The Revolution Will Not Be Engineered

In mathematics by Sameh Helmy

I wonder.

What purpose would I serve if I had a different religion, and if I wasn’t forced to practice the one I do?

Right about now, you’re wondering too: which religion is he talking about? Is it mine? Am I forced too?! Or maybe you’re not anxious, and you’re just going to keep on reading to find out. Go on then. 

Let me tell you about my religion.

As a practitioner of this religion, anything that draws me closer to my deity is an act of worship. I get up in the morning to spend my day in practice. I sleep on time (mostly) so that I am energized for practicing tomorrow. I exercise, soothe, unwind and entertain myself to have the capacity to keep on practicing. I strive to become an example of devout practice of my religion. 

When I don’t practice well, there are consequences. Every aspect of my life takes a hit. I grow distant from my deity and even lose opportunities to worship, driving myself further away. My life physically takes a turn for the worse. My health deteriorates. Even the roof over my head becomes more, and more precarious. I become an example of someone who has neglected their religion and their duties to worship. I haven’t even told you why but it doesn’t matter. My deity is not concerned and so neither am I.

In my religion, my purpose is to seek my deity so before every little thing I do, I ask myself “where will this take me? Closer to my deity or will it set me back?” And because the setbacks are inevitable; such is the nature of being alive; I have to sacrifice so much to stay on course. It’s really hard work and it is such that very little else can compete for my time, my energy and my life. I am dedicated to my religion. 

Let me tell you about my life. 

I am an Engineering. (I can’t call myself an Engineer unless I’m a member of the PEO, which I am not, otherwise, I could get in trouble.)

(Anyway.)

I am a Mechanical Engineering. I make machines that are used to assemble sheet metal things. This is my major act of worship. It’s not what I wanted to be doing, I really wanted to worship by playing soccer, but it wasn’t in the books. Still, I try to find meaning in my worship by thinking of the ways it elevates other people. It can be a bit of a stretch sometimes but it’s a necessary refuge. On days when it’s just too hard I look around for other ways to worship that might be a bit more meaningful so long as my purpose, to seek my deity, is firmly in my sights. It’s the reason I’ve been given this most precious gift that is my life. Other days when it gets hard, I compartmentalize myself; I separate what is meaningful from what is worship. Some people do that really well. They’re so adept at letting nothing compromise their worship that they even convince people to do the same. They tell all of us that we can be just like them; devout, companions to our deity, if only we worshipped just a little harder. If we sacrificed just a bit more. If we dreamt of it just a little more.

If you haven’t already guessed it by now, most of the world practices my religion. And we worship the dollar. All of us don’t really have a choice in the matter. 

In my life, I don’t think I’ve met more devout worshippers of the dollar than engineers. Not because they make the most money but because they are the most deluded and most compartmentalized people on the planet, I’ll tell you. I remember the messaging at university. I remember how proud engineering students were of eventually “running the world”. We were fed that our work can be so meaningful and so impactful but never really how. Beyond the “technology can make people’s lives better” trope we weren’t really told whose lives we would and what better actually meant. So, it’s always shocking to engineers when they find out just how meaningful, and political, their work really is. There is such a resistance, disguised as objectivity, to this reality. They think that as long as they work on the technology and make it available, someone else will be responsible for whose hands it’s in.

But our work is not objective. It has never been divorced from its effects on society. When you work at L3Harris, you make weapons systems that to kill and oppress other people. When you work at Rolls-Royce, you make engines used in drones and fighter jets. Weapons are an easy example to give but this is everywhere. Maybe you work for a gentrifying infrastructure company. Maybe you work for a medical device company based out of Israel. Maybe you work for a company that keeps hiring white guys only. Even if you don’t work for a social services organization, your work is still people-centric. Do you make an electric car that only rich people can buy and get tax credits for, furthering the gap between them and the poor instead of working to make public transportation free and accessible to all? Have you possibly encouraged and aided in a military coup to get access to Lithium mines in South America so you could make an electric car to challenge climate change? Isn’t that just the most ridiculous sentence? Tesla’s mission statement isn’t “we steal from people so Elon can buy Dogecoin,” but they are such a potent force of evil. 

