Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress Book Reflection
Nurul Matkamil 1160337
Ronald Wright poses three of Gauguin’s questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? He then proceeds to answer them by telling society to learn from past civilisations that fall victim to “progress traps”. These progress traps are a product of the obsession for the advancement of technology which in the end, caused the very down fall of the civilisation as these advancements proceed with little to no consideration on the impact it has on nature and society.
One such example of a progress trap is the Mesopotamian civilisation that improves its crop production and soil fertility by using the advancement of irrigation technology that diverts the river flow of the Tigris and Euphrates to water other barren parts. So, due to more coverage of area that they can water, the civilisation grew. However, because of the design of the irrigation went against the natural flow of water, this resulted in disruption of current and leaves behind salt as it is not drained properly, making the soil more basic and eventually destroying crops as the soil is no longer suitable for plantation. The Mesopotamians tried to remedy this by substituting wheat for barley, but eventually, they ran out of land space because at the same time, ziggurat construction was on the rise as a symbol of status. This obsession to control nature with the advancement of technology and the flaunting of status from grandiose constructions is part of the human hamartia. Human beings bring about drastic landscape changes as they build cities, the same way the Mesopotamians change water flow with their engineered irrigation system. In rapidly growing city-scapes, constructions occur at a fast rate due to the demands of an increasing population inflow into the city and an abundance of resources. However, some of the construction could suddenly be halted due to a lack of resources, or the project’s financing has been stopped, or that the construction posed a danger to surrounding communities. In the end, these constructions ended up being abandoned half-finished until someone decides to tear it down. Not only is the surrounding community and environment affected by the pollution that the construction produces but it also does not make good use of the land since the abandoned construction will be there for a long time when the land could have been used for something else. Debris from an unmaintained uncompleted edifice will also lead to more pollution and become an obstruction that leads to uncomfortable living environment. Such projects show that there is a lack of long-term planning and a failure to consider unexpected circumstances as well as a lack of consideration of how the project would affect the surrounding community and nature. As an engineer, when one is tasked to design an edifice or for any general projects, one must come up with multiple designs and compare their feasibility. At the same time, all these designs must put a lot of stakeholder interests into consideration as possible. So, before making a call on which design will the engineer will follow through with, the engineer must ensure that the decision is well thought out. This can be done by understanding the different interests of the stakeholders and how the proposed design will affect these interests. According to the PEO code of ethics, it is most important that the engineer must prioritize the public’s safety when practicing their profession. The design must also be sustainable and produces as little pollution as possible. However, these interests would often come
into conflict with the client’s interests as well, since most of the time, there is a limit on how much money they can pump into financing the project and the deadline for the project. At the same time, the project must also comply with local laws and regulations. In order to resolve these conflicts of interests, the engineer must actively consult the stakeholders to understand as much as possible what their interests are. The engineer can also consult the PEO code of ethics to ensure how to prioritize obligations and come up with the best ethical judgment, or what is the right thing to do in times of conflict as suggested by the code of ethics. Any unethical judgment should be called out to the clients and discussed to find a better alternative that would come to a win-win situation. Other than that, the engineer can also come up with as many design alternatives as possible and use analysis tools in both engineering and engineering economics to find the most cost-effective, yet well-rounded solution to a problem. After proceeding with the project, there must also be consistent follow up to address problems that crop up as well to ensure that the project goes to completion while adhering to ethical guidelines throughout the whole process. In conclusion, an engineer must bear in mind that the obsession with the advancement of technology can fall into progress traps if the process goes unchecked and does not consider the effects it has on all stakeholders. This inability to foresee potential unexpected consequences will lead to a large scale undoing of the environment and the society. Therefore, it is important to understand how each stakeholder has different interests and how these interests come into conflict and come up with a solution that could resolve this conflict the best way possible.