I noticed a few things during my aerospace engineering career:
1: The engineers *tended* to be more “right of center” than the general local population (this was especially true when I lived in California)
2: The engineers *tended* to be less religious than the general population.
Note the repeated use of “tended.” I’ve known outright hippie engineers, tie-dyed and all. I’ve known seriously religious engineers, to the point of taking a year off of work to go to the Maldives and try to convert the local Muslim population to a brand of fundamentalist Christianism (note: I doubt he had much success, but he at least returned alive). Still, at least the places I’ve seen, the general tendency was to be neither very leftist nor very religious.
I’ve mentioned this before. But I’m bored, so I’ll drone on about it again, because this is my blog and I get to do what I want.
The lack of religiosity among aerospace and mechanical engineers makes sense to me. Engineers need stuff to work… and they need to know *how* it works. A description of how some machine is supposed to function is not supposed to include at any part in the flow chart or documentation the phrase “and then a miracle occurs.” Magic and miracles are alien to the engineering experience. There may be joking about “gremlins” and the like, but, trust me, if some machine keeps failing and the team leader in charge of explaining why actually argues that “gremlins” are the root cause… they’re getting another team leader. Similarly, the god hypothesis is not helpful in design or analysis of much of *anything.* And people tend to not believe in or put much faith in things that provide no utility. This may mean that some people become less religious as they become trained as engineers, and it may mean that some people who are less religious gravitate towards engineering.
On the political front, I think one area *might* explain why engineers *tend* to be less left-leaning. The confluence of right and wrong with certainty and uncertainty.
For an engineer, there can be high certainty that something is wrong. Rare to get high certainty that something new and complex is right. Example: you can be quite certain that building the leading edge of your spaceplane out of pot metal is the *wrong* answer. For a skyscraper in a region prone to hurricanes and earthquakes, a structural framework made out of cast iron girders held together with tin rivets is also highly likely to be the wrong answer. The *right* answer for these problems will be the result of a lot of analysis, and even then there will be some level of uncertainty. The more difficult the problem, the more certain you are about “wrong,” the less certain you are about “right.” This leads to a certain form of conservatism.
For a sort of cliched leftist, though, there is often a different approach to right and wrong. We’ve all seen wacky stories about notions about not teaching children that “4+4=9 is wrong” because it’ll hurt their feelings, or not to tell someone that such-and-such behavior is “wrong” even though common sense and 6,000 years of history and a whole lot of YouTube videos inform us that there are very often immediate unfortunate consequences of such actions. In essence, for this world view there is very low certainty about “wrong.”
Now, obviously almost everyone, including even the wackiest leftist, will generally recognize that Behavior X is a bad idea, that they themselves would not engage in it. But then the whole thing about “cultural relativism” kicks in, and they start making excuses. And of course, “diversity” is terribly important. But for the engineer, this reasoning is nonsensical. The principles of engineering apply worldwide. The same laws of physics apply over there as apply here. And diversity? In short… who cares. Whether the other engineers in your team are black or white or Asian or men or women or gay or straight or atheist or Christian or Muslim… F equals MA. Every friggen’ time. If one of your fellow engineers decides that the the rules of statics and dynamics don’t apply to him because he’s not constrained by what some dead straight white males said generations ago… it’s time to consider shaking up the roster of engineers on your team.
Summary: for engineers, magical thinking is not useful. And get used to the phrase, “No, you’re wrong, and here’s the math.” Read it. Learn it. Live it.
The idea of expanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) is flawed. Because in art “there are no wrong answers.” STEM fields, on the other hand, are *filled* with wrong answers. There is an infinity of wrong, with just rare islands of right. Try doing Math without that understanding, and you’ll end up profoundly useless.
That said, it’d be a good idea to have STEM and A cross paths from time to time. A whole lot of art *needs* proper engineering. That Statue of Liberty, for example, wouldn’t stand up without structural engineering; skyscrapers designed wholly by engineers would probably be a bit on the dull side. But to assume that Art actually fits into STEM? That there is a Wrong Answer.