Sunday, January 21, 2007

Science & Technology Tribe in Humor

All those MIT and Caltech jokes over the years - the third guy on the guillotine who looks up at it and says "Hey, I see why that thing doesn't work," for example, illustrate the S&T culture. This group often has the enormous social confidence of themselves writing most of the humor making fun of them. Which is good, because they usually don't get the jokes that other tribes tell.

Scott Adams and the Dilbert cartoons are the best recent capture of this tribe. Adams, in fact described them in tribal ways several times. "Engineers In The Mist," or Dilbert's testing the prospective hire by asking him engineer stereotype questions "You have a shirt pocket stuffed with pens. How many of them will you need to complete a project?" (All of them). Gadget competition with Techno-Bill.

Adams works in the conflict and cooperation with the Business Tribe as well. I don't think they make fun of themselves much. Rednecks, one of the many offshoots of the God & Country tribe, have been able to laugh at themselves. The older tribal divisions of regions and ethnic groups are in full swing now, suggesting that identification with them may be less personal. Folks have more distance from those. The newer divisions may cut to the bone more. I don't notice that the Government & Union Tribe has many members poking fun at themselves. They don't see anything humorous about membership.

Who does make fun of themselves? It's usually a marker of emotional balance.


Anonymous said...

Military tribe has humor out the wazoo. From the Army's "suck factor" to the "operational rules for road crossing, chicken," there's a joke or gibe for every occasion. You know what MRE's really mean? Meals Refused by Ethiopians. There's probably no tribe with a richer history of humor, be it grisly, ribald and riske, juvenile, silly, stupid, anti-authoritarian, transitory, enduring, and captured in print, photo and video. Just google "military humor" for a taste. -cp

Jerub-Baal said...

"The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself."
James Thurber, (in an Edward R. Murrow television interview) US author, cartoonist, humorist, & satirist (1894 - 1961)

The Christians that I know well often have a similar sense of humor to the engineers I have known. Bad puns seem to be the rule, with making fun of one's self coming a close second.

My opinion (for what that's worth) is that those whose world-focus regularly reveals the absurdities of life are forced to have a sense of humor in order to cope. Christian thought is based on the need for God because of the fallibility of man. Engineers have to deal with management.

My Dad had a story from his days as an engineering tech. In order to fulfill a contract they needed a machine that would do a specific task. Management insisted on ordering the only such thing on the market, which would take six months to arrive (three months past the deadline). The engineering team insisted that they could build one that would be better for half the cost in a fraction of the time, but management wouldn't budget them the money.

Instead, my Dad and his buddies scraped together the parts out of old stock lying around the factory, and used petty cash for the few things they had to buy. Two weeks later, they were done, and shortly after that the contract was done. Four months later the machine that management ordered arrived.

When my Dad retired, the machine he had helped build was still working away, and the one management ordered was still in receiving on its pallet, wrapped in plastic.

Anonymous said...


It's because we usually can.


Texan99 said...

Engineers are used to being told that all kinds of incorrect things are true, and to proving them false. They don't always adapt well to illogical social systems where it doesn't do you any good to be right.