I need a Theory of Social Relativity!

I have been looking for a nice and well-rounded theory of social relativity for years and couldn’t find anything yet. If anybody knows anything about it please, let me know. I came up with this name on purpose, inspired by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (check up on Wikipedia to refresh your memory). Just to make it clear, I am not talking about Relativism in here (check it out too). Neither about Old or New Institutionalism (if you have not heard of it, don’t worry, Institutionalists are becoming an institution by themselves).

Since Max Weber, I think social scientists pretty much understand already how conventions are naturally established by humans and other animals to gain effectiveness in our actions and use of our brains (we tend to sit in the same seat, follow the same way back home and these kind of things). Take a read on Berger & Luckman’s “The Social Construction of Reality (1966)” for a nice introduction to that subject.

I am talking about a theory that can gather Einstein’s suggestions and combine its consequences with every social aspect of our lives, a theory that can make us to rethink the role of any kind of “constant” social behavior and physical condition.

Let’s think about it: the Earth attracts us to it, just like the Sun attracts the Earth to it. You may not have thought about it but we also attract the Sun and the Earth to ourselves with a tiny force derived from our masses and therefore we also distort space and time by our individual existence just like the Sun or any other mass in rapid movement. I won’t enter into the question about where those gravitational forces come from because then we would get too philosophical (some people believe that gravity is the closest thing we know to God).

In any case, my weird correlation is: just like every mass interact with each other in the universe distorting each other’s physical reality in different degrees, we humans also distort each other’s perceptions on ourselves due to the relativity of all our conventions that are merely based on unreliable and imprecise social definitions and physical evidences that should not be perceived as truth ever (and I think we should have been told that when we were young).

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Words gain meaning with time, individually to each one of us, changing according to the use we give to them and the experience we have with them over time. I can assure that the meaning of the word “love” for you is different from the meaning it has to me. Moreover, the meaning of the word “love” for you today is different from the meaning you will give to it in 5 years. And even the way the word sounds is affected by the wind and the air chemical composition (like humidity).

The values of gold or money are also just conventions that mean nothing more than some kind of physical representation of certain local social power; especially under this “social game” we have been playing called capitalism. The Incas had a completely different relationship with gold, for example. Besides, the weight of an ounce of gold also varies according to the position you are in the planet since we now know that the force of gravity is not constant around our not-so-rounded Earth.

How about the time? Besides the distortion caused by all other masses surrounding us, our planet and solar system, we now know that not every day lasts a day and not every year lasts a year, so our “sacred” seconds, minutes and hours are all mere simplistic representations of a time that is not so fixed as we wished. Consequence: don’t worry if you arrive a minute late to a meeting. Nobody knows the exact time anyway. :-)

Gosh! Everything seems to be so complex! And I am not saying that in the Parsonian sense of the expression :-) but in a social-physical angle that apparently nobody dared to merge yet. I don’t know why, but Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” came to my mind while I was writing this. Perhaps because I am living in Spain and I do think that the Mediterranean people have been facing these complexities with a pleasant sense of disdain that amuses me. Olé!

Fool’s Gold

In my last day of vacations I took a moment to update the songs I am collecting in my Spotify account. If you have an account there too, take a look later at this never-ending but enjoyable work: http://open.spotify.com/user/newtonmcampos.

During this process, I found a Brazilian artist I liked a lot during my adolescence: Raul Seixas, an old pop icon in Brazil. For those of you who have heard of Paulo Coelho (the famous Brazilian writer), bear in mind that the they worked together creating some of the most amazing songs of that time. Just as a curiosity, I found a video of them during a trip to the US in the 70’s (that is interesting only if you’ve heard of Paulo Coelho before):

Well, the song I found more interesting to hear again and explore was this one, “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold), one of the first musics composed by Raul Seixas, inspired by Bob Dylan, that talks about the “perfect job” promised by the Brazilian government under the dictatorship installed to assure the development of capitalism in the country during the cold war. I suggest you to listen to the song and read the lirics and its free Google translation. It is very interesting and made me think about this interesting moment of my life:

