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Why We Fail To Understand Each Other?


conflict

On two corners of this world, I am watching two divides. India Pakistan divide in Southeast Asia and another Democrat Republican divide in USA. Of course the first divide has lot more sinister dimension of possibility of nuclear war. And that has historical context too. But more on that in next post.

The Democrat Republican divide is interesting because it’s happening even when there is no reason for this divide to be that strong. After all, both parties support capitalism, human rights and more or less agree on constitution.

What makes the public opinion about each other diverge? Why people completely fail to understand each other’s viewpoints.

And then one of my walks, I made a discovery. I am sure people have made this discovery before. But here it is in my words.

When thinking about someone else, people expect them to behave in a rational and ethical way. But when thinking about themselves, people make decisions based on emotions.

It reminds me of an psychological experiment described to me by a friend of mine. Forgive me for not providing a link, but it was just part of a conversation.

People were divided into two groups and asked to make a choice.

A. Select an airplane ticket at certain price for flying on the route where bad weather and heavy turbulence was expected.

B. Or select a ticket on the route for double the price where good weather was expected.

Everything else was supposed to be same about planes. There was no known technical difficulties and both airplanes were statistically supposed to have the same probability of safe journey.

One group had to pick this ticket for an unknown person. They mostly picked the cheap but turbulent route, because that was rational choice, scary but still statistically safe and cheap. The other group had to pick for their own, they mostly picked the calm route with double the price.

After this, both groups were shown a movie narrating horrible turbulence experience. Then they were asked to make a choice again.

Again if they had to pick the ticket for other person, they picked the scary but cheap route with almost the same probability.

But here is the real kick. When they had to pick for themselves, they picked the safe but costly route even in significantly higher numbers. That means they were more inclined to avoid the fearful experience for themselves after watching the movie. But still they thought it’s OK for the other person to face the fear, as long as it was in their rational interest.

It’s not that people hated the unknown passenger. They  underestimated the importance of emotions to the other person.

When thinking about others, people underestimate the erosion to the quality of life by negative emotions like fear  and enhancement to the quality of life by positive emotions like self esteem boost.

But when it comes to them, they overestimate those exact things things. They want to avoid negative emotions and go for positive emotions, even if it means making a choice that seems not rational.

Two primal emotions  – desire to increase self esteem and desire to reduce fear play a huge role. If you leave room for these two emotions, you would understand the response much better.

Take an example. Think of a recent incident when white cop shot black person.

When white person is thinking about the incident of black person being shot by white cop, their first thought is whether the black person followed cop’s instructions? If yes and still shooting happened, then white people are willing to investigate further. If not, then the case closed. The black person should have followed the instructions.

When black  person thinks about the same incident, their first thought is whether the police followed the procedure. No matter the victim followed the instructions or not, the black person would conclude that if the victim did not pose danger to the officer, the shooting was not justified. The situation when cop arrests you is stressful to both ends and may be the victim was too stressed or confused ?

The white people are more likely to identify with police and allow them some emotional slack, like fear and anxiety. The black person is more likely to identify with the victim and allow them emotional slack, like fear and anxiety.

Who is right? I am afraid both are.

(I am generalizing too much. I know. There are plenty of white people that see black angle and vice versa.)

Next time if you don’t understand the choice made by other person, think of two things. Self esteem and fear. Or rather Self-Love and Fear. If the person has to not only make a rational choice, but also make sure it helps them to do self-love and reduce fear, what choice would they make? And you will surely have a lightbulb moment.

 

 

 

Thinking “Thoreau”ly


site_throeau_cabin_loc

“Perfect disease is as good as perfect health, where mind continuously confirms to your body.”- Henry David Thoreau

The quote strikes me for the tremendous wisdom wrapped in simplicity. No heavy words, no abstract terms, no fancy metaphors, no overly long convoluted sentence. In 15 words Thoreau puts forward a theory equivalent to theory of relativity for philosophy. Peace and joy can be found not only when the world confirms to your expectation, but also when your expectations confirm to the world.

