Thursday, 6 December 2007

Path Dependency, Part Two

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?

Thank you for the responses =)

As most of you would have already guessed, there is no real answer. I have encountered such scenario many times before, and my first response was to turn the tap harder, and harder... and harder. It never worked.

And then I found out, almost all the time, all I had to do was to turn the tap the other way round (Chewxy!). Some taps, although rare, are made to turn the other way round (for whatever reasons, silly or otherwise, but this will not be the topic of this post). Instead of trying to turn the tap the other way round, I would always turn it to shut it further. And I realised I was not alone in doing this, because in places where taps were turned on by turning clockwise, most of the taps would be faulty through excessive force by frustrated people trying to wash their hand.

And here is where my original post comes in: history matters. We all learned from young to turn on the tap by turning anti-clockwise, and conditioned to accept the notion that leftey is loosey, rightey is tightey. It is ingrained in us all, so much so that the possibility that a tap might be made differently is so bizarre that most of us would never even think of it.

This is like racism in Malaysia.

We are taught to divide people by races from young, and conditioned to accept that Malaysians, as people, are divided. Sadly so, racism became our dominant social belief system that informs our politics, ethics and economics. We have accepted that politics in Malaysia translates to bigotry and prejudice, and economics is synonymous with discrimination and marginalisation.

Like it or not, we are all racists. And if you say "it is not US, it is THEM!", say that a few more times and reflect on it.

And we believe that racism is so deeply ingrained in everything Malaysia, that it is an immutable truth. But it is only as immutable as our perception that a tap can't be turned on by turning it clockwise and as true as that the northern hemisphere can only be drawn on the upside of a map.

Most of the time, history creates conventions that are helpful. Occasionally, some will outlive their usefulness. The important thing is for us to appreciate that the conventions are made to exist by our collective past actions in the first place and we can choose to change if we want to. History informs our present decision, but it doesn't dictate it.

Suppose one day all taps are made the other way round. We are not doomed to destroy all the taps and never wash our hands ever again just because we used to turn taps the other way round. That would be silly.

Suppose now we know that racist politics and economic policies will lead us further away from building a great and prosperous nation. We are not doomed to let our country decline further and be powerless in rejecting that racism will always be part of everything Malaysia in the future just because it used to be so in the past. That would be silly.



Chewxy said...

Seriously, though, I think you should just join me in Australia (and in holy matrimony, lol).

Why are you so optimistic about Malaysia?

Dan-yel said...

Humankind determine their own reality, reality is no less subjective than perceptions, in fact perceptions equates reality and vice versa.

It's only when we look closely, and dare to reconsider what we have taken for granted, will we embark on a world so wild that you cannot cease to marvel its complexity notwithstanding the confusion that comes with it.

This country, can never be any less a home to us than any other place in the world. It's easy to utter the word "migrate" but it's hard to move the soul from where it belongs.

Hi&Lo said...

Australia once had a white Australian policy. Its one time PM once said, "Two Wongs not equal to one white." Nowadays, it welcomes Asians who can contribute to its econ with open arms.

