The New Saipan, Part 3: What price progress?
The New Saipan, Part 3: What price progress?
The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
All in the name of progress
As Saipan embraces, or braces for the changes that are upon it, many people will offer solutions for how to emerge prosperously from these times. All of these solutions will be suggested in the name of progress. At the same time, each potential solution will spark debate as to which is correct and most effective. The rhetoric and reasons coming from both or more sides of the debate will seem at times sane and insane, effective and ineffective, appropriate and inappropriate. People will find themselves understandably confused. Here are some thoughts to help clear up the confusion.
Progress vs profit
In understanding the debates, it’s important not to confuse progress with profit. The two are not synonymous. There is a tendency to equate them and interpret the accumulation of profit as evidence that one is progressing, and nothing could be further from the truth. Allowing business to profit does not automatically constitute progress.
This is so because everyone has a unique idea of what constitutes "progress." There is nothing inherently better about the westernization of the Pacific region. Those who suggest, for instance, that a landscape littered with Starbucks is a good idea have an underlying conviction that such ideas of high-priced coffee lattes and microwaved, mass-produced fast-food is a desirable thing. My vision of progress may differ from yours.
The yardstick of progress
Before we can assess whether an idea truly aids in our progress, therefore, we must agree upon a definition of progress so we can:
1. formulate an opinion about whether we are in favor of a particular idea
2. take control over the direction we’d like things to go.
In a previous column entitled “The 10 Commandments of Paradise*,” I offered the following:
In the pursuit of progress, we must find solutions and make choices that ensure our survival, sustain our environment, honor our traditions, conserve our resources, respect our culture and preserve the right and ability of every generation to enjoy their lives in a natural environment in the same or better condition as that of the previous generation.
I can’t decide for you how progress looks, but once we do decide, then we need a yardstick for measuring it. To formulate a yardstick of progress, it is necessary to have and be clear on an agenda. And, make no mistake about it, behind every solution, there’s ALWAYS an agenda.
There’s always an agenda
The word “agenda” has come to be associated with the term "hidden agenda" (i.e. ulterior motive) and therefore, often has a negative connotation. However, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having an agenda. Furthermore, it’s only natural that one’s agenda is going to be in one’s self-interest or the self-interest of one’s family, group, country or the ideals one holds dear.
If I’m dating a contract worker, for example, then I may support less strict immigration laws. If I’m in favor of indigenous rights then I may support 55-year leases rather than outright land ownership. If I’m a foreign investor with no identification with Pacific Island culture, then I may favor seeing Starbucks and Wal-Marts all over the world. Or if I’m a hotel owner, then I may support casino gambling as a way to enrich my own, my company’s, my family’s or my nation’s coffers.
Remember, then, that there are no right answers to the questions of "progress." There are only opinions and ideas for solutions based on individual agendas. Casino gambling is neither right nor wrong. It is simply an idea proposed by those with certain agendas. Article 12 is neither right nor wrong. It’s an idea based on a particular agenda. Whether you support or oppose a particular idea is determined by whether you have the same agenda, or believe it supports or opposes your agenda.
In a discussion about progress, therefore, what sets people apart are not their stated goals and agendas (because everyone says they are in favor of economic revitalization), but what matters is their awareness of, assessment of, and actions in light of the consequences of their ideas. It would be safe to say that the debate is not whether casinos can generate money—we know they can—it’s a question of whether we see eye to eye on the additional consequences of casino gambling on the community.
So, there are no right or wrong answers for the CNMI, only agendas that lead in one direction or another. The key, therefore, to clear up the confusion is to look beyond the idea as being a good idea or bad one, and become extremely clear about what YOUR agenda is. Everything that is suggested as an idea will then be filtered through your own lens and it becomes increasingly difficult to be hoodwinked in a debate.
Three-way test to form an opinion
There are a few questions you might ask to understand, interpret, and assess the ideas that you will encounter as the New Saipan is being created:
- Do we share the same agenda? (i.e. what is your agenda?)
- What are the consequences of this idea?
- Does your idea in fact support my agenda?
So, why is all of this important? Because without a clear agenda, you may miss the significance of what’s at stake with each new idea that you, others, or the nation as a whole chooses.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Chicken kelaguen vs pizza
Consider the following question: What happens on a certain little Pacific island when pizza becomes more popular than Chicken Kelaguen?
