e-DREAM SERIES - Instalment 3: What factors are major driving forces for e-Democracy? PART II
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
CONTINUED FROM INSTALMENT 2
Degree of Diversity
As I wrote in the above-linked piece, where the degree of diversity isn't high enough, you can't expect the people to use an innovative technology in an innovative way. This is especially true with "disruptive" technologies such as the one that has made the World Wide Web available to everyone on this side of the digital divide. Here, I will discuss diversity from that perspective.
Without doubt, the Americans are the champions in terms of racial diversity. They have almost looked obsessed with it in the last four decades. Their nation is often referred to as a racial melting pot. But just looking like one is not enough for a society to move on to an entirely new breed of socio-political system. It's cultural diversity that gives real impetus for the e-shift.
Let us face the fact that there always is the rule of chemistry governing the racial mix, or any collaboration among people from different backgrounds or with different traits. If you use a wrong recipe, as the Americans tend to do, you will possibly end up in a chaotic situation before they can bring their respective virtues together. I think that's how the Americans have failed to bring about a genuinely diverse society where people from all walks of life can cooperate with each other, instead of just "tolerate" each other.
To make the situation even worse for the American people, their obsession with diversity mostly stems from their sense of indebtedness toward the descendants of slaves and other victims of their past colonialism. When I say race doesn't matter, I simply mean race doesn't matter. But most white Americans hear me saying black or yellow people should be respected, as if these minority groups of people automatically deserve their respect just because they are black, or yellow. In such a self-deprecating way, they are destined to let another American century slip away very soon because obligatory tolerance and redemptive respect don't help much in the face of the enormous challenge before us today. In a fallout of this climate, we have seen the white and stupid movie director making a fortune from his book, "Stupid White Men."
In short, the Americans today are no longer the real champions of diversity. I used to admire them for their respect of differences. But not anymore. They are not only pursuing diversity in the wrong way, but also going so far as to elevate their obsession into a new religion, while what is badly needed is a new science to be called something like Social Chemistry that answers the most relevant questions of the times - how to network a wide variety of people and how to synergize their personal endeavors into one big momentum for social change. This constitues the formidable challenge facing the people of the U.S. today.
Despite the apparent failure in the American experiment, people still take it for granted that wherever "the West meets the East," something great that couldn't be expected otherwise, is brought to fruition. I'm afraid they are wrong, most of the time. When I was overseeing the entire administration at the Japanese subsidiary of a Swiss company, I had to summon my people to a meeting every time the inhouse software engineers delivered a goofy system to the "user department". Before the business-illiterate systems engineers and the systems-illiterate user representatives, I told them of my own empirical rule, which I named "Yamamoto's Multiplication Theory." The Power Point slide I showed them simply read: "Equation that doesn't apply here: 0.5 + 0.5 = 1.0, Equation that applies everywhere: 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25."
If you have ever been in business, it must be all too familiar to you why and how sloppy computer programs are created so often. The cause is always twofold. On the one hand, the user can seldom present the other side with a specification that makes a business sense just because he lacks analytical mind. On the other, the user requirement is too halfboiled for the programmer, whose brain is often filled with what we called "spaghetti," to translate into the computer code that makes a logical sense. That's why a multiplication, rather than an addition, is at work most of the time in real life.
The same equation holds true with any transcultural interchange or cross-racial collaboration, as well. More often than not it's something like an unsuccessful crossbreeding where the "recessive gene" is inherited from one generation to the next. One unfortunate example of such birth defects out of the wrong crosscultural marriage is the China's communist regime which came into being when Mao Zedong "met" Karl Marx.
Despite the chasm apparently lying between the French and the Americans, the path France has taken since the decolonization of Algeria in 1962 is quite similar to the trajectory followed by the U.S. since its 1975 defeat in the Vietnam War. So what I have said of the Americans is more or less true with the French. Diversity being promoted based on a wrong recipe has been diluting the virtue of the French culture which was once there.
In stark contrast to the two countries, the xenophobic Japan has long been stuck in a myth of homogeneity. Worse, these people never admit to the indisputable fact that all the calamities inflicted on them in the past (e.g., the nuclear apocalypses of 1945), and even today, are by and large attributable to the pathological obsession with sameness. Although it's a waste of time to further discuss diversity issue about these neotenized and mentally lazy people, I'll come back paragraphs later to this country only to highlight how far Singapore outshines the world's second largest economy in terms of maturity of citizenry, something to be measured by the levels of diversity and synergy.
The Swiss are a strange species. Confoederatio Helvetica is definitely one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. And yet its culture is as monolithic as Japan's with the conformist way of thinking prevailing everywhere. I am not talking about things like a variety of ethnic garments people are wearing in its German-speaking, Italian-speaking, French-speaking and Romansh-speaking regions.
At a certain point in time when I was working for the Swiss company I mentioned earlier, a Swiss executive known for his typically Swiss, pushy and tricky management style was installed on top of my head. When he declared that he was going to reshape my organization so everyone would share the same "vector", I retorted: "I don't want to work for a communist manager like yourself." That marked the beginning of constant decline of my career with the Swiss employer, and more importantly, of the ultimate ruin of that company. This is why I don't believe these people can find their way to stay abreast of the Internet era.
