POLITICS OF AN APOLITICAL MIND

To live in this world we need a large amount of optimism. We want to live a more productive, more effective, and more meaningful life. We want to live in a peaceful, stable, secure, and loving environment. Should we aspire to live in a perfect world? Is it enough to blame our public figures for all our ills? Why should we value civility?

Civility means to be proper. It enables us to see ‘what is right’. It helps to build community. It offers an opportunity to open an active communication between people in the age of diversity, change and difference. We expect the virtues of civility in our citizens, and more so in our ‘first’ citizens. We expect it in our schools, our workplaces, our judiciary, and our law enforcing agencies. 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 collective self-consciousness. If we recognise the concept of collective we value the concepts of diversity and difference. Diversity and difference may also imply openness to illiberal and uncivil modes of conduct.

Ethical leadership needs ethical followers, and vice versa. Blaming the leadership for all our ills is not enough. We need leaders, as well as followers, who can combine passion and moral values. The problem is that we have “a horizonless mind of pragmatic and radical self-interest”. We are embedded creatures who find meaning and purpose in the context of living and working with others. We like to have moral capacity. This capacity is time, place, and circumstance dependent. We find it hard to put the community or the organisation above the self. Many among us are concerned about the lack of civility in our society. The difficulty is to deal with it. More disturbing is that incivility prevails the most in places that are supposed to be the guardians of civility.

What kind of a world would we wish to live in? Do we deserve to live in that world? Let us take a look at the imaginary world of Armory Lovins. In this world, “the war against the earth is over; where we’ve stopped treating soil like dirt, forests are expanding, farms emulate natural ecosystems, rivers run clean, oceans are starting to recover, fish and wildlife are returning, and a stabilising, radically resource-efficient human population needs ever less of the world’s land and metabolism, leaving more for all the relatives who give us life.” I find it difficult even to imagine such a world. It will need infinite positivism to think of living in such a world.

A set of people partly govern our destiny. We expect these people to be trustworthy. We expect these people not to create problems for us. It is fine if they can’t solve our problems. One who does not create problem is as good as the one who provides solutions.

Trust matters to practically every aspect of our daily life. Matters related to trust consume enormous amount of our mental energies. We like to live in a social group. We have evolved to depend upon others. We are still evolving to resolve the dilemmas of group living. We need trustworthy companions and be trustworthy to others. To become trustworthy, we cooperate with the self that is both selfish and selfless. We need to grapple with the conscious and unconscious mind. Trust has inherent risk, but then the greatest risk is not to take risks. We take risks because benefits from potential risks often outweigh losses. We hope to achieve more when we take risks. We try to gauge the trustworthiness of others. Similarly, others gauge our trustworthiness. To be trustworthy to others, we suitably fine tune our conduct. Trust depends upon how trust was built. A person can be trusted in some contexts, not necessarily in all the contexts. Trustworthiness, more often than not, is a function of ability, integrity, and benevolence of other person, and that is why one person is more trustworthy than the other in a particular context. Trust needs periodic check-ups. Excessive trust can be as dysfunctional, as distrust is. We don’t like to put all eggs in one basket.

Both trustworthiness and competence are needed to get noticed, or to gain favour. Competence is often overlooked, because of its capacity to overshadow. So what matters more — competence or trust? Jacob Vigil says, it depends upon how much ability the other person has either to harm or help. A competent person needs opportunity and he must also have intention. In the absence of these, a competent person is of zero value. Vigil contends that the people having gone through life’s various facets and phases without serious obstacles are more competency-oriented. On the other hand, for people who have faced setbacks of various kinds (such as illness and an unstable home environment, among others) trusting and caring is the route of choice to reach others. We need to carefully understand that, Vigil said, “A demonstration of trust and a demonstration of capacity are equally plausible ways of manipulating other folks.” It is our responsibility to see that we don’t give some people enough opportunities to get manipulated. We need, not only competent but also trustworthy people as leaders.

