The Bane of Belonging and Identification

‘Man is a social animal’. ‘A sense of belonging is one of our most fundamental needs’. So what does it mean when a money manager says he or she ‘is a value investor’ or the lover who says to the other ‘I am yours’ or the voter who exercises his or her franchise on the basis of the candidate’s caste, religion or ideological beliefs rather than the candidate’s inherent capability (yeh mera aadmi hai, yeh mera kaam karega) or the movie buff who bases choice on box office collection / crass popularity?

This sense of belonging emanates from one or more of many factors: conditioning, habit, fashion, prejudice, laziness or plain herding behavior. The common theme between all these factors is lack of clear and deep thought in making one’s choice. What does this sense of belonging do to a person? Isn’t it true that unconditionally accepting the default or popular choice ends up limiting our own perspective? This cramps our free thought, makes us follow compliant behavior and creates deep (but consciously unacknowledged) conflict in our psyche.

A sure shot way of limiting discovery is to associate with the thought of others. This gets played out in our world in every sphere of life – the tribe of value investors which grows each time the market heads south; more lately, the people that identify with majoritarianism (hitherto silent or hesitant for some reason) are making themselves heard since the political environment turned more conducive; the soldiers that were ‘only following orders’. Does this also not explain the trend of mind-numbing movies being part of the ‘100 Crore club’? The more vacuous a movie is, the more it collects since an entire tribe has been created of people who believe that a motion picture extravaganza starring ABC or directed by XYZ has to be a blockbuster. I can imagine these stars and directors waking up each morning and praying to their god/goddess of wealth to increase this tribe of ‘dimaag ghar pey raakh kay aaneka’ types.

Well, the point is that each moment spent without exercising free thought and choice or inhibiting discovery is a crime against evolution and nature. Our species evolved to discover and not to inhibit our thought, much as our leaders, elders, priests, teachers, and bosses would like us to.

Daniel Kahneman through his seminal research (a good start is his brilliant book Thinking, Fast & Slow) suggests that the human mind has two systems in use: a reactive, instantaneous and instinctive System 1 that makes decisions on the fly; and a more deliberate, slow and thoughtful (but lazy) System 2 that analyses, rationalizes and makes rational decisions. System 1 had its utility ages back when fight or flight decisions needed to be taken on cue. Then came a phase where deep thought (System 2) and innovation led to discoveries, inventions and the industrial age. Now (say the last 5-10 years) we are back to the stimulant times that involve System 1 again although the stimulants are nowhere near the momentary (or imperative) kinds that say predators wrought on us. Movies, e-games, binge TV watching……stimulation is its own reward; why invoke System 2?

I’ve always struggled with my fence-sitting tendencies and have often been mocked and ribbed by my critics and idealistic friends respectively for this. Self-doubt, un-conventionalism and non-compliance are not the crimes they are made out to be. Always ask ‘What If?’ and ‘Why Not?’. Stay weird, stay different.

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