19 April, 2011

Why ideas liberate

Most folks who have known me realize by now my advocacy of an "idea-centric" world-view from the present "people-centric" approach to things that is practiced in the part of the world where I live. A good quote towards this end that I've come across is: Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas. (This quote is not mine; this is in retrospect one of the most useful quotes I've learnt from my grad school days).

As expected, I have met with a lot of opposition.

One of the most common opposition that I've encountered is that by speaking about "ideas" I am basically trying to "show off" that I am intellectually better, smarter, etc. And that it does not mean that people who don't talk about ideas are unintelligent; they may just be modest, and so on.

All I can say in response is *Sigh* :-) The opposing argument is again focused on the person and his underlying motives if any and fails to address the merit (or not) of the idea itself. So what if I am trying to show off, or not? It does not affect the truth or falsity of the assertion that focusing on ideas rather than people is better in the long run. And where did this whole stuff about someone being intelligent if they talk about ideas, come in? At least, I am not at all sure what constitutes intelligence and "measures" of intelligence in the form of IQ scores are the dumbest thing I've seen. It does not of course mean that there is no such thing called intelligence -- we just don't have a good enough model to understand its various dimensions. In any case, the assertion about ideas versus people has nothing whatever to do with a person's intelligence.

Another opposing argument I've encountered is that being people-centric means that we care for people and hence it is a noble thing to do, while being idea-centric is that we don't care about people and tend to end up living in our own worlds.

Not true.

Being people-centric does not mean that we care about people -- we just make people the center of our world-views. We think in terms of people. Hence, something bad means some person is to blame, and something good means some person is a hero. More often than not, a people-centric world-view makes us pass judgments about people, when disagreeing with them on an idea. I've seen in professional circles where a disagreement in (for example) a contract negotiation is taken to personal levels, seen as disrespect and a ego-battle, and so on. I'd say that one of the primary reasons that political manipulations permeate almost every aspect of our society in this country, is because of the people-centric world-view.

It is naive to believe that any society can be run without any form of disagreements among its members. And in a people-centric society, disagreements result in conflicts, while in an idea-centric society disagreements result in dispassionate argumentation.

Also, an idea-centric world-view does not have to mean that we don't care about people. It all depends on what our ideas are. We can pursue ideas that result in a net benefit for people and society in general (a win-win game), or we can pursue ideas that benefit only us and causes no or net negative benefit to others (a win-lose game), or we can pursue ideas that give us a net negative benefit while creating good for others (a lose-win game), or of course, we can pursue ideas that result in a net loss for us and others (a lose-lose game). It is completely up to us and our "intelligence."

Focusing on win-win ideas is "wise", focusing on win-lose ideas is "vain", focusing on lose-win ideas is "altruistic" and focusing on lose-lose ideas is, well, "stupid."

Of course, we can be "indifferent" and pursue ideas that have no perceivable value to either us or anyone else in the foreseeable future. What we do with ideas is basically up to us.

In fact, the assertion that "a people-centric world-view is all about caring for others" is basically an idea. Regardless of what we may believe, fundamentally it is ideas that mold our thinking.


So finally, what is the reason for my advocacy of an idea-centric world-view, if it is not for "showing off"?

The reason simply is that I believe, an idea-centric world is a win-win world. It will liberate us from a lot of social issues like prejudice, discrimination, insecurity, etc. that plague our society and keeps it from realizing its true potential. An idea-centric world gives a lot of freedom for individuals to be themselves and feel good about themselves, without judging them by their ideas. We can disagree with people fiercely on specific issues, yet go with them for evening chai and invite them for dinner. This (incomplete) shift in my own mind to an idea-centric paradigm has helped me cope with a number of crises without falling apart as an individual; and my only hope is that it can help others too.

I've disagreed with a lot of people on a lot of issues, but that does not mean that there is a personal enmity between us -- at least it is not there from my side. As I'd mentioned in a status update: an enemy is someone whom we want to harm, while an adversary is someone who we fear may harm us. My idea-centric world-view leaves me with no enemies; unfortunately it does not guarantee no adversaries. For that to happen, the other party should also be idea-centric.

There is a saying: The human mind is inelastic -- once it is stretched to the limits of a new idea, it never returns back to its previous dimensions. Once we know, we know. We may forget the details and we may even forget that we know; but we know. Our mind has changed, irrevocably.

Given that, it is imperative for us to carefully watch and weigh the ideas that we are letting manipulate our inelastic minds.

A people-centric world-view is basically an idea places people at the center of our world-views. It stretches our inelastic minds into a configuration that only leads to political manipulations, out of which can cannot escape so easily.

An idea-centric world-view is also an idea. But the way it stretches our inelastic minds gives our minds greater freedom to operate. It is somewhat analogous to how object-oriented thinking is better than procedural thinking. Whatever application program we write in say, Ruby or Java, we can very much write in COBOL or C. But the object-oriented paradigm of thinking makes it much easier to design and maintain large application programs, than a procedural paradigm.

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