The burden of size

I’m at the Lisbon airport, about to embark back to Madrid, where I’m living. During the last day of my trip around South America I had the opportunity to give an interview to one of the most important journalists of Uruguay, from the local newspaper El Pais. A person of great wisdom, with decades of experience interviewing people from all over the world.

It was truly a great pleasure to talk to him about Economic Sociology, Entrepreneurship and Emerging Economies. Together, we almost got to the conclusion that Uruguay could arguably not be considered an emerging economy, as we discussed about levels of corruption, bureaucracy and freedom to start a business in the country.

At certain point we caught ourselves wondering if violence and corruption in many places of Latin America weren’t easier to get hidden behind the crowds of the large and overpopulated cities. Murders and corrupt politicians (I put them in the same category on purpose) get protected by the anonymity within these large amounts of people, with illegal incidents flooding inefficient courts of justice incapable to solve problems before new ones arrive.

With little more than 3 million inhabitants, Uruguay has an upper class of about 300 thousand people. These people meet each other in theaters, movies and restaurants, knowing easily each other’s family members and actions.

Honor still has its value and people don’t want to see their names used in an inappropriate way. In Uruguay, it is still better to be a respectable medium or upper class citizen than a rich corrupt “ghost” that will have to avoid facing society and have his/her family and history marked.

I was thinking about corrupt and violent countries with small populations (there are plenty) to see if this naïve hypothesis would apply but it doesn’t. So the burden of size and the freedom to do wrong things in anonymity alone unfortunately does not explain these social problems. Religion doesn’t either. Education or lack of huge social inequalities perhaps?

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Capitalist and socialist stupid debate

I just enjoyed holidays on Workers’ Day. It was great.

If we compare the capitalism practiced in most of the current developed economies of the World with capitalism practiced in the beginning of the 20th century we can clearly see the achievements of those unionized movements still in place today. People often had to work 12, 14 or even 16 hours per day just to get a miserable salary, while vacations practically didn’t exist. Capital was just as wild as current Chinese 21st century “pro-market-communists” (what a weird combination of words!) where people currently work 12, 14 or 16 hours per day without vacation (!).

If Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were standing in the same place where Chinese officials built a statue for them in Shanghai, I’m sure they would go crazy :-).

Statue of Marx and Engels downtown Shanghai

With the statue of Marx and Engels downtown Shanghai

I always thought it strange – almost humiliating, let’s say – to see the statue of a Prussian philosopher and a German-English philosopher in the middle of the “World’s Central State” (China in Chinese) telling them what to do with their destiny (“Couldn’t they figure out by themselves?!?” I wondered).

So now, instead of private-capitalists making slaves out of Chinese people, Chinese Communist Party public-capitalists do it better, and systematically (much more efficient this way). Looks like we are lead to believe that this is the price that Chinese people have to play before they can exercise opinions about their destiny (a kind of “slave first, voice later”).

More non-sense hypocrisy is seen when you visit (I did it) the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing and read the founding plaque at the Party:

Sign at the entrance of the Chinese Communist Party founding place.

Sign at the entrance of the Chinese Communist Party founding place: “The founding of the Communist Party of China is the inevitable outcome of the development of China’s modern history”.

You can almost taste a scary Vendetta kind of Chinese movement coming someday, don’t you think? I’m sure the first deep economic problem the Communist Party face, they will evoke this “history” to blame somebody from abroad.

But for me, much more non-sense than all of that Chinese bullshit together is the current debate about right and left-wing parties in Europe (France, Germany, Greece and Spain, for example) and in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, etc).

Every time I see a stupid debate between #Sarkozy and #Hollande or between #Rajoy and #Rubalcabar I’m sure they are just playing roles to put people against each other for their own – or their Party’s own – joy or sake. After all, they will all have to play the capitalist game.

Some days ago I saw some flags of the old Soviet Union defending more socialist actions from European governments. I was thinking: “- Are you kidding me? Tell me, who the hell think that a hammer and a sickle still represent European workers these days?!?”

Flag of the Soviet Union

Flag of the Soviet Union

If these leftists Santa-Claus-believers think that socialism or capitalism are still something to debate about these days, at least they should update their flags with something that would make more sense to people in this continent. I even came up with a suggestion to these dinosaurs:

Newton's proposal for a new flag for vintage leftists

Newton's proposal of a new flag for nostalgic leftists

Should I still explain why I made myself a member of the Green Party?

