Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reactive Self-Perception

I sometimes do just love these long train journeys where I get to sit 30hrs in one position and just look around and think. It just lets you introspect. It lets me analyse the world around like never before and observe the ocean humanity flow by as if I am not a part of it. Watch everything from a distance and yet not feel a part of it. Look at the world around as if I am looking from outside but with as much proximity as anybody living in it but letting a larger picture sink in unrestrained by all personal affiliations and identifications.

This state of mind lets in thoughts which I have never thought and lets me think about non-academic things at a greater depth than usual when I don't even remember the very possibility that I can have a non-academic life. Given my recent mental disposition sprouting from some recent emotional and relationship adventures (which generated the last 2 blog posts) every little human interaction was seeming like hitting back at me with greater force than ever before. But I have this ability to detach myself from such issues so that I can quickly get back to logical thinking, my natural state of mind.

And in these times reading or thinking about Economics provides something intellectually challenging to pursue while crammed in half-a-seat in an Indian train. It just looks so relevant.
Hence sharing here the thought and insights developed in those lonely hours.

Hence I started reading about this idea of "Reactive self-perception".

I was reading how some countries in the post-colonial period have failed to take full advantage of the globalization leading to the opening up of markets. It has lead to an unfair distribution of the advantages of globalization and this stems as much from the faults in the implementation of market economy in a globalized manner (like super-powers maintaining an upper-hand in terms of patent rights etc) and also because of these colonized people unable to recover in some sense from the age of empires. The countries which have been severely hit by this are the African ones and India to some extent but India has somehow escaped the terrible situation of Africa thanks to its active intellectual movement and powerful press and media which has championed the Indian identity in a very assertive way. India at least didn't see the severe internal collapse leading to civil strife and famines and blood pools which Africa has seen since the end of the colonial period. Unlike most South-Asian countries they are yet to see the fruits of democracy.
Not that south-asia has been any paragon of democracy but the implementation has definitely been much better than in Africa.

Now the interesting thing is that this has serious roots in the subject of psychology (interesting how psychology helps understand global economics!) in what is called the "reactive self-perception" .

Reactive self-perception is the state of the mind when one decides one's identity NOT as a result of an analysis of one's own self but as a response to what OTHERs think about him/her. If for centuries a set of people are ill-treated and humiliated and told that "you are all idiots" then the first generation takes it as an insult and might revolt but if the revolt is crushed then the next generations believe that their identity is of an underdog. After a century these people start seeing themselves as the "natural" underdogs and suffer from what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen calls the "illussion of destiny". They start thinking that their natural place is at the receiving end of the world and are not supposed to be the agents of change but can only be the receivers of whatever the powerful gives them.

This reactive identity can lead to mis-utilization and under-utilization of resources and also fatalism. It can lead to a complete failure of all the goods to be achieved out of globalization. There is a market where people are ready to buy and sell but the people with the products aren't there to bargain the prices since they don't realize that they have the power to bargain! The producers coming from underprivileged backgrounds are not even psychologically prepared to challenge the buyer into giving a better price! Again even in an open market economy the advantages of fair dealings is lost because of internal psychological barriers.

I think even in day to day life and in our social life this feature shows up where lots of voices and talents are unheard and unused simply because the voice and talent belongs to someone who has been collectively ostracized by the society and hence has been implicitly led into believing that he/she is incapable or wrong!

Further this kind of Reactive Self-Perception can also become the roots of terrorism where one starts defining one's identity as a reaction to some certain set of ideas. Like even though any well-reasoned person will understand that it is hard to distinguish between what exactly is a "western idea" and what exactly is an "eastern idea" given the amount of mixed global heritage we inherit, unfortunately much of Islamic fundamentalism relies on this "reactive identity" where one starts defining as "Islamic" everything that is in contradiction to whatever is commonly called "western"! This can lead to devastating effects as the world is aware of like the recent declaration of Talibans in the SWAT valley that "democracy is un-Islamic"!

Islamic fundamentalists have unfortunately looked as "Islam" as not a philosophy stemming from certain geographic regions but as a symbol of being "anti-western"! Islam as an answer to everything that the west seems to stand for. Its roots are probably not far to seek when the west at one point did pump this Islamic identity to counter the Russian.

One day this is likely to hit-back the social memory of Africa that when the world was agog with Obama being elected in the USA, millions died in Zimbawe in famines. Its likely that the world will eventually pay for this grave error.

Linking to what was being said earlier, there are reasons to believe that eventually this sense of "reactive identity" coupled with the implementation errors of globalization and open-market economy it will lead the neglected Africans into becoming a base for terrorism in the coming years. Today they are physically weak because of the famines, tomorrow they will be psychologoically suicidal and the mortal pains will become irrelevant. We are very likely to see a rise of another Osama Bin-Laden in Africa in the next half-century mimicking the Islamic terrorism that sprung from the middle east and has wrecked havoc in the last half-century.

African terrorism might be just round the corner.