Saturday, July 6, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- IV

Rationalism, the organizing principle of modernity, has a tendency to universalize i.e. it set up identical ideals for all human beings, held up only one kind of life as the highest or truly human, and expected all to conform to more or less the same norms of conduct. Gandhi believed that rationalism was a false and pernicious doctrine. He thought that each individual had his own distinct identity, and was rooted in a specific cultural tradition. What was good for others was not necessarily good for him. Gandhi  was against such a centralized tendency which not only kills an individual’s  initiative to do something new in a different manner, but it also enhances the tendency of centralization and hegemony. 

In some areas of human experience such as morality and politics, reason was inherently inadequate and needed to be guided by wisdom, tradition, conscience, intuition, and moral insight. Rationalism constructs a realm of Reason purged from empirical contingency. It constructs a reality based on abstract generalizations from which all particulars are removed. In this formal logic, thought is indifferent toward its objects. They become subject to the same general laws of organization, calculation, and conclusion. As Herbert Marcus says in One Dimensional Man, 'This general quality (quantitative quality) is the precondition of law and order — in logic as well as in society — the price of universal control.'

Gandhi criticized the universalizing tendency of modernism which he sees as anti-plurality. In their search for general rules, distant, neutral strangers seek to identify relevant characteristics and discards superfluous ones that cannot be verified as unimportant. All are living a similar kind of life-style and they cannot keep their individuality, their uniqueness alive as it will not be welcomed.  An example of such a universalizing tendency is the realization now that most psychological studies have been done on a population of WIERDs - their participants are overwhelmingly Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries.

WEIRD subjects, from countries that represent only about 12 percent of the world’s population, differ from other populations in moral decision making, reasoning style, fairness, etc. This is because a lot of these behaviors and perceptions are culturally inherited. Not only are the subjects  WEIRD, they are overwhelmingly college students in the United States participating in studies for class credit. Western college students are not the best representatives of human emotion, behavior, and sexuality. It also means that many subjects are teens whose behaviour differs from that of adults.

Almost everything experimental psychologists believe about the human mind comes from studies of the Weird. Behavioral science (including the behavioral sub-fields in economics) overly focused on WEIRD subjects to the detriment of a broader understanding of human behavior. These study subjects are not only unrepresentative of humans as a species, but on many measures they’re outliers. Yet while the study samples have been consistently particular, the inferences made from these studies typically strive for universality.

Another common universalizing tendency is to apply in developing countries economic models that have been successful in developed countries.  There are massive international and domestic pressures on them to follow those paths of development that have been traversed by the developed world. The choice of parameters, major interactions and feedback loops, the use of global averages and the non-probabilistic nature of predictions, etc., are all made from the vantage points of the developed world. To impose one centralized formula over others meant ignoring what is distinctive in each country. Gandhi consistently criticized such a 'one size fits all' policy that ignores local conditions:
Young India, 6-8-1925 - European writers are handicapped for want of experience and accurate information. They cannot guide us beyond a certain measure if they have to generalize from European examples which cannot be on all fours with Indian conditions, because in Europe they have nothing like the conditions of India, not even excluding Russia. What may be, therefore, true of Europe is not necessarily true of India. We know, too, that each nation has its own characteristics and individuality. India has her own; and if we are to find out a true solution for her many ills, we shall have to take all the idiosyncrasies of her constitution into account, and then prescribe a remedy. I claim that to industrialize India in the same sense as Europe is to attempt the impossible.
Young India, 2-7-1931 - Western observers hastily argue from Western conditions that what may be true of them must be true of India where conditions are different in so many material respects. Application of the laws of economics must vary with varying conditions.
Harijan, 11-5-1935 - There is a difference between the civilization of the East . . .and that of the West. . . . Our geography is different, our history is different and our ways of living are different. . .the economics and civilization of a country where the pressure of population on land is greatest are and must be different from those of a country where the pressure is least.
Young India, 25-7-1929 - The Western civilization is urban. Small countries like England or Italy may afford to urbanize their systems. A big country like America with a very sparse population, perhaps, cannot do otherwise. But one would think that a big country, with a teeming population . . must not copy the Western model. What is good for one nation situated in one condition is not necessarily good enough for another differently situated. One man's food is often another man's poison. Physical geography of a country has a predominant share in determining its culture. 

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