Is technology helping us to fight hypocrisy and irrationality?

I am sure about that. This current accelerated process of globalization of capitalism is not only making millions and millions of people to leave poverty worldwide these days but also rapidly changing the way we spread ideas and new ways of interpreting old dogmas.

As computers become indispensable home appliances and internet connections as basic as water or electricity (even in poorer economies), people start exercising different ways to make the difference in this intense exchange of ideas, fighting hypocrisy and irrationality everywhere.

These latest developments in Egypt, triggered by Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (@aliaaelmahdy) in November 2011, for example, made me realize again that we still didn’t fully comprehend the real power of mankind’s increasing interconnectivity.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy changing the world.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy changing the world.

For those of you not aware yet about this case, Aliaa is an Egyptian young elite student, trying to make herself heard through this very “unconventional” way for an Islamic country: showing herself as female human requesting more voice and rights in the new post-Mubarak-dictatorship Egyptian society. She started this spontaneous movement in late 2011. As threats and reprisals against her increase, other Egyptians do the same, taking the focus away from her.

Aliaa and all young men and women following her protest by publishing “unconventional” self-portraits around that region are not only making people around the world to re-think about the role of women in society. They are also showing how Egyptian youths are leading the way towards a less hypocrite and irrational 21st century.

I am sure these young people growing up in current Egypt and neighbor countries will help the world to become a better place when they start assuming responsibilities in the near future. As I heard someone saying this week – probably quoting somebody important: “Only those who lived without freedom realize the price of it, all the others tend to forget its costs”.

And that is the problem with many Western societies these days: having things like freedom for granted is producing a massive number of idiots in these societies, probably incapable to lead anything in the future.

That’s is why I’m also optimist about this current economic crisis befalling over some developed European countries. It’s true it is making some young people simply to runaway to another countries but at the same time it’s making some other young people to question societies and its old practices.

Welcome youth’s critical thinking, from Egypt to Spain, we need you!

Do you believe in God? Part III: Reasons to believe.

This is the third and last post of this series dedicated to “God(s)”. Nothing better than being in a Christian country during Easter holidays to see how strong this feeling of belief is naturally strong among us humans.

Last week, here in Spain, you could see movies on the TV repeating over and over the stories of Moses, Mary, Jesus and all biblical historic-mythological characters that sustain Jewish and Christian religions.

Because of that, I caught myself thinking about how we humans make so much effort to believe in those mythological mind structures. That was how I remembered one of the latest visits to my father in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. He loves geography and geology but spent the last years studying everything he can.

Well, it was during one of those visits that we started talking about Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914). Peirce was a chemist and philosopher, “founder” of pragmatism and semiotics, among other amazing philosophical thoughts (Check it out at Wikipedia).

Charles Sanders Peirce in 1859.

Charles Sanders Peirce in 1859.

According to Peirce, our thoughts mix together stages of belief and skepticism (doubt, questioning). The discomfort of doubt makes us naturally to search for the comfort of belief (his texts are truly works of art, read it for free in here: The Fixation of Belief).

Peirce identified 4 methods in which belief can replace doubt. Three methods were said to be rational methods, methods that depend merely on human reasoning: individual tenacity (trust in one’s established beliefs), authority coercion (an institutionalized kind of “believe or get out of here!”) and a priori (based on pre-existing concepts or fashionable thoughts of one’s era).

The forth method he named the method of experimentation, or the scientific method, where our pre-concepts have little or no influence over the object of belief. According to Peirce, we humans tend to prefer this method of fixing belief, because it allows the testing of hypotheses against demonstrable public observations.

Unfortunately, the scientific method is also developed through the constant and extensive use of the other three rational methods, making it less trustful than we would like it to be. Actually, in my father’s opinion, scientific abstractions, based on things that can’t be found in nature, can be considered as dangerous as religious thoughts if taken without the proper sense of critical reflection.

After all, the concepts behind the number zero, the infinite, the circle, the straight line, the average and all other scientific constants unseen in nature are nothing more than rationalized “scientific” beliefs.

Here is where we reach an interesting “conclusion” point in this mini 3-post debate: if you are the kind of person that believe in God(s) or the kind of person that believe in Science, in fact, you are not so far away from each other as it may appear :-).

What does religion have to do with Entrepreneurship?

Well, why is all of that religion discussion so important to me? Because you can’t understand most of the underdeveloped or developing economies of the world – and be able to dialogue with people living there – if you don’t consider under which social standards or value systems their logic are based on (I’m assuming you were raised in a western developed country).

