Thursday, 29 November 2007

Path Dependency

I am a believer that in order to understand the workings of the world, history matters, a lot. Perhaps the word history evokes an overly donnish connotation, and conjures up images of dusty tomes in a dark library. What I really mean is that events in the past have crucial bearings on present and future events.

It also means that in the man-made world, I view nothing as being random. Sometimes events might appear random, but upon closer inspection, they can always be explained by appealing to things that happened before. For example, your girlfriend suddenly throwing a tantrum might seem ridiculously random. But we ALL know it is never random. It just means that you are too insensitive or lazy to know why.

It doesn't mean, however, that I believe everything is predetermined. I am the opposite of being fatalistic. The fact that present and future events are function of past events doesn't mean that they are predetermined. It is because every single event is a function of your own actions (and inactions) as well. And by extension, all our interactions. Everything is intertwined, and we are doing the intertwining. Outcomes in the future are for us to decide. Appreciating what happened before helps us to be more informed in how best to affect the future.

This brings me to the question I want to pose to my readers:

What would your first reaction be (as in what would you do first) when you encounter a tap that refuses to twist in a public toilet?


UPDATE: It is not a rhetorical question; I will have a post on the question once I get an okay'ish amount of answers (by Arrested Development's standard, say, 5?).


How Not to Blog

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Tuesday, 6 November 2007

I am Thinking Now

A powerful and moving talk from a speaker whom I have much respect for:


About this Talk

Patrick Awuah left a comfortable life in Seattle to return to Ghana and co-found, against the odds, a liberal arts college. Why? Because he believes that Ghana's failures in leadership -- and he gives several mind-boggling examples -- stem from a university system that fails to train real leaders. In a talk that brought the TEDGlobal audience enthusiastically to their feet, he explains how a true liberal arts education -- steeped in critical thinking, idealism, and public service -- can produce the quick-thinking, ethical leaders needed to move his country forward.

About Patrick Awuah

After working at Microsoft for almost a decade, Patrick Awuah returned home to Ghana and cofounded Ashesi University, a small liberal arts college that aims to educate Africa's next generation of leaders. Its first class of students graduated in 2006. Read full bio »


A must-see; the talk gives great inspiration and reflection. Personally, many things he said resonated strongly with my ethics and worldview. The topics touched on are applicable to Malaysia and its people on so many levels: His idea on the urgency and importance of beneficent leadership and the need to foster a new generation of passionate, driven and ethical citizens for the future; and his personal decision to leave his comfortable life overseas to go back home and try to make a change.

But my description doesn’t do the talk justice. Go watch it.


Monday, 5 November 2007

Wisdom from Partha

“As economics matters to us (economists), we also have views on what should be done to put things right when we feel they are wrong. And we hold our views strongly because our ethics drive our politics and our politics inform our economics. …

…(But) I realized that economics had increasingly driven my ethics and that my ethics in turn had informed my politics.”

- Sir Partha Dasgupta,

in Economics: A Very Short Introduction

He is inspirational; both intellectually and philosophically.


Saturday, 3 November 2007

Taking Notes on Justin Lin - Marshall Lecture 2007 (Part Two)

The second lecture was on transition; personally less insightful than the first. There is this part:

… [T]he East Asian economies were lucky in the sense that their governments needed to be pragmatic in their policies… . China’s Confucian culture—which has a strong impact in East Asia—is pragmatic in nature.

The core of Confucianism is ‘zhongyong’, the golden mean, which advises people to maintain balance, avoid extremes and achieve harmony with the outside, changing world.

The political philosophy and policy principles promoted by the communist leadership of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, Hu Jingtao are, respectively:

shishiqiushi’ (finding truth from the facts),

jiefangsixiang’ (freeing one’s mind from dogmatism),

yushijujin’ (adapting to the changing environment); and

hexie’ (harmony); all reflecting the traditional Chinese culture of zhongyong.

Hmmm, never knew I am a Confucianist all along… :P

In sum, the most important insight I got from both lectures are the criticality of a pragmatic dominant social idea. Crucially, I believe it provided greater clarity and linkages to some of the hitherto disparate ideas in my worldview[1]. This theme implies that the fate of a nation depends ultimately the collective consciousness of the masses. The government, the most important institution in dictating the development of a nation, merely derives its power from the dominant social idea.

This put an important responsibility and burden on all of us in ensuring the future of our nation. It is clear that Malaysia’s current social dominant idea is destructive in nature, driven by racism, corruption and general apathy and distrust. Passivity on our part in will only seal the fate of this decline of our once promising nation.

Fortunately, the dominant social idea of our nation is solely ours and is a function of our solidarity. A positive change requires a combination of our collective determination to be involved, and our willingness to seek for the knowledge of what truly constitute progress and prosperity.

The future of our nation is in our hands; the opportunity to be proud of the place we call home lies in all of us. Make it happen.


[1] For example, note this paragraph from my previous post which clearly illustrates my previously underdeveloped appreciation of the social dominant idea concept:

My greatest fear is that this problem is faceless and everywhere - there is no single source. The problem is in all of us, all our organisations, all interlinked together, feeding on each other and giving strength to the decline of our nation. Institutional crisis in Malaysia - the extremely racist mindset, the prevalence of corruption, the need to separate performance-reward structure and replace it with ethnicity/connection-reward structure, the lack of social cohesion, the decline in educational quality - are all linked together, feeding on each other and are not promoted by a single source. No, it is not due to the ruling political party or the oppositions but by our history, our society and every single one of us.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Taking Notes on Justin Lin - Marshall Lecture 2007 (Part One)

What I took out from the first lecture; part one is on development.

  1. Development, the progress and prosperity of a nation, is dictated primarily by institutions.
  2. Institutions, by construct of nationhood, is in fact determined by the one dominant institution, the government itself. Other institutions are mere derivations.
  3. Government is in turn a function of its leaders.
  4. Leaders are in turn motivated by its permanence by appealing to the dominant social idea of progress and prosperity.

That is, development is ultimately determined by the dominant idea of the masses on what constitute progress and prosperity. Should that idea be misguided, so would the fate of the nation be in peril.

prioritization based on racial considerations as the dominant social idea?

I fear for the fate of my nation.