On one of my walks, I wondered if this quote can be further extended. Perfect misfortune is as good as perfect fortune, because in face of overwhelming misfortune, you will let go of your struggle. Result? You will be left with less desires. Ergo, more fulfillment. I have seen proof. I used to volunteer at hospice facility and some of the patients who have end stage cancer indeed look peaceful. Yes, they have episodes of pain. But apart from that they have plenty of peaceful moments. Because there is no burden of struggle of survival. No conflict. No uncertainty. Only one thing to deal with – pain.

I remember a time when I was going to catch a flight. The time was getting close and I was rushing like crazy. Rushing, rushing, rushing and when I reach the airport, I realize that I am at the wrong terminal. The reality that I have missed the flight hit me and what followed was a sense of peace. My mind had just confirmed to the state of this world.

This way of thinking is hard to digest in the world we live in, which values pursuit above peace. Till that time, people like Thoreau who are way ahead of their times will be considered foolish. Because a perfect genius is often like a perfect fool, because both fail to do conventional thinking.

 

 

Of Tesla and Tax Breaks!!


Came across a WSJ article by Holman Jenkins who is not happy that Tesla customers are getting tax rebates. We see articles like this pop up every now and then. I am not an expert, but can’t help thinking “Seriously?”

I don’t know if this is deliberate ignorance or lack of knowledge. The truth is the whole oil supply chain is extremely costly and extremely delicate affair. American taxpayers pay through their nose to keep this supply chain intact and running. It’ just we have never seen a world where oil is not necessary and we are desensitized to all the costs we are paying.

To put it in numbers. The Model S has federal tax rebate of 7500 $ which expires when 200,000 Teslas are sold. After that the rebate goes down to half of that for a few months and then 25% of that and then vanishes entirely in one year.

7500 x 200,000 = 1.5 Billion USD tax break value till phase out begins. Say Tesla sold a hell lot more vehicles during the phase out period and was able to get another 1.5Billion USD incentives to its customers. So that’s total 3 Billion USD for a company in its lifetime.

3 Billion USD. Certainly a good chunk of money. But that’s it. The loan that was given to Tesla was paid back with interest, years ahead of schedule, with prepayment penalty.

And remember, this money does not go to Tesla. It’s just what taxpayers keep.

To put it in perspective, consider the cost of  G W Bush Tax breaks. ‘1.4 Trillion (with a T) reduction in revenue’ is the most conservative estimates. Higher side estimates go as high as 3.3 Trillion dollars.

That sounds too much guesswork and maths? Need some concrete numbers? How about the bailouts? The the first installment to just one company AIG received was 164 billion USD under multi trillion dollar TARP program.

Coming back to industry specific “favors” by the government. Here are the three favors given by taxpayers solely to the oil and gas industry.

  1. Seen that deserted gas station around the corner? Such deserted gas stations are scattered all around the towns and cities in USA? Those gas stations are deserted because the underground tanks developed leaks and contaminated the areas around. If someone were to buy it and make it operational, they need to spend money cleaning the underground first. No businessman wants to take that risk because that cleaning could explode in millions of dollars. What happens to such gas stations in long run? Eventually they get cleaned with taxpayer’s money. Every year USA taxpayers incur hundreds of millions of dollars in clean up such gas stations. Here is an article that states the costs to just one state, New York state run into approximately 200 million USD per year.
  2. Remember the Strategic Petroleum Reserves? These are petroleum stockpiles permanently maintained perpetually as a safety measure against any major oil supply disruption? The amount of oil at the moment in SPR is close to 700 mil barrels. At present value of approx 50 USD per barrel, that’s 35 billion USD perpetually stuck underground. If we had electric cars, we could free some or all of that money for better use.
  3. Have you heard about the USA Military base in Tanzania? No? It’s because there isn’t one. But there is one in Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Tanzania does not have oil. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have. There is a huge cost of operations of these bases, whose sole purpose is to keep oil flowing smoothly. It’s hard to get a good idea of those expenses because everything is secret. But the figure is definitely going to be in Billions of USD.

And we have not talked about cleanup costs of oil spills, or healthcare costs due to pollution, or human costs of wars launched for oils.

