[Things haven't changed that much since 1930]
From the first moment when he entered the engineering lecture-rooms Ulrich was feverishly biased. What does one still want with the Apollo Belvedere when one has the new lines of a turbo-dynamo or the smoothly gliding movements of a steam-engine's pistons before one's eyes ? Who can be interested any longer in that age-old idle talk about good and evil when it has been established that good and evil are not 'constants' at all, but 'functional values', so that the goodness of works depends on the historical circumstances, and the goodness of human beings on the psycho-technical skill with which their qualities are exploited? The world is simply ridiculous if one looks at it from the technical point of view. It is unpractical in all that concerns the relations between human beings, and in the highest degree uneconomical and inexact in its methods.
That was, undoubtedly, a mighty conception of engineering. It formed the frame for an entrancing future self-portrait, showing a man with resolute features, a stubby pipe clenched between his teeth, a tweed cap on his head, journeying, in superb riding-boots, between Cape Town and Canada, carrying out tremendous plans for his firm. In the intervals there would always be some time to spare to draw on one's store of technical ideas for suggestions regarding the organisation and administration of the world or to formulate aphorisms like that of Emerson's, which ought to hang on the wall of every workshop : "Mankind walks the earth as a prophecy of the future, and all its deeds are test and experiments, for every deed can be excelled by the next." - Strictly speaking, this pronouncement was by Ulrich himself, and compounded of several pronouncement of Emerson's.
It is hard to say why engineers do not altogether live up to this. Why, for instance, do they so often wear a watch-chain that forms a lop-sided, sudden curve from the waistcoat-pocket to a button much higher up, or cause it to form one arsis and two theses over their stomach as though it were part of a poem ? Why do they like to stick tie-pins adorned with stags' teeth or small horseshoes in their ties ? Why are their suits constructed like the motor-car in its early stages ? And why do they seldom talk about anything but their profession ? Or if they ever do, why do they do it in a special, stiff, out-of-touch, extraneous manner of speaking that does not go any deeper down, inside, than the epiglotis?
They revealed themselves to be men who were firmly attached to their drawing-boards, who loved their profession and were admirably efficient in it ; but to the suggestion that they should apply the audacity of their ideas not to their machines but to themselves they would have reacted as though they had been asked to use a hammer for the unnatural purpose of murder.
Chapter 10. The second attempt. First developments in the moral philosophy of being a Man Without Qualities.
Book I. A sort of introduction.
The Man Without Qualities