An intellectual academic friend posted an article as “a powerful piece worth reading” by an Indian elite that tells me “Mobs are taking over civic spaces in India. Public lynching, a barbaric form of political expression, seems to have become the new normal in India.”
As a man of science, I was a bit disturbed by my apparent blindness to the new Normal of my own nation, so I opened my window and scanned the streets if I am missing something here.
Unfortunately, I was not lucky to see any mob in the civic space. As I seen never witnessed a lynching after wasting 50 years living inside this country, I felt that due to some mean trick played by fate, I am denied access to normalcy of my own nation cited by my elite friend.
So I returned to my desk and wondered….
Are these elites really seeing something that the teeming billions of India that I belong to are blind to?
Thankfully, a great place to look for the answer exists, and that is our brain.
The thinking elites and tradition-driven masses are actually just an meta-expression of thinking neocortex and instinct-driven old brain.
Masses and old brain don’t think. They automatically respond to each stimulus using these instincts, while neocortex and elites ponders over things for finding a better response in future.
While old brain and masses are busy staying alive right here right now, neocortex and elites look at reality to find patterns to help us deal with future challenges more effectively.
So, it obviously feels that just like neocortex, the elites know better. But, something is not right with this logic; as, even after millions of years of having evolved neocortex, our lives are still run mostly by old brain, and more so when chips are down.
As nature is biased towards retaining what works better, it is a hard evidence that neocortical wisdom is good, but not yet good enough to replace old brain, so we need to understand why nature has evolved this seemingly counterproductive trait.
Fear for all snakes is instilled in old brain. But, it is entirely possible to use the neocortical learning and know that most snakes are not worth fearing. So, as wise apes, we can and should transcend old brain fear and gain from our knowledge.
While nature has allowed us this advantage, it has also done something strange. We are allowed to benefit from neocortical learning, it is not allowed even to be transferred directly to next generation that is barely 30 years away.
So, child of the greatest snake expert is born with the same fear of snakes because nature knows the bigger picture where a non-venomous snake can evolve into or turn out to be venomous one.
Nature’s strategy of not trusting neocortical wisdom is because, even though it is a smart tool that can simulate reality and predict the future, it can do it only for a small part of reality.
As reality is a massive place that has even around for billions of years, our ability to model and predict its behaviour is almost insignificant.
Our neocortex allows us to figure out what we think that will work, but what is hidden in our old brain is a consolidated wisdom of what has actually worked, and that too, for billions of years.
The real learning from our brain is how neocortex and old brain co-exist. There are conflicts, but when they get survival threatening, they are ruled over by old brain. This is possible because brain acts as a seamless whole and not a schizophrenic one divided by agendas.
The problem with Indian elites is that our feudal social structure, access to wealth and education has started uprooting them from the seamless whole. The privileges have created an illusion of separation and insulation that is fast turning India into a schizophrenic brain with multiple identities.
So, while playing their natural role of neocortex of the nation, elites are getting more and more condescending to Indian traditions and customs that have operated the masses for eons.
While wedging an ideological war with masses on a false sense of intellectual superiority, they are forgetting that even their own survival is dependent on having India as a unified whole.
Let us hope that activism of our elites doesn’t reach a point that it is perceived as a survival threat by masses and trigger them to rise and take control, because when old brain rises, neocortical wisdom is brutally thrown out of the window.
At this point, elites are not instilling too much fear because masses instinctively know that pens of intellectuals that used to be mightier than swords were filled with blood and sweat from suffering in past.
Today, a free wi-fi user sitting in CCD is hardly a material for driving smallest of real change as he/she is unlikely to bear even switching off of air-conditioner.
But, if there are real game-changers in the kids holding placards, brain metaphor has another massage for them.
Old brain responses can be changed or curbed, but never by confrontation. Nature is ensured that neocortex can never win in a fight with old brain when chips are down. So, the only way to prevent old brain from using any instinctive protocol is to remove the fear-switch connected to it. And, to do that, you need to change the circumstances.
So, if you want to change the mind of an Islamic terrorist or Hindu vigilante, you can’t use confrontation as a tool. You are neither better, right-er nor powerful. It is just that you have a different worldview.
The only way out is to engage and work on the circumstances they live in. Go and work where they are and improve their lives. That is what all the leaders did during Gandhian period. It took them enormous effort and pain, but it did change minds of masses.
So, neo-liberals really want to walk the talk, they need to move beyond mutual back thumping of social media likes or post images of fifty-odd and banners saying that we shall bring the change.
They need to go to rural India where poverty and illiteracy are, as they are the real causes of fear and anger that is expressed through ancient old brain actions.
There is no other way to bring a change.
And, if you don’t want to do that and stick to confrontation, please remember that it is a war that neocortex has not won yet.