progress, we feel an interest and obligation to become involved in civic and governmental affairs—local, state, and national.

We can hardly be unaware that the time of America’s greatness may be running out. Within 200 years, with only 7 per cent of the earth’s surface and 6 per cent of the world’s population, we have become among the richest, most powerful nations in history. The rising cycle of courage to liberty to abundance, however, has been replaced by the downward curve of selfishness to complacency to dependency. We should be re­minded of Spengler’s dire predic­tions of the West’s decline and Arnold Toynbee’s observation that 19 of our 21 leading civilizations died from internal weakness and decay.

Our Founding Fathers anchored in our country’s documents the great principles of civilized man and his heritage. They created a "Republic"— not a "Democracy." Our pledge of allegiance states "and to the Republic for which it stands." Democracy, ultimately, could become mobocracy, wielding tyranny as suffocating as that of any monarch or dictator. Leaders were to govern as little as possi­ble; they were to be the servants of the people, not lords over them. Checks and balances were devel­oped with care and pain, and local responsibility and public opinion were counted upon to re­strain excess popular feeling. There was firm agreement with Thomas Jefferson that citizens be "bound down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." In our present age of analysis, criti­cism, and dissent, however, it is well to remind ourselves that, though the American system is not perfect, it may well be the best man has yet conceived. Common sense, therefore, indicates that its destruction, or even the erosion of its effectiveness, could be danger­ous indeed.

In recent years, the doctrine of objective values (validity of "right" and "wrong") has given way to one of "situation ethics," in which truth is relative. Arthur Sylvester will probably be remem­bered as the man who informed the American public that govern­ment has the right to lie. News media speak freely of "credibility gaps." Pushed to a logical con­clusion, any act, even murder, could be justified. It is not surpris­ing that in this period the "Death of God" advocates proclaim loudly that man is now unshackled and free, free to fashion his own des­tiny. From an engineering stand­point, the situation is akin to be­ginning a construction assign­ment with deformed tools—a brok­en transit or a bent ruler; and once accepted, this doctrine means man’s ultimate standard can be no higher than his inaccurate, highly fallible human nature.

Order, Justice, Freedom

Order, justice, and freedom should stand uppermost in our philosophy of government. Order must exist first, or proper func­tioning is impossible; a govern­ment’s first duty is to assure the safety of its citizens. Recent dis­orders in our society were aggra­vated when officers of the law were deterred by Supreme Court rulings such as the Mallory and Escobedo rules, were asked to stand by dur­ing looting, and were subjected to continual taunts of "brutality." Mass disrespect for law and peace followed. Violence, of course, is not the citizen’s proper approach to reform. Instead, it is a step back­ward from channels of debate, vot­ing, and legal action. When in­ternal restraints break down, po­lice have no alternative but force.

We hear much of our "arrogance of power" internationally, but either pure pacificism or anarchy would leave nations or individuals at the mercy of unscrupulous pow­er. It is high time our youth learned something about the great­ness of our nation. Otherwise, as evidenced by the weakness of our draftees taken prisoner during the Korean War (most American sol­diers succumbed to the enemy’s will), and now again in full bloom with the Vietniks, the time may come when no values are left.

Justice refers to equal treat­ment under the law. It is impera­tive that the majority, the average citizen, and the taxpayer be not forgotten in the current hurry to favor the minority, the criminal, and "the poor." Justice is rightly depicted as a goddess with eyes blindfolded or closed. She holds a sword, or scales, or both. Her func­tion must often include punish­ment.

Freedom is also currently in jeopardy. If man is not free he is not responsible; if he is not re­sponsible he is not moral. Order without justice or freedom is tyr­anny, but freedom without justice or order is anarchy. In the same way, much so-called academic free­dom is license. To maintain free­dom is not easy, and it is highly questionable whether most men, deep in their hearts, are willing to pay the price. Napoleon Bonaparte was welcomed by the majority of the French.

Why did I not include equality, one of the great cries in the French Revolution and now heard increasingly in our country? Be­cause we can be realistically equal only in the sight of God and law. True equality is impossible with­out coercion. Forced integration in our schools has been far from suc­cessful. Increasing loads and addi­tional types of taxes constitute forcible redistribution of wealth; a point is being reached where thrift is punished and sloth en­couraged. When people demand a "right" to be equal, they frequent­ly forget that others have "rights" too.

Anchored in Reality

The engineer should be a cre­ative professional. He applies his skill and knowledge to the study and analysis of problems and de­velops solutions which generally prove worthy well into the future. He is a link between technology and human endeavors, so he can­not lose sight of the social struc­ture in which he and other men function and live.

Engineers usually prefer indi­vidual initiative—the free-enter­prise system—instead of the wel­fare state; in fact, they enjoy responsibility and competition, fundamental qualities in maintain­ing our Republic. Honor and in­tegrity have become well enough ingrained in their thinking so that it is easy for them to understand the necessity of similar attributes in a nation. It is obvious that false sentimentality must be distin­guished from valid compassion, that emotion and propaganda must be distinguished from clear think­ing.

Apathy and complacency do not achieve order, justice, and freedom. "Every good and excellent thing," wrote Thornton Wilder, "stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for." The unique talents of engineers are needed not only in their chosen fields but to help re­store basic principles and common sense to our country. The ruler seems bent indeed. Let us straight­en it and use it!     



The Minimum Wage

To make a horse drink
It is foolish to try;
It’s fully as hard
To make customers buy:
So, when prices are raised
By law or decree,
That sales will fall off
Is as sure as can be;
And if minimum wages
By commission are set
Above what the worker
Would naturally get,
Those worth the money
Alone will be hired,
While the lowest-grade labor
Will surely be fired,
And the jobless will sit
And wonder all day
Just what they have gained
From the high legal pay.

WILLFORD I. KING, Economics in Rhyme 

Related Articles


{{}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}} {{}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}}
{{article.Topic.Topic}} {{article.Topic.Topic}}