Often political battles are fought. After the battle the winners rejoice in their victory. One may ask: “Is fairness enough to drive a country?” No doubt, we need fair performers for a society to function. We admire fairness and we try to be fair. Many times, we are fair even in situations that we know are going to cost us for being fair. But we are also acutely sensitive to who is getting how much. We pretend to be fair while secretly hoping for a fair deal for the self. We understand the necessity of providing a level playing field to all but conveniently forget when the play starts. We understand that equality of opportunity is not enough, efficiency does matter. We only hope that the victors only promise what they can deliver. We hope the victor cares for the struggles and dreams of ordinary people. We expect the victors to remember that in the victory of the people lies the secret of their success. Power is so self-centred. Too much self-absorption slowly shifts away the attention from the common welfare and public service to self-serving benefits. It gives a good feeling to think that in a democratic setup disagreement is not always a bad word and every opponent is not a malevolent. The winners of the real world are made of ‘global genome, innovative mind and democratic spirit.’ I sincerely hope they restore the faith of the people in the nobility of politics and public service.

We commonly observe sharp differences in the ideologies of the winners and the losers. This clash of ideologies results in animosity and acrimonious debates between them. Can’t we all disagree more constructively? Getting along despite differences seems to be a difficult proposition, because our morality binds and blinds us, writes Jonathan Haidt. Our morality binds us to our group’s ideologies. We tend to believe that our group follows the best ideology. We tend to reject alternate ideologies. Our morality “blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” The two Bs —bind and blind — lead us to ‘groupish righteousness’. Due to this, our moral foundations have different configurations, and we ‘agree to disagree’. A balanced mind is needed to overcome this difficulty. In a balanced mind, both empathising and systemising factors are equally strong. Such a mind is disciplined, creative, ethical and respectful. Balanced minds can get along despite differences and respect the views of others. A balanced mind is not so blind to the anomalies in the group; it is both a mirror and a window for it can see the self as well as others. Winners are in a very precarious situation when there is no opposition for them. Ayn Rand described the predicament as “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” If no one is there to stop me, it should be my bounden duty to stop myself. If I must lead, I must also follow.

The people chosen for public service must understand the meaning of life. Meaningful life may mean different things to different people. It is understood about an individual’s basic needs, experiences and emotions. Meaning is interactive, selective and value-driven. Social connection is important for meaningfulness. “Meaning is like a large map or web, gradually filled in by the cooperative work of countless generations”. Unhappy life could also be meaningful. Meaningfulness may not always have to bank on morality or goodness. A good athlete need not necessarily be good to his competitors. It doesn’t, however, mean that evil life is acceptable if it is meaningful. Meaningfulness, howsoever meaningful it is, must not cross certain moral limits.

A graceful exit is as essential as a graceful entry. Graceful exit means “leaving what’s over without denying its value.” We have known that every exit is an entry somewhere else. ‘Somewhere else’ makes the winner as well as the loser both hopeful and fearful. We do certainly need a mind without fear to keep our head high. We also need to be fearful. Evolution says that only those species survived who feared the right thing at the right time.

What are we here for? One might simply say, we are here to witness our generation and our times. Some might say we are here to make new structures that are needed to make an even universe. One might even like to say that the universe has a purpose and we are here to serve the purpose of the universe. What then is the purpose of the universe? One of the purposes of the universe is to provide and prepare ground for the emergence of intelligent life. The purpose of the intelligent life is to ask profound questions, and probe the nature of the universe itself. We are a miniscule part of a multiverse. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. Ours is the only universe that supports biological life. Our universe did exactly what it was supposed to do. We are thankful to our universe that we are not sterile and lifeless. We are unique because we can ‘think’. Our ‘wants’ will always exceed our ‘needs’. We will never know where our necessity ends and where our excess begins. A gap between want and need shall always remain and enough will never be enough.

We love to paint the future in our way. Some paint it with bright colours, some paint it with dark colours. Overly disastrous projection is not a great idea, as excessive optimism is. If optimism is mixed with some amount of pessimism, it works better. If a certain amount of uncertainty is mixed in certainty, it generally leads to better results. The wise advise us to recognise opportunity at times of hardship. An adaptationist can extend or contract, as the situation demands. And man is the best adaptationist. William Faulkner said, “Man will not merely endure.He will prevail.”