Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Engineering Ethics

Are you still there reader? Probably not. And I don‘t blame you.

But why then did I select this awful heading which must constitute the bluntest hook available? To cut a long story short, these past few days I have spent most of my free time reading up on ethics in order to prepare for a lecture on „the Virtuous Engineer“. This had nothing to do with crime fiction but everything to do with a new ethics code being hammered out for Icelandic engineers and a conference held to promote the issue. So, having had to delve into philosophical texts I understand the dizziness and the haze that accompanies anything and everything philosophers put into writing. At one point I had begun to suspect my IQ was only half of what I believed it to be as I numerously had to re-read sentences in order to understand their meaning. And even then I did not. My mind began to drift....and drift....and drift....and then....bleep. All contact was lost.

But thankfully the conference had more on offer than people with dulled bulbs in place of heads like myself. One of the speakers was a bright light, one that has none its like in Iceland, namely our former president Vigdís Finnboga-dóttir. Vigdís was elected to office in 1980, the fourth person to become president following Iceland's independence in 1944. At the time she was not only the first female president in our country but also the first democratically elected female head of state in the world. If that is not achievement enough please note that she was at the time a single mother. This family staus, although somewhat frowned upon, probably ended up being in her favor in some sense since at the time there was much discussion amongst elder voters that it would be too embarrassing for a man to be known as the president‘s husband and hence women could not take office. So her not being married meant this ridiculously biased over-sensitivity did not pose a problem. All of the previous presidents had wives that no one worried about being offended oddly enough.

Vigdís was our president for 16 years, leaving office in 1996. She earned a place in all of our hearts with her grace, intelligence and exceptional morals. She is still, at 80, the belle of the ball wherever she goes, her gracious presence alone rekindling our admiration and respect for a beloved statesman. At present, Vigdís acts as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and is a member of the Club of Madrid, an organization which promotes democracy in the world. This club is pretty darn exclusive and money cannot grease membership applications as the prerequisite is having been a head of state which sort of puts a damper on any of the club's efforts to increase membership. But since even this condition opens the door a bit too wide – so you also need also to have proven yourself as a catalyst for positive change in a global sense. Enoguh already, we get it. We're not getting in.

Vigdís' speech was great. The rest of us? Not so much. The only thing in my speech that might be of interest to anyone outside the engineering society was that in 1955 the public tariff for engineering services in Iceland was set up in a highly unusual way. As an example, to design a beam the charge was 25 krona times the square root of the length of the beam. I don’t think any profession other than mine could have some up with something like this. But aside from this bit of trivia I will spare you the rest, i.e. the virtue and ethics angle. You might drift and finally go: …bleep.

But every cloud has a silver lining, standing outside during the break I had a philosophical epiphany.

I smoke, therefore I am.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Or, unfortunately, you smoke therefore you might not be for long.

    I have never smoked but I had an uncle who, despite many health problems, could not stop. I know that it is the hardest addiction to overcome. As more people stopped smoking or decided not to start, cigarette companies watched their profits decline so they began lacing the tobacco with chemicals that made nicotine even more addictive.

    As I am not addicted to exercise, I know I am not doing myself any favors. I keep telling myself I have to do something so my children aren't forced into making hard decisions about me.


  2. And the non-"thinker" man would be...


  3. Hi Beth - that smoking thing was supposed to be funny bit I did hestitate before letting it ride and should have left it out. I think I am going insane these days as our house is still uninhabitable and we wont be moving back in until sometime in the new year. I am therefore not myself lately but hope this will soon be a thing of the past.

    I will now leave smoking out for the next ten posts - it is not as of I want to become a smoking advocate, not at all.

    To Jeff - this is a man that came up when I photo-googled "engineer". My profession has long had an omeage problem and it does not appear to be going away unfortunately

  4. Hi again Jeff - it was supposed to read "image problem" not "omeage problem". I have a new laptop and it is very annoying, the mousepad has a life of its own and the keyboard is a little bit different than the previous one, causing me endless problems when attempting to strike the correct keys.

  5. Yrsa--

    I kind of like "omeage problem." It sounds like a plate of sashimi gone wrong.