NEOCORTICAL LEADERSHIP

Elections in some states are just over. We now have a new set of elected representatives. Now we must ensure that they deliver what they promised. We should remember that a politician is first a citizen of our country. Unless we prove to be good followers, good leaders are unlikely to emerge. The politician-citizen tribe is fast dwindling, but this is the tribe that needs to survive and grow. To become a good politician, one must first become a good citizen. And getting elected is only one part of a politician’s oeuvre, not the whole thing. The quality of citizenry plays an important role in electing the right citizen to represent them as politicians. A good citizen can hold on firmly to the truth, resists temptations, and doesn't resort to fake promises and compromises, no matter how pressing the exigencies are.

The degradation of political culture is a universal phenomenon. We should be concerned about the political acumen of the candidates. At the same time, one expects that the electorates have knowledge, understanding, and interest in political matters so that they can influence and control the outcomes and actions of their representatives. Casting an occasional vote in an election is not sufficient in a democracy. In other words, cognition is important in defining political culture. In a democracy, more and more people must be involved in the political process. Things are changing. Understanding of political conceptualization is changing. In this changing atmosphere, citizens are overfed with information. We need to make use of it judiciously.


All political parties want to make the country a great power. All want to strengthen national security, and at the same time want to improve relations with neighbouring countries. All want to develop world-class infrastructure. All parties want to make their country a global manufacturing hub and a major exporting nation. All political parties want to support science and technology and strengthen the country’s research and development base. All parties promise to provide a system of good governance, and promise to reduce the wasteful expenditure of public money. They are all for bridging the urban-rural divide and preserving and propagating the country’s rich culture and heritage. All promise to provide social justice to deprived classes. All promise to create new jobs and better working conditions. These ‘promises’ leave no scope for any conflict or controversy. The problem begins when we notice the changes in the conduct and action of political leaders. We live in the me-first world. Our world might have begun with ‘me’, but it shouldn’t end there.


A leader needs followers. Followers also need leaders. Leadership is relationship-dependent; ethical leadership needs ethical followers, and vice versa. If the statement, ‘good leaders have good followers’ is true, then it is equally true that ‘vulnerable leaders have susceptible followers’. If we tolerate a bad leader, we will get the leadership we deserve. We are not amorphous and mindless creatures. We have our minds, and leaders must know this reality. The dynamics between the leader and the follower is changing, and with that their expectations and the sense of empowerment are also changing.


Individual civility is important to maintain social civility. Civility simply means to be proper. Civility helps in building community. Civility means respecting someone’s rights and dignity. Civility allows us to hold meaningful communication and decision-making. Civility honours diversity and values different perspectives. Many of us are concerned about the lack of civility in our society, but the difficult part is to deal with it. More disturbing and depressing is the fact that incivility prevails the most at those places that are supposedly the guardians of civility.

One of the big problems our country faces is collective blindness. We don’t go blind. We can see but don’t see. Another problem is that we like to participate in our country’s political process but we don’t like to take the responsibility of choosing the right person. Our leaders assume the freedom to act the way they chose to meet their ends. But we forget to remind them of their limitations. We allow them to make us invisible. We make them powerful, and that blinds them.


Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness is about a fictional city where all the people suddenly go blind, and no one knows why. The lack of vision ends as abruptly as it had begun. Saramago says, collective blindness is when we lose the ability to see, when the visible disappears in front of our eyes, when society itself becomes blind. This blindness trap is dangerous for the progress of a nation.


Power involves both constraint and enablement. The powerful have a better chance of controlling their environment. For real power, responsibility is not a burden. The opinion of the powerful matters. They value restraint. We expect them to be vigilant, prudent, and courageous. The powerful can’t afford or pretend to be sleeping when the time comes for action. We, the people, can’t afford the luxury of such pretentious sleepers in responsible positions.

Psychologists say that power makes one less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. Studies indicate that people in positions of authority rely more on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. Often, the sense of power makes it easier for them to rationalize ethical lapses. Often the powerful become so powerful that they begin to think that they only have the right to go wrong. They think that the rules are made only for the commoners and not the privileged ones. They take it as an offense when treated as common people. They need to understand that the power that is bestowed on them is to empower people and not to intimidate them.


We live in a world where we need to have a large amount of optimism. We want to live productive, effective, and meaningful lives. We want to live in a far more peaceful, stable, secure, and loving environment. We aspire to live in a perfect world. But we are afraid to become perfect. Is it enough to blame our public figures for all our ills? Civility means to be proper. It enables us to see ‘what is right’. As civility honours diversity and accepts different perspectives, it offers an opportunity to open an active communication between people in an age of diversity, change, and difference. We expect the virtues of civility to be present in our citizens, and more so in our ‘first citizens’.

It is possible to remain civil even in the me-first world. Our world might have begun with ‘me’, but it need not end there. Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. Civility is collective self-consciousness. If we recognize the concept of collective, we automatically value the concepts of diversity and difference.


We can’t overlook the role of leadership in maintaining civility. Uncivil behaviour can be quite disturbing and depressing to many. Unfortunately, incivility prevails the most at those places that are supposedly the guardians of civility. It is our responsibility to see that our leaders don’t get opportunities to misuse civility. It gives a good feeling to think that in a democratic setup, disagreement is not always bad, and every opponent is not always spiteful. The winners win because they can instill hope in people. Hope is both emotion and illusion; reasonable hope is constructive, unreasonable hope is destructive.


We commonly observe sharp differences in the ideologies of the proponent and the opponent. This clash of ideologies results in animosity and acrimonious debates between them.

The compatibility between two temperamentally different personalities is difficult, if not impossible. Our morality binds and blinds us. Our morality binds us to our group’s ideologies. The winners are in a very precarious situation when there is no opposition for them. Ayn Rand aptly described the predicament: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” If the winner must lead, he must also follow.

We need good politicians. The most important trait one looks for in a person aspiring to be a leader is his capability to handle the complexities of large social groups. The leader needs to remain connected with the people, both emotionally and intellectually. We have known that the larger the group, the more complex it is.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that the human brain became larger to handle the complexities of social groups. The larger the neocortex a person has better is his capacity to handle intricacies. The neocortex is a part of the brain at the outer layer of the cerebral hemisphere. Evolutionarily speaking, it is believed to be the youngest part of the brain and is involved in sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language.


The neocortex, the reasoning brain, equips us to handle complexities of a wide variety. The neocortex is responsible for rational thinking, generating abstract ideas, and enabling us to adapt to novelty. The larger the neocortex a person has, the better is his/her capacity to handle intricacies. We need leaders who have a large neocortex. They only can restore the faith of the people in the virtues of politics and public service. They can only understand the implications of the coalition's mathematics.


The neocortex is an important part of the brain that varies greatly in structure and function across species. The neocortex is a structure with great information processing and storing capacity. In humans, the neocortex mediates consciousness. The structure and function of the neocortex can be changed with training and experience. Moreover, the neural circuits in the neocortex are modifiable throughout life, so that species become specialized for relevant perceptual and behavioural abilities. One of the outcomes is that an individual can acquire and upgrade skills, abilities, personalities, and memories.


Our brain is a very expensive part of our body. It demands costly maintenance. It weighs 2 percent of the body weight but consumes 20 percent of total energy intake. Our leaders are expensive too. Think of the people with a large neocortex for leadership roles when next time you choose leaders for the governance of your country.