(MENAFN - Arab News) I remember a discussion with an old friend of mine a couple of years ago regarding the difficulty in analyzing the mentality of any group of people.
I remember that he used to joke about it saying that you cannot stop people from complaining when you ask them about their share of economic growth; but when you ask them if they are satisfied with their share of cognitive knowledge they will simply go in silence with satisfaction.
The main challenge in analyzing the Saudi cognition is to realize that the Saudi society before the discovery of oil was a simple combination of nomadic tribes and small villages and towns, spread over a wide isolated area with semi-desert geography. The economic production and cultural resources were never enough to create a strong civil identity.
The basic component of the community back then consisted of two main classes. A minority upper class that was composed of princes, sheikhs and merchants; and a majority working class that was living in a state of cultural isolation and neighboring rivalry.
The lack of a prevailing middle class that can lead the needs and aspirations of a strong and healthy cultural movement gave way to a very conservative working class with a limited interpretation of what is going on around them, which leads usually to a culture based on superstition and racism.
A major and swift change took the constant Saudi culture by surprise with the discovery of the largest oil resources ever found. The amount of wealth that started to pile up into the desert economy had its effects almost immediately. Major and modern cities were created in few decades.
But the speedy development of the state of the art building infrastructure was accompanied by slow improvement in civil and cultural advancement.
The majority working class was transformed overnight to a new process of living of a developed middle class; without affecting the deep cultural and civic structure of the old class.
So the cognitive revolution of Saudi society was not a product of natural historical progression in economic production as the case with many developed cultures, but a revolutionary mobility boom in economic resources that lead to the creation of a new culture that is very dependent on the identity associated with new lifestyle rather than real cultural values.
This manifested itself in daily Saudi life when we see the people who are living in the modern cities and running it are doing so with the mentality of a conservative and traditional class which lacks the basic knowledge of administrating the development and prosperity of a modern society.
Contradictions between practices and applications are a unifying image in communities of all the major cities, and the sense of racism, prejudice and bigotry could be labeled as a common problem in all of them.
It is also very apparent in the way that society is skeptical of all new cultural trends. Modern Islamic movements, local liberal and secular activists and recent discoveries of modern science are all looked at as potential threats generated by outside conspiracies, which should be eliminated to maintain stability.
All the indications noted earlier are a major sign that the state of Saudi cognition is on the move for development that is paving the way for a new generation.
The psychological and cultural transformation that the people are going through is a small price to pay to cover for the years of natural evolution they are passing by.
A successful management of this kind of social movement will bring forth a society that is based on the promotion of civic values and the appreciation of ideals such as freedom, justice, human rights principles and equality under the rule of law.
Mismanagement on the other hand may take us back to the joke my friend was telling me earlier, where people will be living in a state of false satisfaction and think that they are on the top of the world, till they discover they have run out of oil.