Eu devia estar contente porque eu tenho um emprego
I should be happy I have a job
Sou o dito cidadão respeitável
I’m the so called respectable citizen
E ganho quatro mil cruzeiros por mês
and I earn 4 thousand cruzeiros a month

E devia agradecer ao Senhor
And I should thank the Lord
Por ter tido sucesso na vida como artista
for having achieved success as an artist
Eu devia estar feliz porque
I should be happy because
Eu consegui comprar um corcel 73
I managed to buy a ’73 Ford

E devia estar alegre, satisfeito
And I should be happy, pleased
Por morar em Ipanema depois de ter passado fome
for living in Ipanema after having starved
Por dois anos, aqui, na cidade maravilhosa
for 2 years, here, in this marvelous city (Rio de Janeiro)

Eu devia estar sorrindo e orgulhoso
I should be smiling, proud
Por ter finalmente vencido na vida
for having finnaly succeeded
Mas eu acho isso uma grande piada
But I find it all a great joke
E um tanto quanto perigosa
a rather dangerous one

Eu devia estar contente por ter conseguido
I should be happy I got
Tudo o que eu quis, mas confesso
everything I always wanted, but I reckon
Abestalhado que eu estou decepcionado
stunned that I’m disappointed

Porque foi tão fácil conseguir
because it was so easy to get
E agora eu me pergunto, e daí?
And I ask; so what?
Eu tenho uma porção de coisas grandes pra conquistar
I have many great things to achieve
E eu não posso ficar aí parado
And I can’t stay stand

Eu devia estar feliz pelo Senhor ter me concedido
I should be happy the Lord gave me
Um domingo pra ir com a família no jardim zoológico
a Sunday to go to the zoo with my family
Dar pipoca aos macacos
give popcorn to the monkeys

Ah, mas que sujeito chato sou eu
oh, but what a bore guy I am
Que não acha nada engraçado
I can’t find fun
Macaco, praia, carro, jornal, tobogan
Monkeys, beaches, cars, newspapers, tobogan,
Eu acho tudo isso um saco
to me they just suck

É você olhar no espelho
You look at yourself on the mirror
Se sentir um grandessíssimo idiota
You feel like a great idiot
Saber que é humano, ridículo, limitado
Knowing you are human, limited
Que só usa dez por cento de sua cabeça animal
and you use just ten per cent of your animal head

E você ainda acredita que é um doutor
And you still believe you are a doctor
Padre ou policial que está contribuindo com sua parte
A priest or a policeman doing your part to contribute
Para o nosso belo quadro social
to our beatiful society

Eu é que não me sento no trono de um apartamento
I don’t sit on a couch in an apartment
Com a boca escancarada, cheia de dentes
with my mouth open, full of teeth,
Esperando a morte chegar
waiting for death to arrive

Porque longe das cercas embandeiradas
because far away form the decorated fences
Que separam os quintais
that separate yards
No cume calmo do meu olho que vê
at the calm peak of my seeing eye
Assenta a sombra sonora de um disco voador
there rests the shadow of a flying saucer.

Just for curiosity, I attach Raul’s own translation of “Ouro de Tolo”, in a version of the song in English:

And also the history of the song told – in Portuguese – by journalist Ana Maria Bahiana: http://soundcloud.com/factoide/historia-de-ouro-de-tolo-do-raul-seixas

The infinite growth problem

One of the things that annoy me most in our days is this compulsion for economic growth everywhere at any time and cost. I was having lunch with an IE alumnus last week and we entered in those typical talks about career development based on countries’ and market’s growth.