I am a taxpayer and I would much rather have my money diverted to a company that might bring a positive disruption than anything else.

 

Immigrant’s Guilt – When Love Masks as Hate


“Can you believe that story in newspaper? Every time I read something like that, I don’t want to go back to India.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this remark. In coffee shops, at water coolers, on online forums and so on. The news in question changes. The ultimate conclusion remains the same. “I don’t want to go back to India.”

I always felt there is more to these words than what seems on face. Then one day I read about immigrant’s guilt. The sense of guilt and shame an immigrant person feels. I have always felt that. But I always thought they were my personal feelings. I never thought they are so broadly shared. It makes sense in retrospect that this feeling is so common.

This reminds me of an cognitive dissonance experiment I read a while back. Some researchers made a group of people do a boring job for a while. Then the group who did this job, were told to lie to other group and tell them that the job was exciting. The first group was paid to lie. Different people were paid different amounts.

What was funny was, those who were paid least were most likely to lie very forcefully and convincingly. Those who were paid more were less forceful in lying. Isn’t it ironic? If you are paid more to lie, shouldn’t you feel more incentivised to lie emphatically? No. If you are paid enough, your mind has a rational justification for lying and lying feels less conflicted. If you are not even paid properly, your feeling while lying are very conflicted and you are more likely to make yourself believe your lie to minimize the conflict and thus result in more forceful lying.

The same principle is applicable here. If you are immigrating from a war torn country, you are at peace with your own decision of immigrating. But if you are coming from a reasonably stable country, you feel more conflicted about immigrating and you are more likely to highlight the negative aspects of your home country and reinforce them in your mind, so as to justify your own immigration to yourself, so as to cope with your conflict.

But there is something unfair about these comments. We should face up to the feelings of guilt and conflict upfront and work on them constructively. We should not hide behind the coping mechanisms. We should admit that the more negative we feel, it’s because stronger the conflict. The conflict is strong because we have a strong bond with our motherland. So in a very ironic way, the more critical our comments are about our motherland, the more love we have felt. It’s love masking as hate.

Happy Birthday America!


What does American Independence day mean for someone like me?

For me, its not so much about Patriotism. I wasn’t born here. I like this country. I have lived here long time. I am still not a citizen. There is a long and rigorous process to get there. America wants to make sure I am worth granting the citizenship. That is perfectly alright. It’s just that if America wants to keep open an option of kicking me out, then even I will try not to get too attached here. But that’s hardly an issue for day to day life. I can do pretty much everything an American does.

My very first introduction to the word America was perhaps when I was few years old and my uncle got me a book of picture of trains. Nice looking trains passing through mountains. Someone told me that it is America. Since then me and my sister thought America was name of the train.

Then at some point Mickey mouse entered our life but we didn’t know he was American. Because he spoke Hindi on Indian TV. Also we didn’t care. At that age the ideas of nations and nationalities were not fully grasped. All we knew was he was funny and so were the other characters he hung out with.

Then later it was Pop music and Holleywood movies. Before we knew America had entered our life.

Fast forward few years. I was boarding a plance to USA.

I moved here mostly for practical concerns. Good standard of life, etc. My journey was not as dramatic as some others. But still it was very dramatic and anxiety provoking for me. But as of today, my respect and love for America is not even for this practical matter. Well it is in part, but not the majority part.

I wasn’t planning to live here. Part of me is still unsure.

But with what I saw and learned here, made me a better person. It was here that I

Alan Watts has said “You should learn about another culture not because anything is lacking in your culture, but because unless you learn about some other culture, you don’t understand the basic assumptions you are making about your own.”

Over the years I have come to know and question a lot of basic assumptions about my home country, my own religion and myself. Over the years I have developed more mature, more balanced perspective on this world. And America and American values have contributed to this inner journey immensely.

That’s why I am thankful to America. My gratitude is for things that are far less dramatic, far less tangible, but far more pervasive and far deep and enriching in my life.

This is pretty good country with lot of friendly people. When Americans mean racial equality or individual freedom, they mean it. Obviously they are not perfect. But they mean those things more than other people who say similar things.

To all my good American friends. Cheers !! Long live USA.