Monday, July 07, 2008

A lack of ambition

Interesting post. mlq3 asks why few Filipinos reach top management positions in multi-national companies. He gets responses saying that we lack ambition, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He then relates this to cargo cult mentality and then mentions "gaming the system."

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Lack of ambition is generally bad. But the problem with being tagged "not ambitious enough" is when the people who judge us fail to realize that we want different things in life. It's not a matter of scaling lesser heights, it's a question of which mountain to climb. A Pinoy in the rat race who rises to a mid-level position in his forties might choose to stay there to spend more time with his family or pursuing his other dreams.

I have friends my age in the corporate world who plan to retire in 5 years to do consulting work or run a restaurant. It's not lack of ambition per se, we just have a different definition of achievement, as some of mlq3's commenters have pointed out.

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But I think he misses the point on cargo cults. Cargo cults are small, isolated tribes given aid by soldiers during world war 2. When the cargo failed to arrive (the war was over), they reconstructed landing strips, complete with bamboo air control towers, in an effort to replicate the initial circumstances. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Of course the aid never came but they never lost faith despite this.

The lesson we take from cargo cults is one of rationality. When a superstition doesn't work, stop doing it. When prayers don't get answered, the best explanation is because they don't. The sheer number of lucky charms and feng shui orientated buildings should've made our country prosperous but we're still stuck here without losing faith.

That's the cargo cult mentality we need to get rid of.

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Then he mentions "gaming the system," which is interesting. Defined as using the the rules of a system to for purposes outside what those rules were intended for, he concludes that gaming, not politics, is our national pastime. And I agree.

In colloquial Filipino we call it pagiging wais (wise) or pang-iisa (putting one over). It's goes beyond declaring your "home office" (i.e. a desk with a PC used mainly for porn and WoW) tax deductible. Quezon links to a blogger whose rich uncle uses his house help to buy rationed NFA rice, gaming the system para makalamang.

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Which brings us back to the cargo cult mentality.

Superstitious rituals meant to bring luck or, in the case of the cults, something more tangible like crates of rations, are simply means of gaming the system. They may not succeed like the house help scheme but the intention is there. I wouldn't be surprised if, deep down, most Pinoys think of praying to saints as a giant game of palakasan in heaven.

It's a "gaming the system" mentality when someone prays a novena to help them pass board exams. If one thinks about it, a board exam is supposed to test one's fitness to hold a certain profession. Bringing god in would, if you think about it, be cheating. I wouldn't want to be treated by a doctor whose sole reason for passing the medical boards is supernatural intervention; I want someone who succeeded on his own merits.

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Which brings us back to lack of ambition.

Most of us are happy with having god rig board exams or the lotto for us so we can get steady income.

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