Inertia In India

3 mn read

As humans, we aim towards homeostasis and follow the general law of inertia, that is, to remain in a state of constancy. Now, how does one describe constancy in a social setting? Traditions and cultures are perfect mediums to ensure that certain practices and ways of life live past transient humans and build a community containing shared philosophies and ideologies. The formation of societies, and groups, are due to the need to be part of a self-sustaining symbiotic relationship amongst the members of said society or group. Now, where does inertia come into play here? A simple example; in most Indian households with lineages of doctors, engineers, and lawyers, the future offsprings are expected to (if not forced into) the same career paths. Suppose a rebellious member of the household challenges the tradition followed by their family by opting to pursue an “unorthodox” job. In that case, they are most likely met with paramount resistivity towards the idea. If they remain resilient with their choice, they’ll be asked to back up their claims with twice the evidence they would have had to show if they had chosen to pursue a more “orthodox” job. When they are yet another sheep amongst the herd and choose to enter medical school, they are met with zero resistivity towards their future plans. Is this the natural skepticism and coping mechanism towards uncertainty that follows any modicum of change, or is it simply the unwillingness to experience a different lifestyle? It’s a mix of both.

 

To pursue a novel idea is to plunge into depths of daunting uncertainty. Trial-and-error methods of living have long been expelled, and far more “tested-out” ways of life have been encouraged. If we date back to when Indian Caste systems were irrefutably followed and considered the appropriate module to be considered when making decisions about one’s life and future, we notice how generations of people belonging to the same caste have had homogenous jobs and livelihoods. The Brahmins consisted of priests and teachers, and the Vaishyas of farmers and traders. A Shudra wanting to serve as a warrior in battle was an anomaly, a deviation in the social hierarchy. Although such stringent ways of life have been diminished, social blueprints do still exist. And these very blueprints are laid into the collective consciousness of groups and societies, which motivate behavior to follow unspoken norms. 

 

By definition, blueprints are a guide for making something — it’s a design or pattern that can be followed. Unfortunately, what “can” be followed has transformed into something that “must” be followed. In the biological sphere, Cleistogamous flowers (flowers that have their petals closed and only pollinate with themselves) ensure the purity of their species by reproducing the same genetic code every single generation. Most of the time, there is no aris of a novel combination. Similarly, in human societies, the need to ensure homogeneity in future progenies serves as a barrier to the rise of novel individuals. Homogeneity in jobs, livelihoods, ideologies, and beliefs promotes safety in group identity and a fair chance of survival. However, it is a tremendous obstacle to diversity. Diversity ensures an eco-system; it ensures co-evolution of species through competition. Without diversity, survival is one’s safest bet (which really shouldn’t be the hallmark of human life). 

 

Which brings me back to my point, why do parents immediately say no to new ideas? It’s due to the availability bias. The availability bias is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method, or decision. Thus, when the immediate examples are images of tradition, ancestral lineages, constancy, and cultural history, they believe they are justified in saying ‘no’ towards a new suggestion. Unfortunately, this bias has captured the mindset of numerous individuals in positions of power as well. An academic institution unwilling to cancel examinations amid a pandemic, when they are well-aware of the plight of the student’s mental and physical health, is truly their unwillingness to break a long carried-out tradition. “We have been doing this for the past several years; why should we change now?” A phrase we’ve heard all too often in almost every facet of adolescent and adult life. Workers unions fighting for change, youth advocates pleading governments for reforms, and students requesting administrative authorities for leniency is not a question of the lack of strength of newer generations, but a mandated response towards the conservative mindset of the older ones.

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