Saturday, January 29, 2011

Practical Wisdom

I came across this TED video by accident the other day. It suddenly seemed to give an answer somehow to a question I have been struggling with a lot in recent months. That's certainly ever since I found out thru hearsay and TV reports about the abuses and corruption taking place regularly (and not exceptionally) in my fatherland, where almost all citizens seem to have lost confidence and trust in their central governing authorities, albeit democratically elected.

The question is the following. What does it take to do the right thing? When elected politicians take seat in positions of central authority in a state with neither sufficient nor effective checks and balances, how can you trust that the leaders will do the right thing? In other words, that they'll make decisions aiming at the common good for all citizens, and not favoring a particular point of view or third party based on personal (financial or otherwise) or (future) political gains (like vote promises). In Greece right now only a handful among common citizens believe that any given politician and/or agent of central authority (eg. the bureaucrat civil servants acting behind a web of regulations and laws of immense complexity) are any truthful or just. Almost everybody is convinced that politicians and civil servants are corrupt in various shades of gray and that every central decision made is unfair and has multiple (financial or otherwise) beneficiaries all the way from the top to the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid. How can you go on living a normal life under a regime like that, please tell me.

Schwartz rightly claims that adding more rules and incentives to a system in order to increase fairness and ensure justice never solves the problem. Like water (or air for that matter) so 'capable' of 'finding a crack' to escape (or leak), such is the skill of any given human in a position of authority to find blind spots and bypass regulations, old or new ones. If those with authority are unwise and/or corrupt, then there is no way one can ever trust central authority. One needs something else to make sure justice is done. Schwartz offers a number of great examples to prove this point. The panacea is something known as 'practical wisdom' (phronesis in Greek).

This is the kind of thing that is extremely hard to find these days among Greek politicians and civil servants, let alone most managers and entrepreneurs running private companies. Ironically, it is equally extremely odd to think that Greece is also the country that brought up the man who developed the theory behind these wise concepts, already 2400 years ago, namely Aristotle. None of that is ever taught in any class of modern Greek schools anymore, with possible exception, I suppose, few specialized classes in philosophy and alike. A good friend from back home, whom I pointed to the Schwartz pitch @ TED, said in despair 'I feel so bad that none of that was ever shown to me'. I feel kinda like the same.

In the Greek news bulletin today I heard something that made me smile, bitterly! Greek PM Papandreou mentioned publicly that the nation's credibility is gaining extra browny points among other EU partners. He must be really lying in his face saying something like that, or he must otherwise be brain-dead! What can I say? I'd like to know one single example of improvement that would make anyone in the Brussels based Eurocracy believe that Greeks now deserve to be more trusted than before. Is it because they don't burn down the house anymore in street riots? C'm on... get a life, dude!

Back to basics is actually what they really need. In order to get out of its current misery our entire nation needs to find ways and learn to cherish and live by the concept of practical wisdom. To always do the right thing not because there is risk to get caught and punished if you do wrong, but because doing the right thing is a fundamental law of natural order that will guarantee happiness and prosperity for all. There you have it... "you may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one..."

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