Keep your identity small

Paul Graham is respected in tech community for many reason and one of it is his essays. You may not agree with him always but no doubt he is one of those few writers who brings new ideas from the same old facts. I remembered his following essay when I read people writing again the NIT project in Goa which has finally got land in Quepem.

As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why? Why does this happen with religion and not with Javascript or baking or other topics people talk about on forums?

What’s different about religion is that people don’t feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone’s an expert. [Source]

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

One fundamental argument that most people make against the development project is that it will cause and inflow of migrants and it will not benefit the local. in Last 10 years I have lived in 5 different cities and 2 different countries. I am totally unable to understand why as a society we are turning so hostile towards the migrants. But when I gave it a more careful thought I realized something different which Pratap Bhanu Mehta had nailed in his Indian Express article few weeks back.  Note that PBM’s column is dealing with a different issue altogether but he makes observations that are relevant to the issue of migration.

From hoodlums targeting girls in pubs in Mangalore to muftis finding a teenage rock band a threat to civilisation, the concerted effort is to inhibit freedom for women. This trend is disconcerting, but again, it takes place against the backdrop of momentous social change, where women are participating more, and on their own terms. The third threat comes from the vicious cycle of competitive offence-mongering that still remains a tempting axis of mobilisation in our society. A secularism that emphasised parity between groups rather than individual freedoms was bound to generate this escalating dynamic, where you test the state on how much it protects your group. But even this attempt to consolidate group identities through a politics of competitive hurt takes place against a backdrop where identities are becoming more fluid and open.[Source]

Indeed, groups are attempting to impose the yoke of community, precisely because the actual power to control is diminishing. It is more a sign of desperation than a harbinger of community power. This is why so many seeking community salvation in feigning hurt seem increasingly unrepresentative.

When people oppose a lot of projects such as NIT or International Airport alluding to the ridiculous arguments of migration etc. They are not doing it by carefully studying the merits and demerits of the said project but mostly because these projects are likely to lend a major blow to their community identities and the benefits they get out of such identities. One of the benefit of such identities is that they get control over the people of that community.

Church for example was deeply opposed to Konkan Railway, one of the reason cited as that the railway will bring Japanese Flu to the state. (Dont ask me how). What was at work here is not the Church’s concern for the state and it’s people but a threat to it’s control over the community, increasing migrations have only reduced church’s weight in politics.

What was the biggest factor that reduced untouchability in India ? It was not the laws or the efforts of individuals like Gandhiji alone. The biggest contributing factor was introduction of Railways. Irrespective of your caste you had to hop into a crowded compartment touch a thousand people without asking them their caste. Some people use to bath after the journey but soon the convenience v/s tradition trade-off reached a point where tradition lost.

PBM says that our society is getting more and more fluid which is true. That young farmer’s boy in some remote village of Goa, even born in a lower calls now dreams of becoming an engineer, doctor or a teacher. He is willing to leave his village and all the associated identities for the sake of his dreams. He himself is thinking of migrating. Similarly when large projects are going to arrive in Goa, they are going to transform the local identities like never before.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in that kind of transformation. Only those cultures survive who are open to outsiders, which act as talent magnets. Singapore or Silicon Valley are good examples. Closed societies wrapped in identity politics stagnate. When Mamta Banerjeee forced the Tata project out of West Bengal what happened to the farmers there ? Have they becomes rich and happy ? Or are they asking for more subsidies and dole?

But there is hope. Few decades back Trade Union leaders in Mumbai were considered to be paragon of virtues by default. Industrialists feared strikes and no one had any courage to act against these striking people. This worked well till the number of people benefited by strike was greater than those inconvenienced. But slowly with time, the number of people inconvenienced by strike greatly  outnumbered those who were benefited by it and strikes went out of fashion. Militant trade unionism is now considered dead.

Similarly, as the aspirations of the youth in society become higher and higher, once they outnumber the people who are seeking recourse in identity politics, the identity politics will go out of fashion.

So when someone asks how NIT will benefit Quepemkar the answer should be it does not matter. It is not your land, so you have no say. The matter is purely between the seller and buyer of the land and regulating bodies.

Note to self: However tempting a virtuous it might sound to join groups that have names similar to “Ami Goyenkaar”, “Goa Bachao”, “XYZ heet-rakshan manch” etc. one has to show extreme caution in joining these kind of groups. It only narrows your worldview.




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