Opiate of the masses
You are genetically programmed to sacrifice self, for the sake of group. Darwin said, “A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection”.
Whether we consciously understand this or not, this is what we need to succeed. This is what we crave and that is why this opiate is so addictive.
Happiness, a sense of oneness and purpose are the intangible gains to be had. Religious rituals and practices are psychological motivators, for the gains of a group have given evolutionary advantages. In their paper on Hive Psychology, Haidt et al write, “These gains are so vast that the superorganisms produced by group-level selection tend to spread rapidly, transforming ecosystems by taking the richest environmental niches and relegating closely related species to the margins (as the close relatives of bees, ants, and humans can attest).”
No wonder then, the term — herd mentality. We naturally gravitate to groups we can identify with. We’re built for this. To a point, however. In one study, people who score high on the trait of openness to experience, are likely to chafe more at restraint and to enjoy the anomie, variety, and creativity of life in big cities.
Could this be the reason for the big city-small town divide in India?
Cow-slaughter lynching and religious mob mentality seem to be relegated to the towns and not seen quite as much in the bigger cities. The smaller towns are the ones that have experienced higher levels of joblessness. Are these individuals gravitating to an assertive Hindutva, to avoid isolation? Are these groups placing an ever higher conformance requirement, that then translates to fringe behavior? Fringe for the world, and conformance for the group?
Although some of the same dynamics exist in Trumper and Anti-Trumper groups, low joblessness has kept the fringe to lower levels.
The Indian polity divide seems starker. Religion adds to the starkness. Joblessness amplifies it.
In the run-up to the 2014 elections, eradicating corruption was the prime mover for Indian votes. The aspirational voter, a close second. It’s better jobs versus want of any job. Hindutva was hardly on the agenda. And fewer still, voted for want of a Ram temple. Like most, you voted for a better life, a better India.
Modi got a super-majority in 2014, because he captured the India super-group — Indians. Economics kept the fringe at bay. The math is failing him this time. Unemployment has increased groupism and sub-groupism. Higher unemployment in the smaller towns, has led to tighter binding groupism.
So while preventing cow-slaughter becomes increasingly important for one sub-group, the BJP is fascist for another. Scheduled castes are nervous and ever more tightly bound. The needs of the self are secondary. It is too lonely outside of the group.
And so, Rahul Gandhi has failed to raise any voter concern to a national level. Farm loan waivers appeal to farmers. Rafale has failed to be the rallying point he would like. On the other side, the only message that is working is a religious one — reclaiming the Hindu heritage. No wonder then, that RaGa flouts his Shiv Bhakt credentials. If it dilutes a group even by a sliver, it’s worth it.
In a recent blog for Psychology Today, Sophia Moskalenko posits that Americans fell for Russian rolls in larger numbers, because Americans are more isolated and lonelier. In India, we more easily believe WhatsApp fake news because there is just no leaving a group, any group. If not a job, at least in a group I belong. If everyone believes it, it must be true. Conversely and more convincingly, if it isn’t true, why does everyone believe it? So, it must be true.
Joblessness has exponentially amplified this fear. Don’t believe me? I’d like to remind you that people have been killed over fake news.
Political persuasion seems to have taken a turn on their own. It’s now uncontrolled. This is the scary state we are in:
Fewer jobs = More Groupism.
More Groupism = More Fake News
More Fake News = More Polarization
More Polarization = More debate on Non-issues
Debate on Non-issues = Lesser focus on the Real ones.
And that, translates to fewer jobs opportunities, because you’re now not even looking to get gainfully employed.
We should be demanding better governance. Instead, we demand a temple. We should demand better enforcement of law, instead we demand cow protection. We are more concerned with how distorted our history (pick an invader of your choice) is, than how dystopian our future looks.
This is India’s opioid crisis!
And this one is far more addictive. Far more insidious. Beware! Be warned! But since we are in the blaming zone, you can blame evolutionary psychology. For the zone and the blame.
So what is to become of us? Read on.