Obenski column: Science, society both based on good guesses

We all learned, or at least were shown, the scientific method in high school, maybe junior high.

It goes something like this: Observe something or ask a question. See if there is an explanation. If there is not, form a hypothesis (guess) explanation. Design and conduct an experiment to test the hypothesis. Measure the results. Analyze it and form a conclusion. The conclusion may be a theory, probable explanation or a law, a way to use the results even if we don’t yet fully understand it. The conclusion could be to try something else, like a telescope.


Engineers use a similar methodology. First define the problem. We say a problem well defined is half solved. Examine possible solutions either by testing or mathematics. Test the most attractive solution and, if it works, use it as a model. If not, try another.

In some branches you only get one test so you check your math many ways. Astute investors work in a similar way. First they research potential investments. What is the history, who else is in the pot? They seldom put all their eggs in one basket; they diversify then double up on the winners and cut the losses.

We try to do the same thing in democracy. We observe the candidates, ask them questions, read about them then vote on the theory that more than half the people will be right more than half the time. I confess, I often voted for the loser and the winner turned out to be OK. Sometimes my chosen winner is inept. If we are unhappy with the incumbent, we can vote the rascals out or if the incumbent is really bad we can impeach or pressure them out.

In the past, religion overpowered all of the above. The church said it, you believed it (or else). That settled it.

In some lands it still is that way. It’s hard to pick a turning point. The absolute power of kings had been challenged in the Magna Carta in 1215; maybe it was Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, improvements to navigation (Prince Henry, Columbus), or the printing press, but it seems that at least in Europe by the 15th century the old order was breaking down. By 1659, the English had a Bill of Rights and Democracy began breaking out all over.

Peoples began to experiment with science, and new “isms” popped up, from socialism to fascism — two extremes that are strangely similar. In either, the individual is nothing and the society, or hive, is everything.

The other dominant “ism” is capitalism, which might be called every man for himself, but that was actually the basis of the old feudalism. Feudalism was based on power, control and fealty. Capitalism is based on equality of opportunity. It needs a republican rule of law with a fair constitution to work and the best guarantee of that is democratic elections and freedom of expression. Voila, the Bill of Rights.

Socialism works on a small scale. Families are basically socialist (or fascist) — but what happens? The kids grow up and form new families. There have been larger socialist cultures, the Amana Colony and Israeli Kibbutz’ that work, but need an influx of new blood because many Kibbutznics eventually want more and move on. Many capitalist industries are internally much like socialism. The workers give up certain rights for the benefit of the same good income as everyone else. Except management is often overpaid.


By definition true conservatism would resist all change. Many who claim the title resist change or encourage return to past practice, whichever they think offers them a personal benefit. They don’t seem to realize that like public works, schools and many so-called entitlements make the system work better for everyone, not just the individual beneficiaries. Health care and education insure a better workforce. Strangely many so called conservatives campaign for radical, even crazy ideas, like Brexit.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Email him at obenskik@gmail.com