Saturday, March 30, 2013

Assumptions we take for granted

When Ford first came out with the Model T there was a loud protest because people felt motor vehicles would change road convention and thus their ways; and more disconcerting was that road accidents could dramatically increase. Over the years the world has seen how driving and road convention has evolved. Yet in the Amish world they still use the horse-drawn carriage.

When Romania and Bulgaria were in the process of satisfying EU accession rules, and as the EU highway system was extended to these countries, there was a big uptick in road accidents. And the EU had to adopt Western driving and road convention – including imposing hefty fines on violators – in order to minimize road accidents. But to the police it became a source of "grease money" which the EU had to battle. It was a struggle for many to observe safety regulations despite people experiencing road accidents themselves, even deaths. People are a product of their experience, but gradually they are getting used to the new convention. For example, in Bucharest stopping at a pedestrian crossing is mandatory like in university towns in the US. [Both Romania and Bulgaria have struggled in their journey to free enterprise – which they sought with feet on the ground – while they witnessed former commissars turned into oligarchs and took control of major industries. Sounds familiar? Except that PHL has no supervision; and Brussels has its hands full exercising its oversight role which has given Western investors some degree of comfort to pour investments in these former Soviet satellites. But with the EU in recession, everyone has their hands full.]

As a boy I understood that jeepneys, especially those designated as AC, had flexibility on their routes as well as the freedom to stop and/or pickup passengers at will. Decades later this convention still holds: jeepneys would be converging at the foot of overpasses and flyovers – at will – thus creating a bottleneck and adding to the chaos on our streets. (Or is it the bigger issue of the absence of the rule of law like the indiscriminate issuance of franchises to buses, among others?) And we assume that is normal, if not compassionate, because these poor drivers are simply earning a living?

Politicians steal, businesses are greedy, development undermines the environment – so what is the beef? We live with our assumptions believing they are what make us who we are? Aren't we free to embrace our own ways? We are proud of our ways. And so whenever we hear criticisms – from others like Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir or whoever – we resent them and would push back with a litany of their own faults. Unfortunately, the shortcomings of others wouldn't erase the challenges we face ourselves. What is crucial is that we examine our assumptions instead of taking them for granted – or to simply be committed to self-improvement (to which I was clueless when I was a lazy student to the frustration of my parents.)

The Amish community chose to stay with the horse-drawn carriage. But our jeepneys don't have to have the freedom to stop and/or pickup passengers at will if we recognize that driving and road convention has evolved? It is what prudence is; it is what the common good is. And until we make such kind of choices – and demonstrate political will [or is it simply missing in Juan de la Cruz?] – we shall be stuck where we are as an economy, as a nation and as a people? The evidence: our inability to provide even the very basics like power and infrastructure in general and consequently our failure to develop basic industries that can be the foundation of a developed economy – thus widespread poverty.

In the same manner that jeepneys must recognize prudence and the common good, politics and businesses must do likewise. And so must our institutions (and not even the church is above reproach?) if we are to be truly proud of Juan de la Cruz. We can't simply accept the assumption that we are a failed economy if not a failed nation?

No comments:

Post a Comment