The Sunday Leader

The “Perception” Business

By Blind Spot

In the distant past, the macro measures of many Asian and African countries and emerging nations were weak and dismal.  In many of those countries, economic growth was woefully stagnant; civil society was in turmoil; inflation was at runaway levels; law and order was in tatters; corruption was rampant; markets were in disarray; poverty was unacceptably high and unemployment was painfully widespread.  In short, many of those countries were in deep trouble.

Western countries, on the other hand, were enjoying good times and developing their countries while many of them were also exploiting the nations in Asia and Africa for their own ends.  In that scenario, the Western nations were perhaps under the illusion that they would be the superior nations of the world, forever.

However, after over 60 years since the end of World War II, and after many of the African and Asian countries have enjoyed more than five decades of freedom, and after China and Russia had undergone an amazing economic and social renaissance, there has been, since of late, a visible and tangible change taking place in Asian and African countries. Accordingly, over the past few years, almost all Asian countries and many African countries have been improving their economies; reducing their poverty levels; enhancing their health and education systems; beautifying their cities; and gradually moving their countries to higher levels, thus raising the hopes of billions of their citizens.  As a result, a discernible shift in the global fortunes and trends has been visible.

But alas, whilst many rejoiced at this good fortune of emerging nations, it was getting quite obvious that some of the Western nations did not find this paradigm shift palatable, and were doing their utmost to thwart this progress. The discomfort of the West was probably worsened by the fact that their societies and economies had hit a bad patch, and they were on a rapid downward trend.  Their leadership role in the world had also been under serious threat; economies were faltering; unemployment levels were growing; political systems were showing cracks; and societies were becoming more disillusioned.

While these adverse changes were occurring in the West, it had become even more painful for them to see the benign changes that were taking place in the Asian and African countries. Hence, even as they were grappling with the painful feelings, they were also conniving to find ways of stopping or decelerating this forward march of the emerging nations.  So, they had to develop some method that would help cause turmoil in the societies of the emerging nations; discourage investment in their countries; and ridicule their leaders.

But, the West would have increasingly realized that the traditional methods which they used to portray weaknesses in those emerging nations through the publicity given to the emerging nations’ dismal statistics were no longer valid.  On the contrary, the West would have found that many of the emerging nations were beginning to record better macro-fundamentals than them, and that the popular global real indices and rankings of those emerging countries were gaining momentum.  The West would have also realized that those emerging nations would overtake the Western nations within about two decades.  So, the Western nations had to develop some new instrument to portray chaos and turmoil in those emerging nations to retard their growth.  But, the West faced one major problem. Any such new instrument could not rely on the real and measurable factors, because those were becoming too good to be used to attack the image of those nations.

So, what could be the new disrupting tool? Perception Indices!  The Western think tanks realized that a perception is a highly subjective and opaque measure that could be easily rigged to deliver a desired result.  Therefore, they realized that a Perception Index would be a powerful tool that they could manipulate, because it would allow NGOs created by them to develop all kinds of indices by asking the questions they construct, from the people they like, to get the answers they want!  Through such instruments, they could create the environment that they wanted to portray, conveniently ignoring the real situation.

We all know how questions could be carefully constructed to obtain a desired response.  For example, when a person is asked to answer “yes” or “no” to the question: “Have you stopped beating your wife?”, if the person answers “yes”, the inquirer could say, “Ah, so you have been beating your wife previously!” and if the person answers “no”, the inquirer could say,  “Ah,  so you are still beating your wife!”  Similarly, if an inquirer wants to get a survey response that the slaughter of cattle must to be stopped, he could ask the question, “should we allow cattle to be slaughtered?” from the members of the Prevention of the Cruelty for Animals, whose obvious overwhelming response would be “yes”.  At the same time, if the inquirer wants to get the response that the slaughter of cattle must not be stopped, he could ask the same question from the members of Butchers’ Association, whose obvious overwhelming response would be “no”.

Recently, a “Corruption Perception Index” was published by an NGO called Transparency International (TI), which stated that, based on a global “Perception” survey, that TI had ranked Sri Lanka at the 91st position out of 177 countries.  There was however no explanation as to how they arrived at their rankings.  Did they carry out a survey? Who carried it out?

What was the survey population?  How were the questions and answers moderated?  What were the checks and balances to ensure objectivity?  What measures were taken to ensure uniformity across the world? Who checked the accuracy of that information? Was the general public informed about the process? No one knows. But, yet, the public of the world are expected to believe and accept these perceptions, as facts.  Going further, who is Transparency International?

How did they originate?  Who funded them? Who asked them to carry out this mission to be the global watchdog against corruption?  How did they become the authority who could decree as to which countries are corrupt, and which are not?  Again, no one knows.  Further, it is also now well known that “Perception Index” NGO shops like TI have special campaigns to influence selected groups with their own preferences and perceptions, so that they could later make use of such brainwashed groups to be the “population” for their surveys.

It is clear therefore that these Perception Indices NGOs are really highly biased operations which churn out rankings in the least transparent manner.  Not only is the process not transparent, the NGOs who construct these rankings are opaque and intellectually dishonest. They are also not accountable to anyone.  Their funding sources and financial statements are not published.  That is why we must, in future, refer to these organizations as Opaque Organizations, so that innocent people would not be misled by their bogus and biased rankings.

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