Friday, January 6, 2017

Underdevelopment explains our dire straits

Yet our instincts say it’s because of poverty and inclusion is the answer. Let’s do a bit of gymnastics – and parse our words? Problem-solving starts with problem-definition, if we could all settle on that? [But that’s a very big if as cognitive neuroscience explains. More on that later.] For example, underdevelopment is synonymous to hardship, deficiency, destitution, impoverishment, inadequacy, insufficiency, poorness, privation, straits. While dire equals acute, desperate, extreme, pressing. And undeveloped equates to juvenile, adolescent, immature, inexperienced, naïve, puerile, unsophisticated, childish.

Is that a mirror to look at – and see what and who we are? If we can connect the dots – which is how Steve Jobs defines creativity – would we appreciate that underdevelopment explains our dire straits?

In this day and age, the tools and skills of innovation and global competition must be acquired and honed if nations are to meet the demands of growth and development – nation building, if you will – to paraphrase Michael E. Porter of Harvard, a guru like Peter Drucker before him. And they are beyond classical economics.

Because we were nowhere near being an industrialized economy, we assumed that the OFW phenomenon, i.e., services, would compensate. Especially given the world economy (including wealthy and more progressive nations) isn’t exempt from the boom and bust cycle. Ergo: an inward-oriented economy driven by consumption is a good thing. But it was short-sighted as we now know?

We also believe that economic development is the science of economics. Leave it to the scientists. Until Steve Jobs came along. IBM is the epitome of science, owning the most number of patents in the world. Not to forget Xerox and PARC.

“PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated), formerly Xerox PARC, is a research and development company in Palo Alto, California, with a distinguished reputation for its contributions to information technology and hardware systems.” [Wikipedia]

“Malcom Gladwell published . . . the famous story of the Xerox mouse and personal computer. The story begins in 1979 when the 24-year old Steve Jobs made a deal with Xerox: Jobs was given a couple of tours at the end of which he ended up standing in front of the Xerox Alto, PARC’s personal computer . . .

“Jobs was pacing around the room, acting up the whole time. He was very excited. Then, when he began seeing the things [one] could do on screen, he watched for about a minute and started jumping around the room, shouting, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything with this? This is the greatest thing. This is revolutionary!’

“’If Xerox had known what it had and taken advantage of its real opportunities,’ Jobs said, years later, ‘it could have been as big as IBM plus Microsoft plus Xerox combined’ and the largest high-technology company in the world.” []

We can pause here and take a peek at cognitive neuroscience. “Few things are as fundamental to human progress as our ability to arrive at a shared understanding of the world. The advancement of science depends on this, as does the accumulation of cultural knowledge in general. Every collaboration . . . requires that the beliefs of those involved remain open to mutual influence through conversation.

“Data on any topic . . . must first be successfully communicated and believed before it can inform personal behavior or public policy. Viewed in this light, the inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument, or to have one’s own mind changed in turn, stands out as a problem of great societal importance. Both human knowledge and human cooperation depend upon such feats of cognitive and emotional flexibility.

“People often discount evidence that contradicts their firmly held beliefs. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that govern this behavior. We used neuroimaging to investigate the neural systems involved in maintaining belief in the face of counterevidence, presenting 40 liberals with arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views.

“Challenges to political beliefs produced increased activity in the default mode network—a set of interconnected structures associated with self-representation and disengagement from the external world. Trials with greater belief resistance showed increased response in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.” [Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence; Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel, Sam Harris; Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39589 (2016),]

In other words, to be dogmatic or to hold a bias is not new. And with recent developments in neuroscience, such stubbornness can now be explained. Also, past successes can bring about hardheadedness.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow,” William Pollard (1911–1989). [Pollard was a physicist and an Episcopal priest. In 1944 under the cover of Columbia University's Special Alloys and Metals Laboratory, he was asked to join the Manhattan Project. Wikipedia]

And in our case as Pinoys, beyond arrogance of success – dictated by our elite class and chattering classes? – is our value system. Take parochialism and insularity. Has it metastasized and consumed Juan de la Cruz? Instead of less we want more, as in federalism, for example? After Du30’s stint as president the Duterte dynasty will continue to reign in Mindanao and Marcos in the Solid North, among others? We won’t starve for local lords?

It is common knowledge that faith in a system can be misplaced, i.e., one can beat the system. Try to put ‘rule of law’ and PHL in the same sentence, and we got an oxymoron? Bottom line: it is about people. Think California equals the hotbed of counterculture – that created a Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley – while the Deep South mirrors the cycle of poverty. Federalism didn’t level these two playing fields.

If mankind struggles to attain moral progress – and become one global community – how much could an inward-looking bias be the root? Consider: Hitler’s nationalism turned fascism. But we Pinoys think nationalism is license to be insular? Think Rizal? Then think how extremism has unsettled the world.

Beyond parochial and insular, we like looking backward not forward – that we can’t visualize a better tomorrow for Juan de la Cruz? And as the Asian tigers left us, we turned defensive – to rationalize our failings and protect and defend our ego?

And perfection is not of this world yet we deploy the perfection yardstick to measure our neighbors – and other nations as well? When we have yet to figure out why we’re neither here nor there?

But how? “Commitment, challenge and control,” the characteristics of a hardy [tough] mindset; Robert Brooks of Harvard University (faculty of Harvard Medical School; he has served as Director of the Department of Psychology at McLean Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital.)

Commitment. To be involved with others and to experience a sense of purpose and meaning; how ordinary people are able to do extraordinary things. Challenge. To appreciate that change rather than stability is the norm; new or difficult situations are perceived as opportunities for learning; the importance of thinking outside the box. Control. Focus on situations where we have influence over not where we have little if any control; you have control only over yourself, you must be the one to change. Develop a problem-solving attitude; why are you unable to succeed in your efforts?”

Underdevelopment is something tangible that can be addressed if we keep an eye on the ball. Instead of being mired in populism, which is our definition of inclusive? That then nourishes and perpetuates political patronage and dynasties, and oligarchy and impunity. Until our instincts can banish subservience in hierarchy and the expectations of paternalism, “inclusive” can be but a dream.

And it explains why innovation and competitiveness aren’t innate in us. They thrive in an environment that is egalitarian and democratic and open and pluralistic and diverse. And education won’t suffice if like in the US we can’t develop in our youth the requisite skills – of communication, teamwork and critical thinking – and a hardy, tough mindset.

Not surprisingly, we get the leadership that we deserve. The PNoy administration focused on “daang matuwid” to combat corruption while borrowing heavily to sustain CCT. Yet their effort to drive infrastructure development via the PPP was spotty at best. And took the JFC’s 7 industry winners for granted, paying lip service to industrialization?

Development has an inordinate need for interventions to keep body and soul (of Juan de la Cruz) together. Yet fundamental is the grim necessity for PHL to generate greater wealth – beyond OFW remittances and the BPO industry. But we romanticize this by insisting that it’s about optimism and happiness. That’s philosophy not reality, as in, “26 million Filipinos remain impoverished”?

Should we be surprised then that the Du30 administration is defining itself via the drug war, a.k.a. EJK? When these two administrations are a confirmation of our inability to get a handle on what ails Juan de la Cruz?

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“National prosperity is created, not inherited. It does not grow out of a country’s natural endowments, its labor pool, its interest rates, or its currency’s value, as classical economics insists . . . A nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade.” [The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, March–April 1990]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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