Giving back to society
#1
This is from an email I received :-


"Why Indians dont give back to society & Why don't we worship Brahma?


Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism.

Why dont we worship Brahma ? We know he's part of the Hindu trinity as the creator, but we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Shiva, its eventual destroyer. The answer lies not in religion, but in culture. But in what way does our religion shape our culture?


Weber explained the success of capitalism in the US, Germany and Britain as coming from their populations Protestant faith. This ethic, or culture, was missing from the Catholic populations of South America, Italy and Spain. Protestants, Weber said, extended Christianitys message of doing good deeds, to doing work well. Industry and enterprise had an ultimate motive: public good. That explains the philanthropists of the US, from John D. Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates.


What explains the behaviour of Indians? What explains the anarchy of our cities? To find out, we must ask how our behaviour is different.


Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.


The Indians instinct is to jump the traffic light if he is convinced that the signal is not policed. If he gets flagged down by the police, his instinct is to bolt. In an accident, his instinct is to flee. Fatal motoring cases in India are a grim record of how the driver ran over people and drove away.


We show the pattern of what is called a Hobbesian society: one in which there is low trust between people. This instinct of me-versus-the- world leads to irrational behaviour, demonstrated when Indians board flights. We form a mob at the entrance, and as the flight is announced, scramble for the plane even though all tickets are numbered. Airlines modify their boarding announcements for Indians taking international flights.


Our opportunism necessarily means that we do not understand collective good. Indians will litter if they are not policed. Someone else will always pick up the rubbish we throw. Thailands toilets are used by as many people as Indias toilets are, but they are likely to be not just clean but spotless. This is because thats how the users leave them, not the cleaners.


The Indians reluctance to embrace collective good hurts his state. A study of income-tax compliance between 1965 and 1993 in India (Elsevier Science/Das- Gupta, Lahiri and Mookherjee) concluded that declining assessment intensity had a significant negative effect on compliance, while traditional enforcement tools (searches, penalties and prosecution activity) had only a limited effect on Indians.The authors puzzled over the fact that Indias income tax performance (was) below the average of countries with similar GDP per capita.


We do not think stealing from the state is a bad thing, and our ambiguity extends to corruption, which also we do not view in absolute terms. Political parties in India understand this and corruption is not an issue in Indian politics. Politicians who are demonstrably corrupt, recorded on camera taking a bribe or saying appalling things, or convicted by a court, can hold legitimate hope of a comeback unthinkable in the West.


The opportunist is necessarily good at adapting, and that explains the success of Indians abroad. We can follow someone elses rules well, even if we cant enforce them at home ourselves. The Indian in the US is peerless at the Spelling Bee because the formula of committing things to memory, which in India passes for knowledge, comes naturally to him. But this talent for adapting and memorizing is not the same as a talent for creation.


The question is: Why are we opportunists?


In his great work Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti observed that the rewards religions promised their faithful were all far off, in the after life. This is because a short goal would demand demonstration from god and create sceptics instead of believers. There is an exception to this in Hinduism. Hinduism is not about the other world. There is no after life in Hinduism and rebirth is always on earth. The goal is to be released entirely and our death rites and beliefs -- funeral in Kashi -- seek freedom from rebirth.


Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to earth, because its a rotten place. Naipaul opens his finest novel with the words The world is what it is, and Wittgenstein (The world is all that is the case) opens his Tractatus similarly.


Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is. Perhaps this is where the Hindu gets his world view -- which is zero-sum -- from. We might say that he takes the pessimistic view of society and of his fellow man. But why?


The Hindu devotees relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. God must be petitioned and placated to swing the universes blessings towards you. God gives you something not through the miracle, and this is what makes Hinduism different, but by swinging that something away from someone else. This is the primary lesson of the Vedic fire sacrifice. There is no benefit to one without loss to another. Religion is about bending gods influence towards you through pleas, and appeasement, through offerings.


Society has no role in your advancement and there is no reason to give back to it (in any way, including leaving the toilets clean behind you) because it hasnt given you anything in the first place. That is why Indian industrialists are not philanthropists. Rockefeller always gave a tenth of his earnings to the Church, and then donated hundreds of millions, fighting hookworm and educating black women. Bill Gates gave $25 billion (around Rs1.2 trillion), and his cause is fighting malaria, which does not even affect Americans. Warren Buffett gave away $30 billion, almost his entire fortune. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries. Dhirubhai Ambani International School has annual fees starting at Rs. 47,50,000 (with a Rs 24,00,000 admission fee) and Mukesh Ambanis daughter was made head girl.


An interesting thing to know is this: Has our culture shaped our faith or has our faith shaped our culture? I cannot say. To return to the question we started with: Why is Brahma not worshipped? The answer is obvious: He has nothing to offer us. What he could do for us, create the universe, he already has. There is no gain in petitioning him now."

Comments anyone?
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#2
The rant is partially accurate. Indians are indeed pretty low on the empathy scale. But the analysis is bullshit, as are the premises.

