ASIDE OF ONE’S DNA, UPBRINGING, EDUCATION and peer pressure relentlessly determine one’s bias towards anything. More importantly it also drives, without our realizing so much, where we ultimately belong – our “camp” so to speak, if I may paraphrase Susan Sontag. Our biases are so subliminally entrenched within us that we are sometimes unaware that our own biases have largely determined our current station in life and for that matter where we are heading towards.
LEST IT BE MISUNDERSTOOD, HAVING a bias towards a person, an idea or a proposal is not a bad thing per se. Indeed, history is replete with examples where a bias towards action and urgency have transformed lives for the better. Having said this, we need to be also wary of situations where our own biases have nurtured prejudices, stifled talent, promoted hatred as well as created completely avoidable misunderstandings.
SOMEONE RECENTLY TOLD ME that the entire male population of the Western world could be neatly divided on the basis of male preferences (read bias) for blondes and brunettes. While this is a pretty simplistic proposition, it is, in no way materially different, nearer home in India where prospective bridegrooms look for “fair complexioned women, well versed in household affairs”. On a more serious note, the whole of India appears to be currently blinded by a kind of mindless bias for “development”. The shrill debate has virtually silenced even a modicum of concern for critical ecological issues that India can ill-afford to forget. It was a solitary article in The Hindu newspaper of May 30, 2014 titled Against Developmental Fundamentalism by R. Ramaswamy Iyer, former Joint Secretary, Water Resources, Govt of India that provided the much needed perspective.
AS OUR BIASES GET STRONGER with more adherents to what we believe in, facts may become the first casualty. In virtually all reports published in the financial press in India and overseas, Vodafone has been portrayed as an entity which has been wholly wronged and made to suffer at the hands of capricious tax authorities in India. The underlying rationale for the tax levy, even if retrospective, has got buried in reams of disinformation on the subject. How many have read the critique on Chief Justice Kapadia’s ruling or for that matter the explanations offered by the man behind this levy – I.T. Commissioner Bhide ? Compare all this with the tax collection drive that the IRS in the U.S. is currently pursuing and of the successful efforts in piercing the veil of Swiss banking secrecy. A distinguished British editor’s words of caution to his staff : FACTS ARE SACRED, COMMENT IS FREE are very apposite here.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE, so the financial press assiduously propogates these days, to sack anyone in a loss making industrial undertaking in India. Entrepreneurs doing business in India will of course have the last laugh over this piece of disinformation. On the other hand it should be of interest to note that it is entirely possible, for instance, for a branch established in Europe to deny employee information to its Head Office in India on grounds of data protection. Any takers for that ?
I MUST HOWEVER END THIS PIECE with a positive note. I was pleasantly surprised to read last weekend in the Financial Times an interesting review by Philip Stevens (a senior writer of the Financial Times) of the book The Fourth Revolution-The Global Race to Reinvent the State jointly authored by John Micklethwait (current editor of The Economist) and Adrian Wooldridge. Note that both The Economist and the Financial Times are owned by the Pearson Group. Philip Stevens’ review virtually amounted to a critique of The Economist’s editorial policy. He alluded to the core strategy of the magazine : start with “unshakable conviction” and “marshall evidence accordingly”. In essence, to paraphrase Stevens again: it was nothing but “policy based evidence making” !!
AS LONG AS WE ARE AWARE of our biases, hope still exists and we must relentlessly try to understand the real thing, particularly economic truths, which, without wishing to be facetious, may be somewhere in between what The Economist and The Economic & Political Weekly is saying. If you still wish to know how biases work, I would recommend that you get hold of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast & Slow, a Penguin paperback worthy of being read aloud.