This thing was in the table for discussion because this alumnus was considering moving with his wife to Brazil just like many other current MBA students and alumni worldwide. Why are they considering it? Obviously because of the economic boom the country is facing and foreseeing. Most of them know that whoever gets there first, have an enhanced possibility to succeed professionally in the medium or long term. My argument to question this perception is that Brazil, just like any other country in the world, won’t grow forever (especially when anyone can see that most of the assets are already priced at international levels). The issue of growing or not growing per se couldn’t be sufficient, during these times we live, to make somebody consider living in another country.

But getting back to the issue of growth itself, how people expect the world to be when everybody gets their basic things for living? Japan, Europe and the United States are already starting to face this challenge. How many more cars an American must have to feel happy? How many sofas, beds and TVs? How many more bottles of good wine or luxury bags Europeans need to be happy? When the world population starts to decline by the second half of this century, there will be far more houses than people to live in them. Water is there, food is there, roads are there, schools are there, and almost everything is basically available to large parts of the population in these so-called developed countries (although the concept of “almost everything” obviously changes from region to region and from people to people).

Venus Project: example of a town

Venus Project: example of a town

But this is not the problem. The problem is to see that there aren’t many people studying real alternatives to this critical dead-end street we are moving toward. Initiatives like the Venus Project are exciting but in my opinion too unrealistic to be implemented in a large scale yet in this century. And we have to hurry up if we don’t want to see Karl Marx‘s predictions on “capitalism consuming itself” to happen. For me, together with Max Weber, Marx was one of the greatest people in “recent” history that really spent time to understand what capitalism was about. Whatever people did in his name afterwards (in Cuba, Russia, China, Venezuela, etc) simply did not represent his thoughts neither valid attempts to put in place improved human social, political and economic structures at all, in my opinion.

I think a more realistic approach for us to start solving this problem is not only via pressures for more sustainable development but mainly through the reconceptualization of overall governance indicators for private and public organizations. A new accounting science has to emerge soon, one that not only measures physical assets but mainly and more important things that are important for people and ecosystems to live in peace.

Why I joined the academy

I just gave an interview to the magazine of the business school where I did my Ph.D., FGV-SP Fundação Getulio Vargas de São Paulo. Since the interview will be published in Portuguese and only in São Paulo city, I think I could make it public in advance in English for people interested in some debate on entrepreneurship. Since it is a bit long, I will publish it in two parts: one today and another next week.

Reporter: Why did you decide to join the academy?
Newton Campos: Because I was dissatisfied with the loss of focus on the intellectual journey that I was having after the MBA. The MBA is an eminently practical training, but that indirectly makes you think too much in the development of capitalism worldwide. I started reading authors each day more interesting and more complex, but could not follow an investigative line that could kill my doubts, I felt I needed guidance to facilitate my intellectual evolution and realized that the academic career would be one of the few which would value this type of questioning. So I started the doctoral program in 2006.

Reporter: What was your research question? I wanted a brief summary of your dissertation.
Newton Campos: My research was directed to the social context that surrounds the entrepreneurs during the development of their businesses in Latin countries. As “social context” one may consider the entire network of contacts established or used for business success. I need to clarify that I do not consider entrepreneur those who own small businesses or companies, these are micro or small business owners to me, which eventually may even become entrepreneurs. The research tradition that I follow considers entrepreneur only that person or group of people who innovate during the process of building a project or an organization. Plus, this innovation has to be considered socially or financially successful, otherwise we neither would be talking about an entrepreneur yet. Moreover, much of the existing literature on entrepreneurship in 2006 also put the entrepreneur in a “developed” social context, usually the U.S. or Europe, where the “rules of the game” (market rules and institutional ones) are established in a specific manner, usually very different from the rules that exist in different parts of the world. It was from this observation that I got my research question: How does the social context influences the entrepreneurs at the beginning of their enterprise in a developing country? But the claim was only one stage in the search for this response. During the search, before I even started the dissertation I made a trip to pre-earthquake Haiti (in 2007) to see if it would be possible to observe innovative entrepreneurs in a social context as politically and socially unstable as in a country like Haiti, which was already at that time among the 10 world’s poorest countries. To my surprise I found many innovative entrepreneurs, some even known throughout the Caribbean. Amazingly, the market innovation was there, present in one of the most miserable places on earth. After that, in the thesis itself, I did a comparative study between two countries relatively similar from a cultural standpoint, but different in terms of social and institutional development: Brazil and Spain.

