Of Genghis Kahn, Mark Zuckerberg and the ANC Mindset

2016-09-05 19:59

A headline caught my eye on News24 recently about rebuilding the Sanlam Auditorium at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The budget for repairs is around R100 million, and the cause of the fire earlier this year was arson.

It was firebombed.

It hardly takes a genius to second guess the mindset of the perpetrators.

In similar vein, much negative energy was generated last year on university campuses all over the country – starting with the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign, which unraveled into language issues at Stellenbosch University and parochial conflicts on various other campuses. Ultimately it culminated in the stalling of university fees (the “Fees Must Fall” campaign) – a politically easy cop out to keep disenchanted students from rioting, but likely to herald the death knell of decent tertiary education in South Africa, if implemented.

What do these anecdotes – and many similar ones – have in common? To my mind they demonstrate incompatible value systems that put the entire national enterprise in jeopardy - with the blame lying at the door of misguided and incompetent political elite. Those in office have caused what psychologists term cognitive dissonance among the nation’s citizens. And this is where the sad narrative of the “New South Africa” all began in 1994.

Unrealistic expectations were nurtured from the get-go, with a lot of talk, and a dearth of material opportunities being made available to the nation’s citizenry – the very cogs of society - who were emerging from an oppressive and discriminatory past. Courtesy of government’s chosen policy direction, our national ethic can today best be described as passive-collective, lacking in personal responsibility, short on ambition and high in expectation.

That is not a good cocktail.

Instead of encouraging enterprising values, initiative and hard work, entitlement reigned supreme in what has become probably the most under- resourced and poorly funded nanny state on the planet.

On the other side of the coin, our national leaders have used state resources to gain and maintain power and office. Having inherited western institutions and a once highly successful economy, government jobs and SOEs (State owned Enterprises) have served as repositories for party patronage rather than loci of excellence and service delivery. Similarly the equity of private businesses has been plundered under legislation and duress to include dead wood and human ballast rather than value creating partners chosen on merit.

Sadly, the defining values of the new South Africa were built around “restitution”, redistribution; and (the most mealie mouthed notion of all) - “social justice”! As a result, BEE, affirmative action, legislated wage minimums, sporting and workforce quotas etc. etc. were enacted. And every initiative, justified under the pretext of government’s many “social” goals, has taken its toll on the economy and society at large.

There has been a universal incapacity within the ruling elite to “connect the dots”.

It is thus no coincidence that our economic growth rate is now zero, we have the highest unemployment rate in the world, the worst school maths scores anywhere and a broken state education system. We simply failed to understand the lessons of history.

Through Man’s evolution as a socio-economic being, the strong have always vanquished the weak and the more advanced have prevailed at their expense. The conquest of others – a seemingly hardwired human predisposition - has not only led to the establishment of new hegemonies, but the growing spread of ideas, establishment of new societies and an advancing, expanding, and ever more rapidly developing world.

It happened with imperial Rome; Alexander the Great and the Vikings; Genghis Kahn and the Spanish conquest of the Incas. And it happened in southern Africa. It was not pretty – and often brutal.

But human nature is like that.

It is how societies respond to these facts of history that matters and, determines their future. We have responded poorly, unintelligently and exacted high opportunity costs on South Africans at large.

Instead of cultivating sovereignty of the individual, our leadership embraced a discredit and discarded socio-economic model promoting collectivization at the expense of individualism, control and inefficiency, whilst raising expectations and causing frustration.

So there is no telling how many more educational facilities are likely to be torched, campus activities disrupted, billions embezzled or jobs lost before peoples’ appetite for delusion is satisfied. But this much is certain; until the individual vanquishes the dead hand of the collective and rejects the delusions of an ANC government, our national project will continue to decline. As things stand, we have lost the plot.

There has been failure to recognize one cardinal truth. It is only with exposure to asymmetries that the human condition evolves and grows. We are simply not all equal.

Without the explorers and adventurers of history, much of what we take for granted today would not exist at all because the indigenous inhabitants of the “new world”(s) would not have grown culturally and intellectually. The Incas could still be ruling Peru and beheading the emperor’s opponents; the provinces of India could have remained removed from global commerce and stayed poor; and southern Africa could still be undeveloped, universally poor and subject to continued internecine strife and inter tribal conflict.

The asymmetries between people continue to give cause to human advancement to this day in a new shape and form. With the world fully discovered geographically, giants of technology today wring global changes and add to the quality of life for millions. Thus the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs plus many others stand out as modern day explorers. The difference is that they do not explore parts of an undiscovered planet; they explore, develop and enhance the capacity of the human mind - taking casualties in the form of job losses and obsolete working careers, but generating huge net gains for humankind. It is known as creative destruction.

Hence to rue injustice at the hands of hegemonies that no longer exist is particularly absurd. They come and go. When people’s long term material welfare has been improved, their cognitive evolution fostered, and they have benefited demonstrably at so many levels, it is surely outrageous to take offence?

So it seems that we are once again highlighting a phenomenon previously discussed – the Dunning Kruger Effect. Wikipedia defines it as “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is”.

That seems to me to define the ANC’s ruling ethos.

Considering what people have been told by their leaders, it is scant wonder that anarchy and dysfunction thrive and disillusioned people burn down learning institutions.

Hopefully this is but another hurdle en route to a state of true democracy – where it will be recognized that asymmetry is real, all people are not created equal – and those who are given the opportunity to prove themselves can make a difference to everyone in society.

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