Saturday, December 10, 2011

Peeling the veneer

The global economic uncertainty has shaken even self-confident France. ". . . Dreams are unraveling . . . according to a Pew Research Center survey only 27% of the population now believes that 'our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior," NY Times, 21st Nov.

Russian-born author Elena Gorokhova, in her memoir (A mountain of crumbs) about growing up into young womanhood, describes the lectures she attended while training to be a tourist guide: "Leningrad – the cradle of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The rules are simple: They lie to us, we know they're lying, they know we know they're lying but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.”

People go through self reflection. Should we, Filipinos, define our challenge as the imperative of inclusion? For half a century our economy was growing at 1.4% while our neighbors did as much as 6%! This bit of news hit the writer like a ton of bricks since it was the referenced period (1960-2008) that he thought defined him. Put simply, he is very much part of our failings as an economy and as a nation. It is a very telling point if we are to understand why in the 21st century we are the economic basket case of the region! We have to peel off our romanticism, call a spade a spade! There is absolutely no way to be inclusive doing a measly or a frail 1.4% for half a century! As we know in problem-solving, fallaciously defining the challenge puts us on the wrong path! [And fallacy comes from intuitive heuristics, e.g., rule of thumb as expounded by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking, fast and slow.’]

Economists say we must grow at 7% and even at that rate it will take more than a generation for us to be a developed economy! But our bigger challenge is masked by that impressive number – in reality another form of romanticism if we don't deliver sustainable growth! The bottom line: Our challenge is bigger than President Aquino. But he is part of why we are what we are – we are all in the same boat that we created! Our challenge is not about the imperative of inclusion. It is about the imperative of development. And development requires erecting the building blocks that will make growth sustainable. But we won’t even get the first floor up if we stick to tooting our individual horns – we badly need to toot our horn as a nation! The JFC has provided a model via ‘Arangkada’ – which unfortunately will take ‘eons’ for us to internalize. To undo 48 years of mediocre economic performance will more than bruise the ego of Juan de la Cruz. It will shake his spirit more than currently felt by the French!

We have yet to demonstrate it, but we must learn to focus and prioritize – e.g., power, basic infrastructure and strategic industries. We can’t simply be rooting for our favorite oligarchy; they have contributed to a very large extent to our cellar-dwelling performance. They reinforced our mistaken belief – poor as we are – that capital puts them at the top of the pyramid. Capital employed to perpetuate a lopsided economy is the unwise – beyond self-serving – use of God-given resources. And with their cohorts in politics – and with our acquiescence – they shut out foreign investments, technology and innovation, the wise use of God-given talents. But they also had been aided by our own education mindset. Education is meant to be inquisitive, expansive and by definition outward-looking.

And thus parochialism must be addressed and overcome by education? But our outlook was influenced by our parochial religious orientation, which treated us like juveniles? Christianity is about maturity, not about being holier-than-thou, which we perpetuated via our sheltered culture. Unfortunately, tyranny thrives when people are shielded as the Arabs have realized. But the good news is Christianity is about embracing the Gentiles and foreigners and sinners. And so how do we begin to fix ourselves? Should we try authenticity?

"We don't have sex in the Soviet Union," said a woman from the Ministry of Culture, when a French reporter asked a provocative question about Lelouch's film 'A Man and a Woman.' Is it possible that . . . sex had been successfully eradicated by the Great October Socialist Revolution, along with social inequality and decent shoes? . . . In spite of my country's taboo or my mother's silence, or maybe because of it, I've taken the initiative to investigate the subject on my own." [ibid]

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