Engineering a more polite Brexit discussion

Engineers, with their clear and objective mindset, have a role to play in helping take some of the anger and name-calling out of the public debate, writes our anonymous blogger. 

The Brexit debate has led to unprecedented levels of social media rage. Image: AntonioGuillem via istock

I think the time has come to talk about Brexit but, not wishing to prod the proverbial stick into the equally proverbial hornet’s nest, it is at least an aspect that I hope the vast majority of us can agree on.

Most of us in Britain made one of three decisions a few years ago – stay, leave, don’t vote – and I think its fair to say that what has happened since is best described as “tortuous.” It was a highly emotive subject even before the vote but the protracted farce played out subsequently has only ramped up the tension.

A problem I am seeing on a certain social media website is an increase in the vitriol and outright hatred being openly expressed for opposing views – invariably supported by shared and clearly ludicrous “proof”. I’m sure there have always been those with an inbuilt rage just waiting to be triggered but I honestly find some of what I see shocking, not only in the intensity of the self-feeding hatred but the willingness to completely accept obvious rubbish as validation for it. I don’t know what the answer to this is, other than ridicule and trying to put together coherent arguments by return.

It’s not only that I’m seeing a greater frequency of this sort of stuff, but also an increase in others seeing it as a green light to wade in with other inflammatory remarks that don’t actually address the issue. So, what has all this to do with us as engineers?

For a long time now the idea of “the engineer in society” has been seen as an important one. As professionals we see ourselves as having a duty to use our specific skill sets for the benefit to mankind as a whole. We are unusual in that those skill sets encompass not only the analytical but the creative. We must work within the confines of the physical world to produce novel solutions, consequently we must deal with both the factual and the speculative.

Brexit – whatever it may mean – has key factual criteria but is mostly based on speculation, the uncertainty surrounding that speculation only serving to increase the emotion.

We however, no matter which path we chose and why, should be well equipped to sort fact from opinion on both sides and give weight to them accordingly. So although we perhaps think of the engineer in society in terms of joining voluntary administrative bodies or encouraging and guiding those within the educational system, I would argue that it goes beyond that.

Especially in the less compartmentalised society that we now live in. We no longer socialise only with those who share our class, locality or general views. We come into personal contact with far more of the world, the people within it, and their own in-built bias. This will inevitably lead to differences that can polarise and be corrosive around subjects like Brexit.

As engineers we have the mindset to be clear and objective, to lead by example – to be a professional in our dealings online.

This is one example that may be seen as a tad incongruous but it is specifically where my considerations for this piece started.

If we now look further outwards, where are the opportunities for us to influence the society we now find ourselves in? Rather than going into the local school is there a chance to hook up with an educational establishment and field questions about our profession from a global audience on-line and in “real time”?

As there are already various You Tube based lessons regarding engineering and engineering related matters, could members of our institutes submit “vlogs” for peer review and release under their institute’s banner; giving a verified and quality assured output that can be used by anyone?

The world has changed an awful lot in the past 20 years or so and I’m not sure that our view of where we fit into it has evolved to keep up.