In the next part of interview I will talk about findings and theoretical contributions of my research.

We all want to be young!

The first video exposed by this post was published in the end of 2010 by the Brazilian born research/consulting group BOX1824. It shows how new generations – including those in emerging economies – are being heavily influenced by new technologies, and how they theoretically influence older and younger generations. Although a bit Americanized in its first parts, I think most of its arguments are valid and pretty updated, specially for middle and upper social classes.

The lighter but somehow interesting Chinese version came out just few days ago. It is interesting to see how researchers leaded by firms from two large “emerging” markets like Brazil and China observe the parts of the same phenomenon.

First news from Iran

After great excitement waiting for what would be found in Iranian soil, I must confess I got a little disappointed in a positive way. I am here just for three days now but life in Teheran look less chaotic and stressing than Sao Paulo (Brazil) or most of the Latin American capitals.

It is true that women need to cover their heads, cars and motorcycles don’t respect anything (actually they have their own crazy traffic norms) and information is controlled by government (TVs, radios and internet). However, my sensation after watching people on the streets and talking to educated Iranians dismantle a certain myth previously studied in western magazines and books: that life under such an oppressive regime is unbearable and women are not free. People can leave under those circumstances quite calmly and happily. We humans get used to anything. We, common people like me and you, will always find ways to date, work, have fun and survive despite of the environment. And people who are enjoying power will always create ways to remain in power. This is what happens here: people survive living their lives quite pleasantly and governments try to keep their power indefinitely (through the excuse of religious tradition).

Bazaar in Teheran

Bazaar in Teheran

I am not defending the dictatorship imposed to this country by their religious leaders. But I must confess that people can have a quite normal and happy life under their rules, both men and women. On the contrary, I must say that not being able to access information just because it gets filtered by somebody before it gets to you is revolting for anyone who has the minimum sense of criticism. You feel like treated as a child who knows nothing about life and therefore somebody has to protect you from biased information. And this is not a pleasant feeling for a short period of time; I can’t imagine feeling that for decades. But people over here overcome that too, just like I finally found a server that allowed me to publish this post via WordPress.

Dilma Rousseff’s “Entrepreneurial State”

Mrs. Dilma Rousseff is the person Brazil’s president Lula has chosen to try substitute him in next 2010 Brazilian October elections. If it was not by the corruption scheme that was unveiled by the congress and press with government leaders in 2006, José Dirceu should be probably the person in that position. Both represent Lula’s Workers Party (PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores) goal to keep the party in power and implement more “social-oriented” and “progressist” governmental policies. How they are going to do that?

According to Dilma’s latest statements, through the implementation of an “entrepreneurial government”, that will define national investment priorities and help the business community to do their job “better”. My greatest deception with that view is that politicians believe to be ideological gate keepers of stupid outdated conceptions of development. Someone said that the devil is bad because he is old. Dilma’s and Dirceu’s view of the role of the State in the economy scares me not only because their view is old, but also because it leaves a very small and restricted space for human freedom and creativity.

I am not a liberal, I do not believe in the market capacity to fix everything but I do not believe either in the politicians that declare to help people by limiting their freedom. I dare to say that the current Brazil is already more “communist” than China. In China, companies share the management and the profits with government. In Brazil, big, medium and small companies are slaves of the government. In China, this norm is openly known by the market, in Brazil, the tax burden is amazingly hidden behind dozens of norms permeating whole production chains. If that make people’s life better, I doubt, but that certainly make politician’s life better. This would not be a problem if you had honest politicians usually in place. Unfortunately, however, that is not what happens. Politics are humans after all, and usually, they are old people (if you understand what I mean).

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