Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Suspicious Indian

India ranks pretty much at the bottom of the world when it comes to contract enforcement.  This doesn't mean that people are honest and only in the rare case that the contracts are breached that there is a problem.  It also points to the fact that contracts might be being broken with impunity without fear of consequences.  With an understanding of behavioral economics, it stands to reason that without a strong disincentive, people will try to gain unfair advantages over others.

That means, not only is there no justice in India, there is no incentive to being ethical in India.  And hence, being ethical is an exception rather than a norm in India.

This has some curious consequences and corollaries which I will explore in this essay.
  1. The vast majority of Indians live in a state of terror.  They are afraid that they will not get their due.  They are in a constant state of insecurity and risk-avoidance.  They are apprehensive that they will be cheated and short-changed.  They don't venture out of the familiar because who will protect them if things go wrong.

  2. Indians do not trust and respect each other.  Trust is predicated on whether there are legal consequences for breaking that trust.  In India there is no real consequence.  Hence, there is no trust.  Indians see others as out to cheat them.  Therefore, they see no harm in cheating them first.

  3. Indians are blank-faced and not very expressive in day-to-day interactions.  They do not betray what they are thinking inwardly.  They are hawk-eyed, gawking and staring at others, but not expressing much themselves.  They only react in extremes.  Extreme anger, extreme pity, extreme sorrow, ... make them suddenly explode with emotion.  Mild emotion is kept repressed.  Expressiveness is a sign of a trusting society.  To express is to be vulnerable.  To be vulnerable in a society of cheats is to be suicidal.

  4. Indians are perceived as untrustworthy and opportunistic by more educated and trusting societies.

  5. Indians are pleasantly surprised when they travel to a trusting society.  They are amused that people are following rules and laws without any overt enforcement.  They find it a bit comical though they grudgingly admire this vision of "paradise".

  6. Indians are hypocritical and sociopathic.  Their cheating persona (which is a consequence of, and which feeds, the cheating atmosphere) makes them incapable of being congruent and wholesome.  They rail against other Indians' corruption while turning a blind eye to their own corruption.  They have a huge "secret self" full of shame which expresses itself in anonymous groping, shoplifting, petty thievery, bad hygiene, decrepit underwear, shabby dwelling spaces, ... In general, an impassive, moralistic public persona and a shameful private persona.

FAQs on the "Self"

Q: Who am I?

A: You are a carrier/propagator of DNA inherited from your parents.  You (as a carrier of a unique DNA) came into existence at soon after the moment of your "conception".  You were ejected out of your mother's womb (or equivalent) at the time of your "birth".  You cease to exist at the moment of your "death".

You are many things:

(a) A physical body which has an aggregate continuity through its lifetime, and which can be identified by its unique DNA.  This disintegrates at death.

(b) A set of memories stored in your brain cells.  Since these memories are stored as patterns in physical cells, they cease to exist as-such when your body disintegrates after your death.  It is possible for you to transcribe/describe these memories to other people or to other media and they can thus outlive your physical body.

(c) A set of external characteristics (especially your name, your face and your voice) that other people recognize as yours.  There are also certain higher level characteristics, such as your educational credentials, your credit history, your criminal history, your citizenship, etc. which are useful to certain institutions.  You can change or update some of these characteristics as you go through life, but taken together they are your "identity".

(d) A set of internal characteristics which exhibit themselves as patterns of thinking and behavior.  These characteristics usually derive from a combination of your DNA traits, your upbringing and your experiences/memories.

Q: What about consciousness?

A: Consciousness is a general term for denoting the "feeling" of brain activity when the brain is processing information or otherwise "buzzing", or "experiencing".  As a corollary, there is negligible consciousness in deep sleep.  There is only autonomic activity and no conscious activity at that time.  (see

In consciousness, there can be experiences of sensory inputs, as well as of one's thoughts and memories and internal body phenomena.  As a human infant grows, its brain becomes capable of higher-order experiencing: linguistic/abstract thought, thinking about thinking, thinking about consciousness, and so on.

Q: What is self-awareness and isn't that unique to humans?

A: Self-awareness is to think about oneself and is primarily a consequence of the capacity for abstract thought.  To think about one's past or future, or to reflect on one's present affairs, or to think about mortality, the "self", one's identity, one's reputation, etc. are all abstract activities, which animal brains are not sophisticated enough to indulge in.  There is nothing called "pure awareness" without there being an object of awareness.  All awareness is of something.  An awareness of almost-total brain silence (e.g. in a long meditation session) happens concurrently with the thought of "what silence!" or something similar. 

It is conceivable in near future that an advanced computer, by scouring internet literature about computing machinery and by analyzing its own logs, deduces a few things about itself and makes an improvement in its functioning.  For example, by discovering that a bug has been discovered in its web server software, it starts running that web server in a sandbox high-security mode.  Or by discovering that a new, faster, network interface card is available in the market, orders it from the factory and logs a ticket for the technician (could be a robot) to install it.  Such self-improvement and self-reflection is not far from human self-awareness.

Self-awareness is, till now, quite uniquely human, but it is not a mystical phenomenon.