Everything is not what it seems…

What prompted me to write this post was an eye-opening experience at a local food alley a few months ago. While ordering a noodle soup from my favourite Chinese food stall I could not help but to notice a long queue in front of the sushi bar. It struck me that there were people lining up for sushi most times I popped in to get my noodles. The noodle place never had a queue so I instinctively thought that there must be something special about the sushi if punters are crowding to be served there.

I then shared my insight with the noodle bar owner who laughed and said “they are just inefficient”. His argument was robust and convincing. The sushi bar had useless customer service and people had to wait to be served while the noodle soup was ready almost instantly. The noodle man had the trays, bowls and spoons all lined up and a pot of stock parked on the stove. He only had to chop up the meat to serve his customers which is why no one had to queue. The sushi rolls on the other hand were made to order by one tired-looking sushi master so the customers had to wait much longer. I apologetically praised the noodle man’s resourcefulness and collected my bowl.

This trivial event made me think of other instances when my first impressions turned out to be wrong and there was another layer of truth waiting to be revealed. I managed to come up with enough examples to fill a blog post so here we go.

We all know that video games make kids violent. The way it works is quite obvious – a child indulging in violence on a computer screen is more likely to be aggressive in the real life. This is what various NGO’s have been telling us for years so the issue must be settled. If this is what you believe I have news for you. The issue is far from clear cut and a lot of research shows no link whatsoever between playing violent video games and exhibiting anti-social behaviour in real life. It also looks like the research pointing to this link does not actually prove that playing computer games leads to violence but merely that aggressive people are more likely to choose violent games to play. You can find extensive coverage of the subject on Wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_controversies

so I will just focus on the alternative theory which made me reconsider the mainstream view. It sounds very convincing (particularly when claimed by child psychologists) that watching and perpetrating virtual violence leads to violent behaviour but let us have a fresh look at the issue from a different perspective. What is wrong with a theory that acting violently in the virtual world actually harmlessly relieves the natural aggressive tendencies children may have? Instead of clobbering their school mates they are fragging pictorial representations of bad guys on a computer screen. Unless you have already made up your mind on the issue this radical idea is worth a look. The truth is out there to be uncovered through a study of what goes on in the real life. Satisfying as the mainstream “games lead to violence” theory is it may be completely wrong. As may be the alternative “games relieve aggression” theory – in fact any theory is but a hindrance to direct observation.

The third example was mentioned on da-boss before but is so enlightening that I will wheel it in again. While doing research for the post on Africa I was profoundly shocked to learn about the unintended consequences of the Western government aid pumped into the likes of Burkina Faso or Chad. My intuitive feeling was that this form of aid was not very efficient but I had no idea it actually destroys the African economies. The mechanism is very simple – the big money transferred to Africa causes inflation and kills the local industries. For example by dumping millions of Chinese mosquito nets we are putting the local net makers out of business. How can they commercially compete with a free product delivered by planes from overseas?

But it gets much worse – the government aid directly leads to political instability and creates enormous suffering in Africa. For some countries foreign aid is the main source of income. Anyone who can engineer an armed takeover gets access to this manna from heaven and becomes an instant millionaire. There were more coups in Africa in 1980s and 1990s than in the rest of the World combined. Did you realise that by dishing out billions in aid we are setting off a chain of events culminating in the gangs of armed thugs in utes chasing one another on the dusty roads of Sahel, raping women and killing villagers?

So if you think that, by definition, aid has got to be good – everything is not what it seems…

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