The bit about Vishnu being worshiped rather than Brahma may be indicative of a certain cultural attitude, but what is the direction of causation here? There are probably a multitude of factors at work. I think that social-economic-political conditions can help determine which aspects of religious belief the people are most likely to cherry-pick in their proclamations of religious expression. These conditions can also influence the prevailing cultural attitude in itself.

As for the rest of it, there are so many factual errors that its not worth discussing in detail. The author seems to have decided on the thesis first and then picked the evidence, moulding it to fit the conclusions. Just take this one paragraph:

Quote:"Weber explained the success of capitalism in the US, Germany and Britain as coming from their populations Protestant faith. This ethic, or culture, was missing from the Catholic populations of South America, Italy and Spain. Protestants, Weber said, extended Christianity's message of doing good deeds, to doing work well. Industry and enterprise had an ultimate motive: public good. That explains the philanthropists of the US, from John D. Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates."

1. The success of capitalism in the West is because of various historical factors including but not limited to trade, colonialism (beginning in the 16th century, at a time in history when the East was richer than the West), the Enlightenment, an early start in the industrial revolution (due primarily to the factors mentioned previously), slavery, indentured labor, rich new natural resources (in the New World as well as in the colonies), continued cultural and economic imperialism, and the laws of international finance enforced through war, enticement, coercion and pop culture democracy.

2. Italy and Spain are quite wealthy, and putting them in the same group as the South American countries, and in opposition to the UK and Germany, is ridiculous. Furthermore, a quick look at the Protestant countries by numbers shows that Tonga, Swaziland, Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Jamaica have more Protestants than the US and UK. [edit: I am talking about the percentage of Protestants in relation to the general public, not raw numbers of Protestants]. Take a moment to process that - Jamaica, the land of Bob Marley and Rasta has more Protestants than the US and the UK. Germany comes far down the list, with just 34% of its population being Protestant.

3. US style democracy creates many billionaires and many working poor, in its current political and economic form. So you would expect to see more Billionaire philanthropists from the US. In order to assess if Americans (and the Brits and Germans) are indeed bigger philanthropists we need to compare across the general demographics. It is true that the US and to a lesser extent, the UK, are top donors of global aid as a whole. But what happens when you look at the data per capita? It turns out that on a per capita basis the two countries are not even in the same category as many of the other developed countries! The US gives $14.4 per citizen and the UK gives $16.6 per citizen (all in American dollars). Compare this with $38.6 per person in the Netherlands, $95.7 per person in Norway, and $32.8 per person in Kuwait!
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#3
"The rant is partially accurate. Indians are indeed pretty low on the empathy scale. But the analysis is bullshit, as are the premises." Thumbup
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#4
tl;dr: indians are oppurtunists, we dont worship brahma because he doesnt provide us with any oppurtunities.

the only interesting question the article raises is "why is indian culture the way it is", and the author doesnt even make any sensible guesses.

Quote:Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

is this behaviour unique to indians? if i had to guess, traffic jams exist in other cultures too with less reasons to justify them (what with the lack of cow crossings, potholes, cricket matches, encroaching roadside vendors, ...).

Quote:The Indians instinct is to jump the traffic light if he is convinced that the signal is not policed. If he gets flagged down by the police, his instinct is to bolt. In an accident, his instinct is to flee. Fatal motoring cases in India are a grim record of how the driver ran over people and drove away.

as opposed to being subjected to a mob lynching. not to condone their behaviour, but dealing with the fickle mob mentality is very risky and the "instinct to bolt" might just be one of survival.

Quote:The Indian in the US is peerless at the Spelling Bee because the formula of committing things to memory, which in India passes for knowledge, comes naturally to him.

culturally sounds more apt than naturally.

Quote:Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to earth, because its a rotten place. Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is.

does not entering heaven, imply not returning to earth. all three religions seem to have a higher regard for the afterlife.

Quote:The Hindu devotees relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. Religion is about bending gods influence towards you through pleas, and appeasement, through offerings.

again, bargaining with god(s) is common among all religions. we just have more elaborate tactics.

Quote:Dhirubhai Ambani International School has annual fees starting at Rs. 47,50,000 (with a Rs 24,00,000 admission fee) and Mukesh Ambanis daughter was made head girl.

the fees look outrageous or more likely has less decimal points and more commas than it should.

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#5
This episode of NDTV's 'We the People' on philanthropy in India makes instructive viewing:
http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/we-the-...ing/179932
One of the things discussed is whether there are cultural reasons that could account for the conspicuous absence of Indian billionaires in the Giving Pledge.
While the program is definitely worth watching, one annoying aspect of it is its near-exclusive focus on 'billionaire' donations, totally ignoring the potential of 'small donors' combining their efforts via Web 2.0. This is an especially glaring omission, since even as you are reading this, there are ways of giving back to society with donations as small as Rs 100/- or Rs 110/-.
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#6
(21-Mar-2011, 01:21 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: ...even as you are reading this, there are ways of giving back to society with donations as small as Rs 100/- or Rs 110/-.

It was only after writing the previous post that I came to know that there is indeed an initiative called, literally, the '100 Rupee Club', a club whose entry criteria are less demanding that Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge club!
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