Thursday, March 05, 2015

Flawed Model

Belief systems are models of the world. The world is awe inspiring and majestically complicated. We grasp at it in our different flavours of thought and culture helps us put together a way of responding. Culture is constructed to help us. Based on our chosen model.

But we aren't our culture and our beliefs are just a model. Models are useful mainly as a tool to help us think and understand our responses. In investing, a model of a businesses financial statements and prospects can grow more a more complicated as you add assumptions. What if this happened? How would it affect the business? What would the knock on effects be? Building the model is useful. Excessive trust in the model at the end less so. Reliable results and predictions can make you less prepared for the cases it is wrong which may have profound effect. Look up the story of 'Long Term Capital Management'.

I think the same is true of cultures. We have to be quite brutal though in not believing that something we have based our lives on defines us. I was just a little guy at the tail end of Apartheid. I can remember learning to put the old South African flag together at cub scouts. It was only around age 10 when Mandela was released and I started understanding some of my parents grumblings that I figured out something was really odd about a life where the only people who didn't look and sound like me were servants. I heard of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika as an additional national anthem of our country. The anthem of the excluded. Then Mandela did something profound. He didn't say I am along side those who sing 'Die Stem'. He said I am those who sing 'Die Stem'. I am a Springbok. This broke a model. It said there was a better one. It was a gift that asked the same. I became very proudly South African. Proud of Shaka. Proud of Rachel De Beer. Proud even of the complicated legacy of Rhodes. In saying I am South African you accepted the good and the bad and worked on creating a new model.

I became wary of 'South African' pride after the Xenophobic attacks on 2008. I am busy reading a tale about the treatment of Somali refugees in South Africa - 'A Man of Good Hope' . In the UK where I have been living there are also rumblings about immigrants. Last night I watched with a sense of historic embarrassment 'The Imitation Game'. Amongst thousands of others, we lost one of the best minds the world has had to our homophobia. Cringe worthy. Xenophobia makes me cringe in the same way. I think the only way to respond is to say I am Somali. I am Maori. I am Aborigine. I am Zulu. I am Afrikaans. I am British. I am South African. I am American. I am Chinese. Each time you engage a culture, it is not a case of engaging an other, it is a case of engaging yourself.

We have found flaws in our model of national pride. Let's build a new one. 
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