What motivate their/our efforts? (I include myself here in the group of developing nations) What makes people to start profit-based or non-profit-based ventures there? If you simply rely on the fact that they/we are as capitalist as you, you will be incurring in a tremendous initial mistake. You won’t get their/our trust, and if you don’t get their/our trust you won’t make good business with them/us.

Here I show few superficial differences in starting ventures in emerging economies. Please, remember that these entrepreneurs were raised in the countries they started their ventures and therefore they were embedded in their local social systems. As an out-comer you would have to interpret their realities, something they did more naturally:

Do you believe in God? Part II: The unexplained does not justify blind faith.

Like anybody that enjoys thinking, I like to talk about polemic things like religion, football or politics. Especially because when there is no right or wrong, I can exercise my brain with fellow humans. Unfortunately we can’t talk to dolphins, whales or chimpanzees yet, to get their opinion about it. I’m sure someday we will be able to do so.

Always when I talk about this God issue, some people tell me that I’m dumb because there are many unexplained things around us, and therefore God exists. Well, I definitely believe that there are many unexplained things around us, but what’s the connection between those things and God? I don’t see it. Let’s take just a simple example: the “recent” case of Ram Bahadur Bamjan (the “Buddha Boy”, from Nepal). Discovery Channel could not explain how he can keep alive after being completely immovable for days:

Another constant question: Is it possible that spirits or souls exist? Definitely. Actually, I think that when a person or an animal dies, part of their energies stays present around us and even talk to us or influence us. Can that be called soul? Yes, why not? Spiritism, Voodoo, Yoruba or Candomble are really amazing and powerful things and I do think that they are based on natural phenomena that can be perceived by many of us in different ways but still can’t be explained.

“I’ve got you!” many believers then tell me, “so, you believe in God!”. What the heck! Does that justify the existence of God? Of course not. If God(s) exist(s) just because we can’t explain something, then we are screwed: there is no reason then to look for new discoveries whatsoever. Penicillin? What for? Lets all gonna die at the age of 35 due to a group of stupid bacteria just to make our God(s) (and priests) happier!

Do you believe in God? Part I: Christian atheism.

I don’t, but I’m still a limited Christian atheist… Every time I say “I don’t believe in God” people get uncomfortable or astonished, “really?!?”. Some of them don’t say it but most of them look at me with this expression on their eyes and faces. Within my own family this became an issue some years ago, so I had to start saying that I believe in a special kind of God or an “Universal Energy” that only I understood. “Uff, that’s ok!!”, only then people see me as a “normal” human being.

“What if I’m wrong?” I prefer using Richard Dawkins’ South Park answer:

I use to say that I am a Christian atheist that doesn’t believe in God. How is that?!? Well, I found out I was a Christian when I lived in India, eleven years ago. India was a breakthrough in my life. I was raise in three types of schools in Rio de Janeiro: first a military school, then a Catholic and then a Jewish. Today, I realize how the three of them tried to make me believe in something.

The military school tried to make me believe that Brazil was a blessed land and we should die for it (we sang the national anthem every day). The Catholic school tried to make me afraid of God and convince me that only He could save my soul (we had to pray every time for forgiveness). The Jewish tried to make me believe that we should live with and protect “our” millenary community, understanding and respecting the traditions (there was symbolisms and get together for everything).

At the end, only in India I saw how deeply immersed in the Christian “way of living” I was. Hell, heaven, sin, forgiveness, an omnipresent God, engagement, marriage, family, saints, temples (churches) everywhere, Christian names, Christian places, etc… All these things are blended in our day-by-day tasks in the Western world (for practical purposes, let’s consider Australia and New Zealand Western worlds too). That is so deeply enrooted on us that we don’t even perceive it.

Indians respected that “limitation of mine”, living under a completely different set of values and beliefs: “Do you have only one God?!?”, some Indians would ask me, “that’s so sad!”. “Do you have only one life?!?”, again, “that’s so sad!”.

Wow! How could I prove to a regular Hindu Indian that we can’t have more than one life? That kharma and dharma don’t exist. Of course I couldn’t. Nobody can.

Indian Gods

Indian Gods

I have been reflecting on that ever since and few years ago I decided not to believe in any God, although I still consider myself a Christian cultured, locked in a Weberian Iron Cage, unfortunately limited and mentally constrained by its values and practices (like everybody else that believe in some sort superior being in this planet).

What about you?