The day will come when Malaysians as a whole will abandon racism and embrace universality. This am confident but not sure when.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elanor et al,
Glad to see that you are back and you are in Cambridge, it should be a much better environment for you to grow. However, without experiencing the problems in Malaysia, you might not appreciate your new environment as much! I have benefited from your blog, so I will share with folks here some of my experience/opinion. I am a Malaysian too, had a lot of pain in seeing what happen in/to our beloved country, but I also found out a number of years ago that you can not force experience onto someone else.
Fundamentally, the problems in Malaysia have their root in the lack of the believe in fairness/equality and the respect for excellence. Many good institutions (e.g. schools and MU) are ruined or become the tools to consolidate power – it is not the lack of institutions, but the hijacking of institutions by special interest groups that is causing the problem. There is too much concentration of power and co-mingling of race, politics and religion enabling special interest groups to hold onto and consolidate their power base.
Malaysia is not alone in this, (this does not mean it is right), UMNO or BN will not give up their control easily and as long as the group benefit from the arrangement, they will perpetuate the structure as long as they can.
On path dependency, yes, at times it is hard to tell the difference between experience, prejudice and wisdom. This is where critical thinking and the scientific method comes in. Most religious instructions do not foster critical thinking and in many cases the most religious are the most blind. Science education in Malaysia places more emphasis in learning the subject content (e.g. physics chem., bio …) over mastering the scientific method to acquire new knowledge or to tell whether a statement is true. Most science experiments in schools have simple experted outcome, rather than emphasizing the process of discovery using hypotheses, validation and updating the hypothesis … Most of the economic activities in Malaysia (and most developing countries) involve in products or projects whose feasibility have been proven before, you do not have to be critical on the ideas, you just have to follow instructions or rules.
Does this mean we should be depressed? No, the global environment presents a numbers of opportunities that never exist before, the confluence of technology and the opening up of China and India into the global economy creates the greatest opportunities ever. If we play our cards right, this is the world of more than 6 billion people opportunity, if not it is a world with more than 6 billion competitors. I do see this more of a 6 billion people opportunity, it is not a zero sum game, but not everyone will see it this way.
I was involved in product transfer from US to Asia, saw the impact of semiconductors (later hard disk, PC…) in the development of the Asian economies, besides the tigers, we tried Indonesia too. It worked else where but not in Indonesia. The same thing is happening in China and India now, but to a larger scale. However, there is a difference this time. Now I am seeing the early stages of a new breed of multinational cooperation coming out of Asia, especially China (in you are interested tale a look at BIDU, CTRP, CHL, MR …).
There are many ways you can benefit from this, investing in companies that will benefit from this trend, be part of it, or develop something they need or see what they/everyone need in the future. You do not have to be in China or India to take advantage of this. (ask any investor in POT, MON, BHP, Rio Tinto …) . In one of your past blogs, you mention Sony, yes, games is big business, but one has to be very good to succeed in these areas and unless you value talent, you will not be successful in this business. Nvidia (who designed the RSX chip in PS3) has recruiting network in most universities very good in graphics. You can see the same feeder system from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Caltech feeding into Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Oracle and Intel. Even NUS has a hard time competing in this league, and the chance for Malaysian universities --- you can tell.
I have, to a large extent, given up on the politicians, but I do see Bill Gates and David Packard making use of their money doing something good. We do not have to be as rich as Bill or Dave to do our part, there are many kids from poor areas, highly motivated but the families are too poor to support them through schools. For less than US2000 a year you can support a student through college, and for that amount of money we can change a person’s life and hopefully people around them. We are trying to do the same thing for some one in Malaysia. We just have to get to the position we can do these and get enough people to do it.


Chewxy said...

Whitlam got rid of the White Australia policy in 1975 (after 120 years of white Australian policy). Mr. Rudd is apologizing (after about 200 years) to the abos,... so 100 years for M'sia too?

El can marry me in the mean time

feliz said...

natural disasters cannot be prevented by human reason and wisdom but problems created by people should and can be resolved by they themselves... but think deeply, do you want to continue to trust the future in the hands of incompetent and corrupted self-centred politicians ?

Anonymous said...

Hi Feliz,
Ideally we should be able to resolve man make problems easier than problems of nature. However, if we look at history, history repeats itself. It is sad to see the amount of resources human society spend in war machines. Unfortunate, changing mind set is even harder than solving a lot of problem from nature.
The West have gone through the problem of the Church getting too powerful in the running of the country -- hence we have the separation of the Church and State. China went throgh cultural revelotion to learn that blind political ideology did not lead them anywhere. Even with the separation of the Church and State in US, we still have faith based decision making leading us to War in Iraq ... I just hope that Malaysia does not marginalize itself in the world of nations, repeating the mistake of history. No one has monopoly to truth or being poor. It sounds so simple to ask why cann't we treat all of us as equals, and help people in need irrespective of race or colour?
Meanwhile, I will put energy to solve the problems we see coming, energy, environment ... Not only that it helps human kind, it is good business too!
The opening up of China enable her to move a few hundred million people out of poverty. India is finding out that opening up helps them solve some of the economic problem they couldn't solve after decades of trying. China and India are preparing to compete in the world, where as Malaysia (UMNO/BN) is looking for protection of their self interest -- rather than nurturing our best talents to compete.


House said...

Hi, I am an avid reader of your incredible blog. Can you please write a piece from an economist's point of view of Radiohead's marketing scheme for their album, In Rainbows whereby they self released the album through their website using a voluntary pricing model. It will be great to read your take on this model. Thanks so much. Keep writing.

Elanor said...

Hi House,

Would love to write on it, and hopefully soon. But I believe Chewxy, has an opinion on this.

Am I right, Chewxy?


House said...

Thanks. Can't wait to read your piece on this.

Chewxy said...

Yes, that and our marriage, El...