Thursday, August 6, 2009

Needed: Social Engineering?

You will recall Mwalimu's summation for what we need for development: watu, ardhi, siasa safi na uongozi bora - people, land, proper ideology and good leadership. I was thinking about the simplicity and the idealism in this summation. But, you will notice that in these four "necessities" for development, only two are prefixed by adjectives (uongozi bora - good leadership; and siasa safi - proper ideology). These four necessities I think are still relevant. We can replace "proper ideology" with "proper vision", we can see "land" as indicating "resources" in general terms. The point about good leadership has been amply dealt with here. Let us talk about people now. I think that we need, not just people, but good people: honest, hardworking, law-abiding, and thrifty.

But people, in their "natural occurrence", cannot be the agents, the manifest or rather the end of development, and certainly cannot act as a community and for the collective good of the community. So, socialisation - to get the "good people" - is needed. The development of man himself - his attitude, his psyche, his character - is critical before we expect him to be an agent of development or before we think of him as the end of development.

Enter the idea of social engineering. I came across this concept a while ago, in school in fact, but never so much explored it. In thinking about some of the contributions in this blog, and in imagining solutions to what many point as moral decadence in our society (which breeds corruption, dishonesty, fatalism, etc.), I thought about social engineering. The definition from wikipedia refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups.

The Cultural Revolution in China from 1966, in which the language, arts, culture and indeed the Chinese national identity was reconceptualised, was in fact an exercise in social engineering. It was sort of a middle-course correction to anchor the 1949 Revolution as a reference point for the modern China's social and political life. About two decades after what was essentially a peasant Revolution, they were beginning to see decadence and corruption. The idea was to entrench a new Chinese social outlook. We also know that after the overthrow of Czar in Russia, the Bolsheviks sought to create a new identity for the Russian people, indeed creating "a new Soviet man", as the campaign was called, with fundamentally different ideals.

Now, come to think of it, our own Azimio la Arusha (Arusha Declaration), Vijiji vya Ujamaa, compulsory National Service, and so on, were exercises in social engineering. To some of my friends, we are what we are as a nation, the good and the bad, because of the collective impact of these initiatives and many other state social experiments. Of course, after the colonial rule, which also engaged in its own social engineering to get the natives to acquiesce to, or at least live with, subjugation, social engineering was necessary in an effort to build a new nation. But these social engineering initiatives were undertaken in the context of a certain era in global political and economic alignment. That era has ended, we have embraced a different socio-economic philosophy but still haven't undertaken to undo the psyche developed by the socialisation of that era.

Now, do we have to undo it or are we okay and this is not an issue? If we do, what kind of social engineering interventions that would create "a new Tanzanian man" with a new ethical outlook? Obviously, the kind of social engineering that can take place is limited by the prevailing political dispensation. Democracy, and whole panoply of activists, limits the kinds of interventions one can undertake. Authoritarian regimes - for better or for worse - have more room to undertake extensive social engineering initiatives. Of course authoritarianism is not option. Political scientists talk about "democratic social reconstruction" in which it is possible to transform outlooks and attitudes in the frame of a democratic dispensation. But there has to be a consensus on the ingredients of an ideal society we all want to build. This is one of our challenge.


Anonymous said...

I think that when he said "watu" he meant - people or rather citizens as a human capital. If you have good governance or as you said "good leadership", people will follow, participate, get envolved, be part of development. Therefore, people + Land ( resources)+ Vision + good governance = Development. While countries developed because of good governance, visionary leadership, and others are still underdeveloped because of their lack of--. In the same token, there is no country which is underdeveloped due to lack of "good people". In a matter of facts, bad governance and lack of vision , have changed people into "bad people" (the opposite of ur definition of "good people). Therefore, since we have people and resources - which can be transformed into development, the big question still remains with the visionary and good leadership!

January Makamba said...

I take your point. But, my understanding is that "human capital" means healthy and educated people, and certainly has to be developed. That human capital development is part of the development process. It is both a means, a "necessity", and an end of development.

I take issue with the notion that "there is no which is underdeveloped due to lack of "good people".

Certainly, you will be hard pressed to find single-factor cause of underdevelopment. So, you are right, "bad people" alone do not cause underdevelopment. But, you will have to look hard to find prosperity amidst laziness, dishonesty and general moral decadence.

I do not want to overplay the role of ethics in development but I think you will agree with me that one of the basic foundations of modern capitalist economy is trust. If there can be no trust in the society, where everyone is a cheat, forget about development.

So, "human capital" provides a narrow definition. It implies the healthy and the educated but not the morally upright. And I think this is where economics comes short.

Anyway, corrupt people are "bad people". And you cannot tell me that that has no implication for development.

Anonymous said...

