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Creative Alternatives

Alexander H. Slocum

On Thursday, March 20, at about 11:25, the final technical-content lecture portion of course 2.007 was completed. I told the students that I would then answer students’ design questions so the entire class could hear and benefit; and then, if time remained, I would join students in the shop to help them work on their machines. I also told the students that I respected the rights of any students who wanted to join the protests and they should feel to leave if they so desired. Some students left, and some students asked questions. Others stayed to hear the questions (and answers). I personally refrained from any political commentary.

I then left with many other students for the lab to help students with building their machines, because that was the focus of my responsibility at the time. I must say that as I walked down the corridor and passed people carrying signs and beating drums, I was in awe of their emotion and apparent determination. Then, because I am a geek, I did some quick estimates regarding the amount of effort put into organizing the protests, and I nearly found myself in shock thinking of the energy and determination that was being expended.

Maybe more reciprocal thinking on all sides is in order. What if all the effort put into protesting, and resisting such protests, after a war starts was put into developing and presenting creative alternatives before the war? Protests are not heard by leaders as much as are well-thought-out logical alternatives endorsed by a large cross section of the world’s people. For example, merely saying “give the weapons inspectors more time,” or “they had their chance” ignores history. How about “give the weapons inspectors more time, and while they are inspecting, we will focus on working with the Israelis and the Palestinians to create happiness for all.” (I do see that a LOT more detail is needed here, that is, what all of us should have been/ be doing). Sadly, all too often polarized far-right or far-left views are emphasized.

I believe that if we geeks had really been living up to our full potential, there might not have been a war. I believe it was Mark Twain who said that nowhere else but in school do we have so many minds working to solve so many problems that have been solved so many times before. Imagine what would happen if more courses’ problem sets had students working on solutions to moral, ethical, economic, and engineering problems associated with laying the foundations for peace. Could the urban planners and economists have been designing the new country of Palestine while the political scientists created a framework for a democratic government, while the civil engineers designed the infrastructure and the mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineers created products for the region to be built in new factories?

That is the real challenge, for students and teachers from all over the world to work together to redefine how we practice and apply the fundamental principles of life, engineering, and science so that there is less repetition and more creative useful investigation. If there is to be peace, we must first untangle ourselves from the double-sided duct tape that sticks us to the same old patterns of history. It may be something of a shock to politicians to think that students and teachers could actually create real implementable solutions, but when they see what we really can do, they will likely be in awe. This can only happen, however, if we all stick together.

Alexander H. Slocum ’82 is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering.