I suspect from now on I can at best, blog once a month here, if not, once every 2 months. I guess that’a s good sign, that work is fun enough that I want to commit more time and energy to it.
I wonder if Singaporeans just don’t care – is it the system we live in that just doesn’t make us have regard for other people? One of my gut feelings has been that Singaporeans in general don’t really care for other people in the altruistic sense, and the process we’ve designed were not meant for altruism, but to guard against abuse. The implication of designing a system against abuse is that it can end up in a situation where people’s default towards one another becomes mistrust. And when trust frays, a lot of things become difficult.
Viewed in this sense, any multi-step bureaucracy that requires verification is a form of mistrust. Some of it may be justifiable for the sake of accountability, but too many hoops in the way and people give up. To say that, “we need to balance between accountability and efficiency” sets up a bad dichotomy. In my own prejudiced view, there is only integrity, and the trust that people will do the right thing in the overwhelming majority of the time. Most of the time, mistrust-based processes spoils good intentions. How processes are designed, and the default assumptions built in can have long-lasting implications for the health of the system.
I suspect there’s a lot to mine from this way of thinking. This discussion on integrity, mistrust and social values in general is against the grain of talking about policies in terms of incentives and punishments that have been the norm in many of our institutions – public AND private institutions. We assume that prices are the only thing that people respond to, although marketers have also been wildly successful in triggering the emotional-status parts of the brain. I hear the government is going to have another round of fiscal incentives for “procreation”. Maybe the conversations should be away from those incentives (as important as they are) but use other points of entry in an oblique way – having firm anti-discriminatory laws, improve workplace culture, give people the cultural and personal spaces to pursue what they love, instead of constantly pressing the incentive/punish buttons.
Lately I have been re-reading Wired for War. Before that I had been reading a whole range of topics on the subject of neuroscience, emotional development, human psychology and the like.
Research in neuroscience and development psychological has led me to think about the outsized role that early childhood development has on the constitution of the person in adulthood.
The mother remains the emotional centre of the young child during the formational years. These are the years where the individual begins to learn to feel secure to the adults around him/her. Developmental events during this time creates the foundation for either a secure adult, or an anxiety adult.
Adolescence is another period, where the individual begins to form their own unique identity. The source of identity during this period builds on the foundation of emotional stability established in the earlier periods of life.
Why does all of these matter? These micro-psychologies matter because the emotional stability of individuals are the foundation for the kinds of societies we become. The emotional fabric we weave as children become the foundation of the kinds of adults we become. A society of anxious, inwardly-insecure people can drive people towards the pursuit of material outcomes at the expense of other good and important things in life. I wonder about the link between psychological insecurity and outwardly behavioral trends – I wonder if a real link exists. The correlation is tantalizing – that insecure people would want to attach themselves to outwardly tangible things, such as fashion and material wealth.
The attachment to physical things becomes a sign of weakness. Not being able to feel secure with their own existence, people latch onto things they can have a firm hold on. Material objects acquire this is importance – having property, having the latest gadgets, or having status symbols. This is to signal to others who they belong to – they belong to the future, they have the capability and capacity to obtain these items of the future that others can’t have yet. Individuals who are secure on the other hand, would not require these external objects as validation, if the logic follows. Individuals who are inwardly secure can tap into their rich inner lives for the security, even for extroverted people.
How does this affect governance? Any organization becomes a source of emotional attachment, and so it matters for individuals the kinds of cultures that people get attached to. A country is a sum of its various organizations be they private or public, be they religious or secular. The kinds of emotional attachments that people form to these organizations matter, because these attachments also form the bases for their interaction with other organizations.
Lest this view become too reductionistic, I want to avoid this by recognizing that every level of interactions has its own dynamic. The interactions of individuals within the organization would differ from the interactions that organizations have with one another. Nonetheless, the state continues to have a massive role in setting the context for the kinds of interactions that different institutions will have with one another.
Theories of emotions, psychology and neuroscience matter nonetheless because all abstractions aside, individuals will determine how those interactions are shaped, not organizations in the abstract. The quality of relationships between and within organizations is the quality of the individuals and their communicative power.
On a larger scale, these notions of emotional and psychological attachments form the bases for notions of security and defense, be they from a physical, or psychological perspective. At its heart, warfare remains a psychological tool – a tool to dissuade or destroy the will of a potential adversary to wage war. The means of warfare – the tanks, ships, aircraft and missiles are instruments of that will. The interplay between will and means drives the security dynamic. The characteristics of the will is the centre of focus – and it is in this respect that more attention is paid to the psychological and neurological foundations in the analysis of conflict. This interface is where the mashing between Brooks and Singer becomes useful. The psychological and emotional health of the population that’s both the target and the perpetuators of war becomes important. Only on this foundation can the debates about the development and deployment of technologies can be meaningful. In essence, the question becomes – what does the development of robotics and networked-operations say about the emotional and psychological health of the society? The reverse question is also meaningful – how does emotional and psychological health support/advance/resist/dissuade the development and deployment of technologies in warfare?
Would the world be safer is it had more self-secure individuals? Yes. Without the need for external attachment, the pursuit of material wealth would be diminished greatly. And without that, the need for natural resources, the associated degradation of the environment and the cost to human welfare would also be greatly diminished. Without the insecurities would also greatly diminish the impact of charismatic leaders tending towards destruction.