Engineers, Materialism, and Communist Method

Nick Chavez

Notes From Below


“The different stages of the engine’s operation, perceived as an adjoining whole, begin to resemble a living metabolism rather than just a thermodynamic process”

“The multidisciplinary labor of various scientists, engineers, and technicians brings to life this machine who hungers for fuel and rips the seething energy from its molecules, converting it into domesticated electrical flow”

“Much like the capital accumulation process that brought this machine into being, the turbine’s appetite is never fully satisfied”

“Such a turbine only exists because it was designed, developed, and manufactured”

“Such a complicated piece of technology cannot be fully assembled in an engineer’s mind before being brought into physical being”

“The process of engineering, of manipulating complicated physical systems towards a preconceived outcome, requires the usage of representative models”

“The engineers involved with the creation of this turbine understand that models are not perfect, and factor this iterative back and forth between model and phenomena into their plans for the development process”

“Industrial capital is a machine that swallows labor power, violently digests it, and excretes commodities to be sold for profit”

“Engineers are a catalyst in this social machine, one that gives systematic methodology and technical structure to this digestion process. As a profession, engineering is the concrete manifestation of the bourgeois impulse to utilize science in service of maximizing profit”

“To be an engineer is to develop abstract models of physical phenomena with the goal of changing said physical phenomena”

“To do engineering is to carry out the mutual modification that models and phenomena perform on each other”

“To be good at engineering is to actively account for the imperfection of abstract models at all times”

“Engineering is fundamentally a process of mediating interplay between models and phenomena”

“There is never such a thing as purely technical phenomena, except in our models. All technical matters are actually socially contingent, and social contingency is by nature political”

“If to engineer is to mediate the interplay between model and phenomena, then engineering is to mediate the interplay between model and the combined socio-technical contextual specificity of this phenomena”

“Engineers, in our attempt to control the real world, are forced to constantly contend with a world that our models can never perfectly describe, and thus we can never perfectly control”

“to change the world as an engineer would is to accept that phenomena operate on a level of causality beyond our ability to not only control totally, but to even be able to fully develop a fully immanent understanding of”

“Engineering as a methodology thus contains a fundamentally materialist kernel, even if its present incarnation as a bourgeois science drives engineers to think and behave otherwise”

“Both communism and engineering, as schools of simultaneous thought and practice, are forced to operate in the intermediacy between an obfuscated context and an understanding of such context, specifically in service of changing that context”

“The communist project seeks to, at a fundamental level, reorganize the social context in which people live their lives”

“Humans live contextual lives. We think and act in contexts determined by human and non-human factors external to our physical bodies because our means of subsistence are external to ourselves”

“This relationship to the external world, a metabolism, is mediated not only by physical implements such as tools and machines, but the social arrangements that structure how we use these implements”

“The structuring logic of the contemporary human metabolism with the non-human world, of contemporary human productive activity, is capitalism”

“To free humanity from servitude to capital accumulation, communists must restructure this productive activity along new lines of human wellbeing and cooperation rather than profit”

“This metabolic system contains and is conditioned by the planetary-scale industrial apparatus through which most goods are now produced. To restructure this global machine for human - rather than capitalist - ends, requires communist engineers”

“Engineers not only embody a significant concentration of the technical expertise required for this task, but also come prepackaged with a methodology that, once reformulated along the lines of its latent materialism, is amenable to this restructuring”

“The commodity fetish is deeply embedded in the engineer, for commodity production is the bourgeois crucible in which modern engineering was gestated. Engineering’s capitalist birthright is to turn the commodity fetish into reality: by ruthlessly operating as if it were truth, it is to become truth”

“The utility of software is that it is extremely amenable to abstraction and reconfiguration. It is comparatively easy to generate arbitrarily high numbers of cascading layers of abstraction with increasing separation from that which they describe or control”

“Instead of being forced from the model back down to Earth by the phenomena, the software engineer has the option to simply ascend higher and further. An orbital velocity can be reached where all work performed is in various stratospheric layers of high abstraction all within manipulable grasp of the software engineer’s IDE”

“This is in contrast to classical engineers, for whom the creation and manipulation of abstractions is much more difficult to separate from the phenomena itself. The gravitational force exerted by physical phenomena is too strong for the classical engineer. Such engineers are forced to constantly look down”

“My proposal is that communists should think more like engineers”

“The beauty of the engineering method, of mediating abstraction and phenomena towards a desired goal, is the way that the engineer is forced to retain fidelity to the world as it exists, not simply the way we want it to exist”

“To be both relevant and effective is to understand the world you seek to change, and to understand the way it responds to your actions”

“It is all just contingent phenomena that can be (never perfectly, but sufficiently) modeled in service of influencing it towards your goals”

“Communists seek to fundamentally re-engineer the productive apparatus of the human metabolism”

“This reconfiguration13 would necessarily be both social and technical, for the distinction between social and technical is a mystification maintained by the commodity fetishism of capitalist society”

“capitalism tends to concentrate technical expertise among the productive workforce specifically, a body that is proportionally shrinking with respect to the entire proletarian populace”

“among the productive workforce expertise itself is stratified in a myriad of ways that have deep implications for this reconfiguration process”

“The point is not to subordinate society to control by engineers, but rather to embrace the mediation loop between phenomena and models such that the distinction between planner and producer is made superfluous” Note: I might selfishly argue for the still necessary role of the “planner,” detached from the capitalist machine.

“the point is to build flexible and resilient systems that accommodate a wide range of behavior contingent on factors that communists cannot always control”

“engineers, in becoming communists, may struggle to overcome the mental separation of the social and technical elements of society”

“insufficient mediation between models and the phenomena they purport to describe. Concretely this would manifest as production and reconfiguration plans (models) being infeasible or unpalatable for those who will perform the relevant labor (phenomena)”

“One source of such an impulse is the aforementioned mental conditioning by the capitalist division of labor where labor discipline of lower status laborers is a tool for generating outcomes predicted by engineering models”

“This may take the form of rigid production quotas or detailed prefabricated schemas generated in isolation with no consideration for situational contingency”

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