Tesla is a great example because the harm they cause is not apparent to most people.. And Vocational training doesn’t even try to remind us of this. As we say in Egypt, “الدنيا أوضة وصالة “ or “the world is a one–bedroom apartment”. We can’t escape the consequences of our work and companies are beginning to realize that engineers are growing more aware of this,, but even as but even as they do, they still worship the dollar.Every concession, every step forward is only to make dollar worshipping more sustainable. Every diversity initiative that’s laced with a fundraiser for a white supremacist, every revolutionary piece of piece of technology that is inaccessible to the poor is just another expression of dollar worship. Everything is driven by the accumulation of dollars. 

“All praises due to Allah, but we worship the dollar so what we gonna do for Jihad?” – Styles P.

This isn’t news to any of you. Maybe it puts into words what you already know or feel, maybe it doesn’t do that enough, but that feeling that your life might not even be yours is real. I don’t know in whose lifetime this will change, but this world is due for for a spectacular collapse and the rebuild is going to be sweet. 

And make no mistake, it won’t be Elon (the proverbial Elon) leading it, and it certainly won’t be institutions of higher education. As with any meaningful shakeup, it will start and perpetuate from the streets. It will start with the people who have the least to lose. That’s why even when we make our way “up”, when our lives materially get better and when we have access to more of the system, we should never lose touch with grassroots movements. All necessary wisdom concentrates and congregates there. All necessary direction comes from there. And we must never forget that our come up is our people’s come up, and our people’s oppression is our oppression. Draw from community knowledge to inform your work. That means finding, in a more holistic and honest manner, who is affected by what you do and how. Who isn’t in the room, and why? I you can challenge where you work, do it. If you can leave to find a better place, do it. If you can use your access, expertise, and money to support and elevate grassroots movements, do it. 

I’m afraid it doesn’t end there, though. I know, it’s a lot. It’s all a big mess and we’re in it. We’ve described a crisis in morals and we’ve outlined ways to achieve small but meaningful victories. But, our vision must remain sharp and our goal unwavering because here’s the thing, I learned this from a friend’s brilliant thesis paper: under this system, oppression cannot be destroyed. It only changes forms so that by the time we catch up to it, it has already morphed into something unrecognizable. So, yes, work very hard to bring opportunities to your people and to the marginalized. Yes, go out of your way to mentor, hire, train and encourage marginalized people to share your access with them. Yes, make your own life materially better. And yes, in the sea of dollar worshipping, your integrity is the most welcome corruption. But, at the end of the day, all we are doing is helping oppression morph into its next not-yet-recognizable form. 

So, what is the goal? To abolish capitalism. To re-establish community so that labour is performed to elevate, not to accumulate. Where people don’t need money for basic survival. Where we work because people need to be saved, because the Earth needs to be saved, because there are secrets in the universe to be discovered, because knowledge and wisdom need to be acquired. Not to make money. Doesn’t that sound like such a small, insignificant and pointless aspiration in comparison?

I know it’s so daunting, albeit easy, to mention “the revolution” because a lot of us can’t really imagine how it’ll happen. It does that, capitalism. It infantilizes us and crushes our imagination of how it could all be so different. But, exercising our imagination of a better world, frequently, is so important. It’s how we’ll be able to do the work we need to. Maybe you’ll dig into your intellectual and spiritual tradition that predates the Left and Right or maybe you’ll dig into the works of Socialist scholars. There are many ways of knowing and many roadmaps that share a lot more than they differ. Together, they will give us the direction we need but only if their goal is not the dollar. 

I hope, at least, to have reignited your imagination if it was extinguished, or to have fanned its flames if it was already alight. We could all be a little more honest and critical of what we do even if the truth is scary to face, especially if we make our living in environments traditionally understood to be objective. It’s high time we pulled our heads out of the sand.