Are Human Beings Rational?

Aristotle once said Man is a rational animal. Is it a correct assessment of man? Not if you consider a few real life stories. Look at the following incidents of train-rage that took place in Mumbai recently:

A 19 year old student was abused and pushed in a suburban train. Why? Just because he was standing in a convenient spot which historically ‘belonged’ to the bullies! apparently, those men were travelling for the past 20 years standing at the same spot! (It seems to be case of spot fixing!!). So, when the student rightly refused to move, the bullies manhandled him.

There was yet another case of train-rage reported wherein a woman journalist was harassed by a group of women for occupying a window seat which was theirs!

In August, a commuter was beaten up by a gang for occupying ‘their’ seat. At this rate, we may have to introduce a new fundamental right in our constitution !

Consider the following Road-rage cases.

A youth from Manipur was beaten up by a mob in Bangalore on the road. The reason? He wasn’t able to speak in Kannada! A few days back a lynch mob was seen beating up 3 Nigerian women with sticks for an alleged act of crime.

A few months back, I nearly escaped being beaten up by a Shiv Sena mobster on a minor parking issue. The guy got abusive and even managed to land a blow on my face before I made good my escape from the scene. Later I complained to the local Shiv Sena party unit head who looked like a perfect gentleman. He reprimanded the miscreant and requested me not to escalate the issue by taking it to the police.

I’m sure such stories are endless. A recent Calvin & Hobbes cartoon in Hindustan Times tells it all!:

Hobbes: You look down in the dumps. What’s the matter?

Calvin: yes, of late the bully in our school keeps knocking me down for no reason – just for kicks! Sometimes animals make more sense than humans!

Hobbes: yes, they are cuter too!

Well, Calvin is right. Animals don’t do anything for kicks. They do it for a purpose whereas humans do things just for the fun of it. We bulldoze, insult, crack jokes, generally have fun at somebody’s expense just for the sake of some excitement. Sorry, they don’t do it just for kicks. Sometimes they combine cheap excitement with greed. Here is an interesting example of this from a TV show:

Female tortoises dig nesting burrows on the beach, where they lay eggs. Egg-laying typically occurs at night, after which the mother tortoise covers the eggs with sand and organic material. The eggs are left unattended and they take a couple of months to incubate.Upon completion of the incubation period, a fully formed turtle breaks out of its shell. It digs to the surface of the nest and begins a life of survival on its own. As soon as they venture out, you can see them all running for life into the sea. Some can never make it to the sea thanks to equally quick action by too many predators. A dog would come and pick one and go away while birds pick one each as they see their prey. However, when a human being comes along, he would pick not one but several till his bag gets full! Would you call it greed or being rational?

I have seen bosses bullying subordinates just for kicks. A boss I worked with early in my career used to derive pleasure out of putting down people whenever a bright or innovative idea was put up for a discussion. I was always thankful to this boss because early in my career, I got a free lesson on what NOT to do as a boss. I made it a point to back ideas that a youngster came up with. Even when I found an idea highly impractical or unviable, I would point it out and add politely: I’m not discouraging you, if you feel strongly about it, you may try it out.

Well, then, what did Aristotle mean when he said that man is a rational animal. He was perhaps referring to our ability to make rational choices of  actions – just the potential which is not translated to behaviour!


Mera Bharat Mahaan – Thank God For Small Mercies!

Corruption and India seem to be synonymous! Here are a few recent experiences of mine:

A Maharashtrian friend of mine who often accompanies me during my evening walks told me this unbelievable story. My friend is a retired principal of a college and obviously values education very much. About 20 years back, his youngest brother stopped his studies after his 12th and joined as Police constable. Within a few years, he became a police inspector and served for 10 years. During those 10 years he enjoyed power, prestige and prosperity (read corruption) thoroughly. He literally amassed wealth. Eventually, with the help of his elder brother, he graduated. He also managed to clear State Service Board Exam and got a posting in the Sales Tax department. My friend was excited. However, he did not see any joy in his brother. His brother told:  “I am not going to take up this stupid job because the present job as a police Inspector means a lot to me. Look at the wealth I have created. Look at the power and prestige I command among my friends and society. How do you expect me to take up this boring job in the Sales Tax department?”  My friend was shocked. He decided to act and act decisively. He took him to a room, closed the doors and………..beat him up literally black and blue! Then he gave him a lecture as he was crying and finally made him accept the more respectable job. My friend claims that his brother got reformed and is quite happy in the new assignment for the past 10 years. But then he still shows him the marks of his wounds that never disappeared completely! My friend asked me whether he was right in being so harsh with his brother. I reassured him that it was indeed the only solution under the circumstances and if he didn’t do that he would have contributed to another corrupt police official to the already rotten society. To reinforce my point, I shared with him my recent experiences in Delhi, which would completely justify his action.

Here are two contrasting experiences from my recent Delhi tour. I had an appointment with a Senior official in a Public Utilities company. He is known for his competence, efficient administration and above all transparency in his dealings. It is always a pleasure doing business with such officers of integrity and character. Yes, we have such people too in India, although their numbers are, sadly,  dwindling. Needless to say, we had a good meeting.

After that meeting, I was relaxing for lunch with our Marketing Chief. As we were having lunch, he received a call. My friend instantly felt uncomfortable and obviously was trying to wriggle out of the conversation. Under the circumstances, he did what Marketing people are generally good at. That is, telling a white lie with a straight face! I heard him say:  “I am far away from Delhi, in the southern part of India. I have got into an aircraft and we are being told to switch off the mobiles…..”  . To his relief, the call ended. As I smiled at him after the call, he explained : ‘The guy is the chairman of a Public Utility Company. He is openly demanding money for giving us a big order!’  I was aghast. Then he elaborated:  “Don’t think a technical presentation by itself will get you an order in India. You have to grease the palms of the officers at all levels”. I nodded in agreement.

Apparently, in several Public Utility companies, the highest positions are bought out by huge payments. And the guys have to recover their investments, after all!

Narrating the story, I turned to my friend and told him: “If you had not acted the way he did, You would have created  another corrupt guy like the chairman of the Public Utility Company. Be happy that you transformed a corrupt brother, while he was still young”.

The stories show that the generation X doesn’t even seem to understand that corruption is bad. As they grow older, they would start demanding money as a matter of entitlement. The moral & ethical values have sunk so deep.

The inevitable conclusion is that we are a corrupt nation with a few tiny islands of honesty & uprightness. The principal, the boy who got transformed, the senior Government official mentioned in this post – these are the kinds of people who give us the hope that we, as a nation, could still overcome the present moral crisis. Thank God for Small Mercies!