tannoy blog — engineering ego


As an engineer, I’ve had to learn to control my ego. I have to: programs don’t suddenly start working to avoid hurting my feelings. Unfortunately, I tend to presume the same of other people. So it’s a shock to me when a critic takes criticism of a project as a personal insult.

Now, clearly, my criticism could be wrong. But, if that’s the case, the points made can be countered, or left alone by agreeing to disagree. In fact, I’d rather like to know the source of disagreement; I really could be wrong. But I can’t correct a mistake if I don’t see it. Of course, that goes both ways: that’s the point of such a discussion. It's not an ego–bashing, it’s mutual self–improvement.

The issue of dispute is whether a suggested tour of the UK should consider a visit to Dublin. I advocated it, my opinion was rejected with the price and distance argument. That argument is false, and I said so. For example, the price of standard open return travelling the next day on the train from London to Edinburgh is £304, whereas London to Dublin is £76, and you can return to London how you wish (including via Edinburgh). Of course you can get cheaper prices with restricted tickets, or with other transport, but the basic point standards: the price argument is false. Why pointing that out is a personal attack is beyond me.


I think the underlying issue here is tribalism. I’ve noticed that when I’m living in a country, travelling in the country seems reasonable, but travelling outside is far far away. What amuses me, though, is the size of the country doesn’t change the perspective. So an American might be willing to travel in the US, but will see crossing the US as a long voyage. So, in the same way, a Fleming will see about Belgium. They’ll both see leaving their respective countries as a great journey. Of course, the irony is the relative sizes of the countries makes a nonsense of the perspective. Their feelings apply to the borders, not to the distance.

I think this is what’s underlying the price and distance argument, what isn’t being said. It’s not price and distance, it’s being unwilling to go beyond the tribal territory. The price and distance stuff is just an excuse to cover tribalism.

Tribalism is defined here as “loyalty to a tribe or other social group especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group”. I now understand why people give this duff argument, and I now understand why they won’t accept that it’s duff. To admit that it’s duff is to admit their tribalism, is to admit they dislike foreigners, is to admit bigotry. So when the price and distance argument is shown to be wrong, & they’ve nothing left, they resort to anger to cover their exposure. They feel insulted, but the person doing the insulting is they themselves.

Well, it’s an argument. It explains what I saw. The trouble is, it’s a pop–psychology argument, and so is probably wrong. Such arguments usually are. The ego flouncing could simply be immaturity. Oh well, whatever: the fact is I got someone wrong. People usually get each other wrong.

Much more to the point, if they’re going to feel insulted when criticised, then I no longer have faith in their project. How can they fix what goes wrong if they can’t accept something might be wrong?

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