Let Them Eat Cake

Identity politics. Only recently did I come across this term. I always knew this concept existed but was glad to finally name it and add it to my lexicon.

“Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify.”

No single government could cater to specific interests of ethnically, culturally, economically diverse set of populace. There is an unequivocal need for social and political groups lobbying for their self-interest.

Fortunately, I’m not here to talk politics. I’m more interested in how identifying with our own people blinds us.

Once, hearing how her subjects faced difficulties earning their daily bread, Queen Mary Antoinette ordered, “If not bread, let them eat cake”.

This uninformed, rigid adherence to one’s identity and perspective is what I find interesting and often unsettling.

In the past, vegetarian friends have made me roll my eyes more number of times than I am willing to admit. Like that older me, many of us just assume that vegetarians have made a conscious choice not to eat meat. However, a person’s eating habits are more about their parent’s choices than their own. Even after they have grown up, being part of the family’s culture, community gives them much more joy than a piece of succulent tandoori chicken leg.

Each religion in the world is in its own phase of evolution. Hindus take pride in calling themselves scientific spirituals, liberal Christians in the US consider Bible more as a spiritual and ethical guide than a carving in stone. As an agnostic, I always wondered, “If people know that religion is not absolute and it makes some terrible mistakes so many times, why people are still religious?”. The answer is, its not really a binary choice. The traditions and experiences religion bundles itself with, the love and affection of people around you sharing the same beliefs weigh much more than the personal “freedom” agnosticism has to offer.

US has been fighting a seemingly endless “War on Drugs” for decades now. A lot of Americans want their government to spend millions prosecuting and imprisoning countless non-violent drug-offenders. The same people do not want any money going into rehabilitation centers. This shows a lack of basic understanding of how addiction works. Continued drug-usage is not a choice most of the time. While the government criminalizes it, the societal taboos keeps addicted individuals from seeking help. This criminal cycle doesn’t even stop in prisons. As a society, a touch of compassion is needed to handle drug addiction, not a look of disgust.

I recently heard a US judge on NPR. He was elaborating on the need of learning foreign languages, social sciences, taking world history courses before going into law-school. It makes us interact with lives, experiences of people who are far removed from us, compels us to see things in a different light. A judge is given the responsibility to provide justice to folks who may not necessarily share the same upbringing, culture and opportunities he was exposed to. Developing a diverse social understanding is much more than a college credit requirement here.

One particular conversation between Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson & militantly rationalistic, biologist Richard Dawkins really echoed with me. Its about pursuasion and about changing minds. Full video here.

Persuasion ... its, “Here are the facts and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind”, and its the facts plus the sensitivity when convolved together that creates impact …