Business is a tool of culture. Television is a tool of culture. So too are music, entertainment, clothing and food. In choosing one business idea over another, you are indirectly inviting and supporting the culture behind that idea. At the risk of oversimplifying, and of creating yet more "sides" to the debate, I see the various proposed solutions falling into two camps:
Camp 1: Profit first
Camp 2: Culture first
The “Profit First” camp sees economic revitalization in terms of an influx of dollars. The “culture first” camp values—among other things—the sustainable utilization of natural resources, true national self-sufficiency and recognizes the value of local culture as important to be included in the mix.
People go to Jamaica for the Jamaican experience. Musicians will fly from all over the world to record their music in Jamaican recording studios. People go to Brazil for the Brazilian experience. The same is true for France, Egypt and any other location with a unique culture and experience.
In the absence of a uniquely Saipan experience of food, culture, and entertainment, then perhaps, as some have suggested, it is best to mimic and offer another’s culture as the thing of value for which people come.
Those who see Saipan as just a little piece of America will differ in their opinions from those who see Saipan, Tinian and Rota as culturally unique with inherent value to offer the world.
So, the question What happens when pizza becomes more popular than Chicken Kelaguen? is asking “what happens when a dominant society imposes its culture in the form of business ideas which promote specific concepts of entertainment, language, lifestyle and food?” The answer is: You lose your claim to a unique culture. There is nothing to be ashamed of by choosing prosperity, but at the same time choosing the preservation of culture, natural resources, control, self-sufficiency and ownership as your yardstick for progress. The challenge, as I see it, is how to survive in a capitalistic paradigm, which requires a certain amount of willing participation, while preserving the native value and sovereignty that exists.
How to create the changes you wish to see
So once we establish that we have different agendas, then there’s no need for me to convince you of the superiority of my agenda over yours. We can simply agree to disagree.
Once we establish that the business ideas that are being offered fall into two camps, with loss of sovereignty, culture and control as a possible consequence, then our next step is clear: action. I invite action, not debate. For what’s more important in a capitalistic free market system is not who wins the debate of ideas, but who is first to market with their idea.
"While the debates rage,
the capitalists steal the stage."
While the idealists strive to name
the capitalists steal the game
It’s extremely important, therefore, that those who share an agenda move with all deliberate speed to set things up to take the stage and cause a shift in the tide of the game. And just like in a chess game, where each side is making moves in their own interests, the key is to position your pieces on the board and move them towards the fulfillment of your agenda. Fight the right battle. While others are waging the fight on the political front, there are already others making moves to fulfill their own agendas and create the New Saipan. You must do the same. Some tides are affected by laws, some are affected by business.
I encourage those with a different vision of progress to participate in the development of the New Saipan by supporting and launching businesses that support your vision and your agenda.
Wouldn’t it be nice if one entrepreneur who shares the "culture first" agenda started a coconut oil processing plant to offer an alternative to diesel fuel? What if it became successful, and others followed? Soon, it would be seen as a viable solution, and then even those with opposing agendas would join the bandwagon. Sure there may be obstacles to getting such an industry launched, but all things being equal, the free market system generally ensures that viable business ideas have a fighting chance.
And you know what the best part is? You don’t need anyone to pass a law to allow you to start a business. That freedom is already in place. It’s called the American way. Others are using that freedom to launch businesses that support their agendas. You must do the same.
With that said, let’s move forward to launch businesses that respect the 10 Commandments of Paradise.* Over the next several months, with your help, the New Saipan Action Tank will be implementing business ideas with that goal in mind.
To learn more about all this, tune in this Friday at 7am on KZMI-FM for Island Issues with Harry Blalock!
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And for previous articles in the New Saipan series, search “Walt Goodridge” on www.saipantribune.com, or visit NewSaipan.com for links to these articles:
The Only Viable Strategy for Economic Growth
The 10 Commandments of Paradise
Branding a Nation Part 1: Saipan Economic Forecast
Branding a Nation Part 2: Blog Your Way to Better Times
Branding a Nation 3: The Master Plan Revealed
The New Saipan Parts 1 & 2: What Can We Do?
The New Saipan, Part 3: What Price Progress?, and
The Great Sheep Uprising
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Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!