Blind faith, South Africa can’t find its way home!

2016-07-07 08:58

Two headlines caught my attention in the news this week and it got me thinking back to my economic studies and the history of economic thinking. Particularly the theories of Institutionalist on what is dubbed the Veblen’s dichotomy. Firstly, the SABC responded to the ANC on the editorial policy question, by correcting the language of the idea of not broadcasting violent protests. They called it an editorial policy aligned to the Broadcast Complaint Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) code of conduct. Secondly there was the announcement by the treasury that despite the slow economic growth in the country, fiscal policy tinkering (tax cuts or increases in public spending) are unlikely to stimulate growth.

The two subjects are unrelated but there is a central thread that I would like to expound on, when it comes to consumption of news content. Particularly content that shapes our philosophy and mind sets on the future of the country.  For this reason allow me to discuss the Institutionalism before tying its precepts to the articles mentioned above.

Institutionalists form a world view, similar to socialist views espoused by Fanon and Marx, from which economic theory can be developed. They believe that most of what humans do, including those things in the realm of economics, is instinctive. Effectively our ideas on the economy, on what censorship of broadcast material, or on who we should vote for in the upcoming elections are the result of cultural evolution and not inherent genetic drives.

Humans of every society believe that the way their culture does things is the right and natural way. Those things are viewed as unique to other cultures are ignored or dismissed as strange. Thus when confronted with new ideas, our instinct is to default to our own ways of doing things. We are comfortable eating with a knife and fork, but is it the "right" way to eat?

Humans do have three particularly powerful instinctive drives namely:

  • Sustenance - Humans will do anything it takes to stay alive.
  • Procreation - Humans will always aim to keep existing through the continued development of their ideas, views, genetics and so forth.
  • Group Membership - Humans are social animals, and will always aim to fit into a community, tribe or society.

Against this background there exists a dichotomy from which we as a society analyse life, the economy, and news called ceremonial/instrumental dichotomy. On the one side when we process and analyse we tend to be ceremonial. Ceremonial valuing is based on myth and mysticism and is culturally relative (i.e., they are only legitimate in the context of a particular culture). Examples of ceremonial values include the divine right of kings, racism, sexism, "manners", fashion, and ideologies of all sorts. These values are influenced by the past, they are static and they tend to promote discrimination. Especially when they prescribe status, warrant the exercise of power by one social class over another and they lack a rational basis to back the existence of the values.

The opposite side is called instrumental valuing. Instrumental values promote logic, reason and tend to be dynamic and progressive. Instrumental values are affirmed when they bring useful solutions to problems within the community. These values are not culturally relative therefore behaviour associated with these values is correct across all cultures. It’s not a black or white thing to brush your teeth but a right thing to do.

Behaviour guided by instrumentality is always experimental and it’s not justified simply because it has been practiced by previous generations. Only useful behaviour is condoned and as new means of accomplishing goals are found old behaviours are abandoned. Current ways of doing things are constantly evaluated and their place in society is never guaranteed.

May I venture to suggest that in our country today a lot of valuing applied to ideas shaping our future, are purported as fact, when in essence are myth and mysticism, we are expected to believe without testing. The following few examples as cases in point:

  • Black kids today being less skilled than their parents.
  • South Africa is worse off today compared to the period under apartheid.
  • The number of unemployed graduates is high
  • Only one race is contributing through taxes to the economy
  • Sections of our society are lazy compared to others
  • The policy positions of one party cover the views of all parties and there are no new policy positions from other.

SABC Challenge

When the SABC proposed the now called editorial guide, how on earth did they brave up to do so without presenting to the public a scientific study qualifying their theory? Is there no such an expectation placed on them? Are we to take their word for it that the SABC’s mere presence escalates the violence around protests?

By the same token, let’s assume the SABC has a case for their position and it’s qualified by facts. Are we so stuck in our old ways that we are crying censorship before community development? Is the SABC being innovative and are we tied down to traditional descriptions of what makes up public interest?

I believe this debate is way too mystical gunning for populist views and not facts. Sentiment is now more defining to how we do things that logic. Surely in 2016, with so much access to information, our current affairs can’t be decided upon with blind faith. What are the facts?

The Economy

I really would like to propose that we tinker with the economy to stimulate growth against an austerity programme targeting the same list of suspects. I would find it easy to blame the running of South African state owned enterprises because of their bailout history, but shouldn’t we as the public be entrusted with more details around the economy. Where is the Setswana cartoon booklet explaining to the broader public, how we are going to fix the economy? Where is the experimentation, education, and reporting geared to assuring the public that we are on the right track? For this very reason where is the education informing our loyalty to political parties?

The basis on which behaviour and ideas are evaluated as appropriate or inappropriate is the subject of the ceremonial/instrumental dichotomy. Are we as a country more ceremonial and as such have compromised our logic?

Be inspired SA!

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