Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The frog in a well: Why it is unwise to be a party affiliate?


Image result for party logos india
Of course, I am not apolitical; I do not have, however, a lifelong allegiance to a particular political party. I also refuse to be someone like the one author Elbert Hubbard satirically idolises: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” I have been vocal about various policy-related decisions of successive governments at different levels in India, mostly through social media. Among the things that I appreciated include good governance by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, effective managerial skills of PM Modi and his decision to replace flowers for books as souvenirs, austere way of life of Tripura CM Manik Sarkar, Yogi Adityanath’s decision to distribute backpacks with Akhilesh Yadav’s images, social welfare decisions of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, and so on. While I love the personal freedom, free economy and other libertarian policies of advanced capitalism, I also love pro-multicultural, pro-science and egalitarian policies of socialism.  In a way, the apolitical appreciation of good governance and criticism of bad governance is like descriptivism in linguistics; descriptivists merely describe the integral features of languages without being judgmental, while prescriptivists prescribe and promote one language over the others.

Over the years, I noticed an emerging pattern that I must confess did not come as a big surprise after all. The majority of my contacts identify themselves with a particular political party. They ‘like’ the posts appreciative of their party politicians, while they do not ‘like’ if the posts are critical of them. Only a few of my contacts act as if they have no political allegiance. Why, what is wrong if you swear your allegiance with a party, you may ask?

Stereotyping is the major issue with this approach. I had been twice to London’s British Museum as well as Victoria and Albert’s Museum-the treasure house of all the looted things from the third world! These museums are indeed very well curated with clearly demarcated sections based on the genre. Look for the central section, art. You will see French, Gothic, Renaissance…where are the sculptures and paintings from India? Those are not stereotypic art as per the British, but anthropological artefacts! In this imperious mentality, third world art and literary works are indeed of inferior quality than the western. This exactly is what is called stereotyping, or judgmentalism. Like those British curators who considers every artistic form of the third world as inherently inferior to that from the West, if you identify yourself with a particular party (or worse, you become an official member of a party), you subconsciously consider all the other members of that party as your friends, and invariably you will have an emotional attachment to them. Just like other life instances, your emotion, rather than the reason, dictate things to you. You will fight for the ideology that you are part of, and even kill the opponents as well. The co-discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick, once famously said, “The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea because then he'll fight and die for it.” Of course, you will end up justifying all the wrongdoings your party has committed, you refuse to acknowledge the problems of your party, and refuse to read or listen what the opponent writes or says. ‘Frog in a well’ is a famous Chinese idiom in use since time immemorial; it represents someone unbeknownst of the outside world, and perfectly captures the essence of issues of identifying oneself with a particular party politics. There is a name for this in cognitive psychology, confirmation bias. Suppose you identify as a rightist BJP party person. You will look for articles and media that affirms your affiliation, your allegiance. You will read only ‘Organizer’-the official RSS print media- or other rightists, or right-leaning sources (such as Republic TV channel), as each news item in those, endorses your preconceived mental constructs and expectations. In a way those stories and eulogies bolster your fantasy, which you fail to reason as the figment of the imagination. You are happy, of course like a frog in a well. Reading or watching apolitical media such as The Hindu, The Indian Express or NDTV makes you consider these centrists are not at all apolitical, but agents of the opposite political spectrum, the leftists. How about reading the real left-wing paper like “The People’s Democracy” that diametrically contradict your worldview? You are infuriated and call them anti-national and criminals! Now, if you were a self-proclaimed leftist, those exact ‘centrist’ media might seem to you right leaning. Like the famous ‘Checker's shadow’ or other countless numbers of optical illusions, the pivotal issue here is that there are several cognitive biases subconsciously tweaking each decision that we make in our daily life, and the way we perceive our world. James Randi, the famous American magician, once famously said “No amount of belief makes something a fact.’ This is known in philosophy as ‘objectivism’ (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a well-known work of objectivistic philosophy) the central premise of which is the consideration that the reality exists independent of our consciousness. The reality, or the objective knowledge, can only be obtained through inductive logic, i.e., scientific method.

Recently Bihar CM Nitish Kumar took an overnight decision to quit the grand alliance, and take the support of his opponent BJP to form the new ruling alliance in Bihar. This has sent shockwaves across India, indeed, and his opponents have called him someone who lacks integrity, and a political chameleon. What people do not realise is that human beings are dynamic individuals. A vast majority of the cells of our body gets replaced with new cells, and within a decade we all have an entirely new body. Look at your old photographs taken ten years or more ago. Those are not ‘you’ in a sense. Our beliefs too, as new pieces of evidence accumulate, a rational person keeps on modifying what he/she believes in, conceptually homologous with statistical method of Bayesian Inference. In a way, party ideologies and religious dogma are similar; both are not open for criticism and feedback-refinement. While scholarly scientific books keep on refining with new editions publishing once in every few years, ever wondered why there are no refinements for religious scriptures (such as Bhagavatgeeta, for Hindus) or foundational texts of political parties (such as Das Capital, for Marxists)? If we do not modify our prior beliefs with new evidence or information, we are not dynamic living organisms then, but a mere dogmatic sycophant slave who cannot even think freely with his own mind, or a frog in a well. These frogs love the comfort of their fantasy world; they invent clever news stories-the fake news- to support their propaganda. In the case of linguistics, puritanical linguists resist any changes in the language; but as we know, all languages evolve and opposing changes like the use of the word ‘literally’ in the figurative sense is futile. Then there is yet another type of persons who, no matter the politics, support whichever party is in power. They are the ultimate hypocritical sycophants who just want to get things done by whatever means.

As an apolitical person, am I against party politics and voting? Of course not. I do vote in the elections. Do I vote for individuals rather than parties? Seemingly an excellent strategy, however, might not be the wisest in participatory democracies like in India. The key NOTA (None Of The Above) makes no sense to me; in situations like two leading candidates with both of them being corrupt/criminals, I will vote for the third. If all are corrupt/criminals-which is highly unlikely, making NOTA win also makes no sense, as in such situations the person who got second highest votes will be declared a winner. Nevertheless, can I consciously vote for a person whom I consider as a corrupt person, for the sake for his or her party to win the election? I will not, but these choices come under the purview of ethics, which indeed is highly subjective, relativistic and even a myth. Shakespeare wisely stated in Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Even though you vote for a ‘virtuous’ person, ultimately, a party or an alliance win and they will take all the policy-related decisions. With a dynamic party-alliance that often transforms its ideology from one spectrum to another without consulting the voters, there is no way of ‘rationally’ choosing the right candidate in the elections. However, I do vote for the right ideology as deemed appropriate at each time of my life, but I refuse to be a steadfast party-politics supporter. My political philosophy is clear: be appreciative of the good work, and be critical of the bad works. Softly leaning on a party might be okay too, but being critical of wrongdoings in that party is important.