Unlike the conservative Alpine country, the seagirt city-state of Singapore is quite diverse both racially and culturally. The Chinese dominance is obvious there, especially in the political arena, with their headcount accounting for 76.8% of the entire population. This dwarfs the numbers of the Malays and the ethnic Indians which stand at 13.9% and 7.9% respectively. And yet when compared to other countries, the overall degree to which Singapore is diverse is on the high side. Among other things it's noteworthy that they are not only receptive of foreigners but also striving for more cultural diversity in an extraordinarily methodical way.
Take the NUS (National University of Singapore) for example. The university, especially its business school, has a generous, as well as sensible, scholarship program, along with the most innovative curricula, including classes they exchange on the Internet, or via the satellite, with the likes of the UCLA. Foreign students studying there account for a breathtaking 94% of the enrollees. The NUS obliges those who completed the MBA course on a scholarship to stay on in the country at least for seven more years. And during that period, a good part of the alumni opt to settle down in Singapore as innovative entrepreneurs. The NUS may not have a plan to develop a class on political modeling as yet but I'm certain their "plugged-in" policy to seek for diversity, coupled with synergy, will pay off in the long run.
By comparison, Japan, as closed a society as a nation can be, has now started to consider opening up its jobs market, though very slowly, to cope with the "problem" with the dwindling population. But indications thus far are that the only countermeasure the government will come up with is to invite foreigners, in a little greater number, who are willing to take up certain types of jobs which fall under "3K" occupations, where 3Ks stand for Kitanai (dirty), Kitsui (arduous), and Kiken-na (hazardous). This won't make any difference to the situation with immigrants where they have to put up with the humiliation of remaining second-class citizens no matter how hard they try to contribute to this society. The Japanese certainly know that diversity is the primary change agent. That's why they are so timid about unleashing the influx of quality people from outside of the archipelago. But when taking into account the fact that there were times when foreigners given jobs here were all prostitutes, the reclusive country is now taking a giant step forward - so they believe.
Size of Population
Needless to say, the smaller the population, the more agile the country can be in swerving into a new direction. In this respect, Switzerland and Singapore, whose populations are 7.2 million and 4.3 million respectively, are much better off than other nations in embarking on an epochal project for digital democracy.
On the other hand, I suspect that the U.S. might have difficulty carrying through its endeavor for e-governance because of its population, estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to have topped the 300 million mark by November 2006. In this context I think it would be more advisable for the Americans to start it off at the state level.
Here again, the Japanese are in a helpless position with its 127 million population. To aggravate the situation, the vast majority of them have been misled to believe the shrinking population should be the major source of concern. It never crosses their minds that a small population can be an asset, rather than a burden. Neither do they realize that the overall quality, not quantity, of people is the real issue now. In fact this nation has long been suffering from the endless drought in quality people.
But for now, let's make believe the number of people is at issue just for the argument's sake. Then, the natural questions to be asked would come down to these two: 1. Are we really shorthanded? and 2. How can we stem the downturn in population?
The answer to question 1 is a flat "No." Actually it's hard NOT to notice both private and public sectors are full of redundant manpower. As I observe the way things are unfolding in this nation these days, it's primarily because Japan is overpopulated that these undersized wimps have now started killing each other, killing themselves, and robbing each other of the limited financial resources.
Funny though it may seem, the lack of diversity plays a role, too, in making the workplace of Japan Inc. this overcrowded. When I was still working at the Swiss company, it was swimming in the pool of red ink in the wake of the burst of the bubble. At that time I had a lot of heated discussions with a Swiss boss of mine (a different person than the one I have already mentioned) over where to use the ax. It took me ten working lunches until I could convince him that we had to get rid of all the folks who couldn't produce value, regardless of whether they were loyal or disloyal to their employer, and regardless of their biological age, gender or ethnic background. Finally he had to say: "If you and I view things in the same way, either of us is redundant."
But afterward, he made an about-face on our agreement. He still wanted to retain those who I called "sycophants" at the cost of those who would have brought up new ideas if encouraged to do so. Our dispute took place in 1991. At that time the sturdy ex-sergeant of Swiss Army's tank unit had been living in Japan for more than 25 years. Maybe that's why he failed to realize the legendary lifetime employment system was no longer a winning formula.
Question 2 is totally invalid although it's one of the most popular items in the government's FAQs. As I have pointed out time and again, the Japanese people are very good at turning the causal relationship upside down. Even a western critic who echoed the same concern about the demographic "crisis" asked this question in his recent post on an online forum: "Does population decline inevitably sap vitality?" To these guys, AIDS causes HIV, not the other way around.
For all this misperception, on top of the burden of a large population, I think it's out of the question for the Japanese to move on to the only viable form of democracy in the e-era.
France is inhabited by about 65 million people today. This, alone, makes it twice as easy for the French people as for the Japanese to go for e-democracy. Besides, France is the nation, after all, that has always embraced new ideas, and thus, become the cradle of bold experiments such as the French Revolution (1789) and the Paris Commune (1871). So I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the French reach there before the Singaporeans do despite its obvious disadvantage of the lowest Internet penetration among the five countries I have juxtaposed in this piece. ·