Bringing a vision Subject, thats what we owe to look at it, right now, Nyerere VISION of our nation was a good one in principals(paper), but at the same time set a bad precedence for what WE HAVE NOW!(chaotic leadership), It set a perfect grounds for breeding the wrong species, which he failed to overseen, and in matter of facts we are the effects of that, including our current leadership, and whats on our every day discussions about the future of this country.

But, at the same time, I wish we could have Nyerere types of persona and attitudes, but moving our country to a right/Correct direction by listening to people, building a clear vision, where Mwalimu lost grounds, and I personally believe that, Politics plays a big part in assisting in transforming our country, my conviction on this subject is that, we need NYERERE types who will intimately play that role, by reversing the effects of the old, and bring a new fresh outlook all together of what we want to be from moral, cultural perspectives to a general skeleton of what we are as a nation in economic and political outlook, which in my thoughts, will be unfair for me to speculate or write a point or two on single subjects. We need individual of a character and endurance that who is very persistance on his messages with conviction and stand a ground, just like our late father, BUT A VERY GOOD LISTENER would be one of that characteristics, and if those changes would need to temporarily alter our political system, then let that be the case, but that leader would need a blue print to work on, and where it brings to this conclusion.

This subject needs a convergence of political gurus, religious leaders, economists and etc, who would seriously lock horns and discuss this subject in details and come out with at least a sort of blue print of what we owe to be, from all aspects of life as individual and nation, and we can all play by that rule. Politics would become an enhancer and playing fields of how best to play by the rule set out on that blue print.

By Mchangiaji

Anonymous said...

Indeed TRUST and development or
capitalism are inextricably
connected, one can not have one
without the other. At times the
maxim - “two heads are better than
one” makes sense until one find out
that the two heads are dirty. So
TRUST and development, yes.

The issue of VISION seems to be
EVERYTHING (i.e. job one), if a
vision is simple enough to
understand; concrete, strong, and
compelling so that it penetrates as
many souls and minds as possible then
strategies, concepts, ideas,
goals,... and the rest become details
that can be worked out 'bila jasho'.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your points. I think that trying to define "good people" and "bad people" will do a deservice to your good points ! when i said not country underdeveloped because bad people - i meant regular citizens! Therefore, to me corruption is due to bad leadership, who happens to be bad people too but beyond my definition of "bad people"- that's what i meant in short.

Current leadership had nothing to do with Nyerere. Nyerere did his part, if you ask me, there is no single leader (in the world), what did what he did to Africa as a continent and of course Tanzania in particular as a president. In terms of economy (which people blame him for), he did not have a team to support him ! If he did, Tanzania would have been a model for socialism. Unfortunately his team let him down !

Anonymous said...

Davos Annual Meeting 2005 - Funding the War on Poverty

Sorry January, this is out of topic, but I thought it will be of interest for all of us, in particular of very interest to Iddy!lol!, speakers Mkapa, Gordon Brown, Bill Gates, President lula and others...

Mkapa give an answer to moderator question almost at 3-4th min... and at 32min, be warned he get very emotional, agitated and you name it....He is very angry man!, African style!, but in fairness he talked sense, I dont know if that is genuine or just a facebook on world stage. But I tell you what he get $60,000 for that.

Watch it here

By Mchangiaji

Thuwein said...

Eeh--this is very intriguing post and looking into it from scientific point of view is extremely controversial as well. The notion of "soviet man" who would fit their development ideals or those of Europe's, and United State's on 20s and 30s in a grand scheme has been the work of massive Eugenics which was wildly popular back then. As controversy of topic as it is--it has largely contributed to social engineering and creation of a "smarter middle class society" in those countries and the generations after that. Now, I am not suggesting that I'm an advocate of Eugenics but I think if we are going to talk about Social engineering I had to bring that topic up.

Soviets and Germans were obsessed with geniuses and practiced both positive and negative eugenics for years to improve their societies. That had to have an impact on "psyche" of the nation.

Aidan said...

Sometimes a name can be a powerful motivator of social engineering. The name 'Burkina Faso' means 'the land of the upright people' and I don't think it refers to their physical stature. So even if they are not all (or even a large majority) innately moral people, the name itself offers a powerful vision to aspire to (by the way, it used to be called by the morally inert name of Upper Volta!).
January, your catalytic post is on the mark, but I think it is also somewhat timid. You say ‘authoritarianism is not an option.’ Why not? Tanzania’s constitution legally empowers the President with tremendous, almost dictatorial and authoritarian powers. The president can, in all legality engage in some very tough, non-consensual social engineering if he (or she) so wishes. Grand corruption, for example, be swiftly engineered out of our system if due process is suspended (for this crime alone) in the broader interests of the country.
You also say, ‘but there has to be a consensus on the ingredients of an ideal society we all want to build.’ I would argue, in a social engineering mode, that we only need ‘consensus’ on the end result, not the means. Surely one of the functions of the executive is to deliver that end result (or at a minimum demonstrate indisputable movement toward that end result).
Social engineering requires boldness of vision and action. Just do it!