MAKING A MOUNTAIN OUT OF MOLE-HILL
As a non-economist, I have frequently asked myself if most of the ideas and principles on which modern life is based on, are actually scalable. Are they really solutions that can be applied successfully on a large scale?
For instance, would the global economic system be affected were it theoretically possible for Ghana, Nigeria and other countries in the West African coast, to beef-up production to match the Chinese? Would this not unsettle the status quo and invariably result in some kind of glut or trade wars? It is as though manufacturing is promoted for these countries because the essential cost of setting up these industries as well as the support services required to run them ( in the long run) are more favorable to the advocates and foreign economies. This is particularly true when loans have to be acquired to set up these facilities, and the advanced economies have moved on to other more impacting areas of technology. In many cases, the new industries are basically an extension of those that exist in other countries, but with a local head and a new name. However, most of the profits actually flow outwards to the foreign economies regardless of the intensity of activities that may be occurring locally.
A clearer illustration of this problem of scaling can be seen in education. While applauding the benefits of education, it is easy to see that economically, the highest value in terms of personal return-on- investment occurs when a few people are educated. In the early days of the birth of our new nation, after the colonial masters had withdrawn their physical presence, a small number of the locals could read and write. In fact, the act of reading and writing gave so much advantage to a person that whole regions were controlled by those who had these colonial communication skills. As years passed by, the same basic skill guaranteed joblessness because many more people had acquired it. It’s as though the value of the skill was based more on its scarcity following the economic theory of demand and supply.
Another illustration is the local computer industry. There was a time when knowing the meaning of the acronym RAM (Random Access Memory) could guarantee a well-paid job; a thriving business could also revolve around the ability to swap hard-disc drives and install operating systems. The sudden prosperity created by the shift from analog to digital economy lured many to assume that the future was going to be permanently stuck at that pace, since anyone within a radius of four meters to the computer was considered a geek. Sure enough, early adopters of this technology had such tremendous advantages that made many join the bandwagon even when whey would have expressed their creativity in other fields. Like most Ponzi schemes, they work for a while before new entrants become the mark. This also happens when the stock market is scaled up as a solution to financial problems, and everyone invests a greater part of their income kiyosaki style. Naturally, the early adopters end up using later entrants as the mark.
This fact is also apparent in the issue of tertiary education. When few people attended universities, the advantages of having a university education was so evident that one could be considered crazy for questioning the abilities of the graduate. Again due to scarcity rather that capability, numerous opportunities remained open for years for such an individual, and this fact lured many minds to imagine that acquiring a university education necessarily gave the essential mental capacity to cope with life. It was easy to see the positions of authority occupied by those who attended these institutions, and to mistake them with the core abilities of the individual. One may argue that these capabilities were there, but due to the low quality of education in recent times, current university graduates are not well trained and most have become incapable of functioning in this digital era.
However, this line of argument begs the question because the training of the graduates were done by people who were qualified, and the entry criteria were set by the same ex-graduates who are now lecturers and administrators. Considering that university degrees are supposed to be awarded for character and for learning, following the specifications of the educational system, it is an anomaly to have a graduate who does not have the character as well as the necessary intellectual ability. Aside this, there should be an inherent resistance to the forces of corruption and greed in the properly educated person of the by-gone era before education was scaled-up. So, if over a period of time there is a drop in quality of graduates, it means that the inherent flaws in the educational system just became obvious. It’s like the deviation of two lines initially thought to be parallel, but on extending them, exposes the initial error by their wide deviation.
This phenomenon is even more poignant in religion. The supposed virtues of a new religion suggests that everyone should be converted in order to foster harmony and progress. At first, the obvious quality of the originators and first set of converts are incontrovertible, be it a Jesus, a Mohammed, a Paul or a Livingstone. So, it is natural to assume that scaling would result in a better world. However, as more people are converted, the problem of scale rears up its ugly head: the veneer of holiness associated with the religion begins to tarnish and within a short while a convert becomes indistinguishable from a non-convert. Individuals caught at the tail-end of the process – where the initial flaw in human nature has been magnified to the point of being nauseating, usually start glamourizing the good old days when education was education, and saints were saints, without questioning the base assumption on which these ideas were built on.
Put simply, in the affairs of men, can things be scaled-up successfully if there is a flaw (however negligible) in the initial constitution? Can things be rearranged to eliminate opposites? Can the bad guys or evil be eliminated? However much it may annoy us and we pretend we are not them, is it even desirable to try to do so? Can wisdom be obtained without some kind of suffering or sacrifice? Can the kind of people we envy be mass- produced even when they are subject to different genetics, environment and influences than we are?
The significance of this trend where scaling leads to loss of value is often underrated. However when years of hard work can be obliterated by new trends, and it is impossible to keep up with everything that is trending, it would be almost impossible to resist greed and other under-handed practices that are induced by the fear of a system that can easily cast anyone aside. All the polite negotiations and mannerisms between people and nations usually has the underlying motive of staying ahead of the pack in order to maintain relevance amidst the win-win scenario that is often touted as the goal. Unfortunately the whole concept of progress is based on this attitude, but this kind of progress is like a divergent series, it is really going nowhere and everywhere at the same time, and there is too much stress, no personal stability. No core from which to operate.
Finally, this problem of scaling need not occur if each person seeks self-development in his or her own unique way. The capacity to resist crowd behavior can only occur when each person seeks his own personal truth. And this doesn’t have to be positive, for even a thief can create the necessary impetus for the development of new locks. As each individual has a unique phone number and a unique internet address, capabilities must exist in every individual to access whatever unique attributes lies in him or her to ensure that s/he is largely unaffected by trends and scaling while still having the capacity to contribute to the system.
Python and the Rainmaker