Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Who will change our society?

Who will bring about these changes in the society? I had earlier written about changes in our society being essential, inevitable and more importantly drivable. Again I had discussed about problems that exist in our society and categorized these into those that can be solved and those cannot be solved. Solving the problems would involve some kind of changes which are ultimately drivable. Now the only missing piece of the puzzle is "Who will bring about these changes that will solve the problems in our society?"

Most of the problems that we look to solve in our society are complex and large because of the simple fact that we are a planet of 6 billion people. Some of these changes that we are looking at are humongous at first glance, for example that of eliminating corruption, and sometimes even look impossible or highly unlikely. By one of the corollaries of the law of diminishing efforts, early contributors to a sufficiently large and lengthy task end up contributing more than later contributors. So people end up being hesitant to take up/contribute towards solving such big problems during the initial phases of such causes.

This has been one of my favorite topics for debate and one for which I get people to debate with very easily. It is easy to find people who look at the size and improbability of these problems and identify them as not worth spending their time and effort on. But they do not realize that it is because of decisions like these that these tasks look improbable and huge. Also for such big problems the actual requirement of efforts might be smaller than the perceived amount of effort required. Another corollary of the law of diminishing efforts states that the amount of perceived amount of effort required decreases non linearly with an increase in the amount of actual effort put in towards such complex and large tasks.

Very few people decide to take up such causes. The numbers are pathetic in the so called educated sections of the society because the amount of risk that such people have to take are very high. A person with a potential to earn millions of dollars in income would stand to lose the opportunity to earn that money if he/she tries to pursue improbable looking objective of solving such complex problems in the society. I believe that there would have been more takers if these problems didn't look so complex in the first place, but that is not to be.

Now it is not a sin or even a definable mistake or act of selfishness on these people's part to not take up causes or not give up prospective careers to work for the good of the society. I believe that everybody is, and should be, free to take up whatever career choices they wish to make in their lives. Besides the society always needs people who will work hard to earn their millions and simultaneously generate value and meet the needs of the society. Also it is plain statistics at work. For every thousand people, you only need a handful, to actively pursue such causes like solving the problems we face in our society, and statistics ensures that for every thousand there would be a few who resonate with such causes.

Now here is my proposition. If we can increase this above percentage of people, then these problems would get solved faster. If we increase the efficiency of these people, these problems would get solved faster. If we increase the resources available for these people for solving these problems, these problems would get solved faster. Doesn't that sound logical?

Ever since I started thinking about this I have been trying to figure out ways to get it to happen. I have been talking to everybody who I think would resonate with such causes about how it can possibly happen. What I have realized is that most people want this to happen but most of these are not willing to put in effort to make it happen. Of the very few who are willing to put in efforts even fewer are willing to take it up as a cause to live for. The consolation is that there would be a lot of supporters for such causes if and when they gather momentum and the perceived required effort drops drastically.

I, for one, have decided that, I am going to invest my life for this cause. Now that I had defined the objective I wanted to find the best possible method that I should take to work towards this objective. Like I mentioned before, if we have more people, infrastructure, technology and resources, then we could achieve these objectives faster. Of these, getting the non-human aspects together is easier than getting the human aspect ready.

If you have money then you can theoretically mobilize the other aspects but for people you have to inspire them and make them buy this vision. If 5 in 1000 is the number that you are looking at, then you have to reach out to 1000 people before you find your 5 people. Also you have to network heavily between these few people to be able to effectively work out strategies and move towards the objective.

The tough part about the vision is that there is little or no money in pursuing it. Only those people who are bold enough to think beyond money, will be able to take it up as a career. Only those who enjoy taking huge, complex and improbable tasks would enjoy such causes. Only those who can die for a cause would achieve it. And it is such people that the society needs to work for such causes. Anybody can do that. It is all a decision and only a decision. A decision that you are going to put efforts towards the cause and that you are going to achieve it. Are you game?

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is there a completely selfless deed?

People all around us like and praise selflessness and dislike and denounce selfishness. Why do people do that? How do you know if an act is selfless or selfish? For that matter how do you define selfishness and selflessness? Can there be an act that can be defined as an act of absolute selflessness? Let us see.

What is selfishness? Selfishness can be defined as the quality or state of showing exclusive regard to one's own interest or happiness. It is that supreme self-love or self-preference which leads a person to direct his purposes to the advancement of his own interest, power, or happiness, without regarding those of others. Absolute selfishness would imply acts where only the actor benefits.

What is selflessness? Selflessness can be defined as the quality or state of showing absolute disregard to ones own self. By this definition such a person would direct his purpose exclusively for the advancement of other's interest, power or happiness without regarding those of his own. Absolute selflessness would mean that such acts would give no returns of any kind to the actor.

Leaving aside the definitions how does the society judge if an act is selfish or selfless. The answer is pretty straightforward. An act is judged as selfless if the actor gets less out of the act than the society or other people around the actor does. This can normally be accentuated if the actor had alternative choices where he could have gotten more out of the alternative acts and the others would have gotten lesser from those. All other acts are considered selfish :-)

In terms of cost (and efforts which is a cost) when a person incurs cost for the benefit of another person it is considered selfless. If not it is selfish. Normally society is not that harsh and judges based on alternative options available and the 'selflessness ratings' of such options. Also when acts can only possibly yield rewards to the actor, for example preparing for exams, the acts are considered neutral on the selflessness index. However a person declining to help another person during exam preparations will still be considered selfish by the society.

Let us take a closer look at a selfless act. Any act can be considered to have both a physical (or external) result and a metaphysical (or an internal) result. Consider having come through an exam with A+ grade. The physical result is in you getting enough questions correct to get an A+ and the metaphysical result is the 'happiness' or 'satisfaction' that you feel inside your mind. For a selfless act we have defined that the person gets less than what he gives. But this only applies to the external cost vs result. What about the internal results. What if the person enjoys each and every one of his selfless acts more than what the recipients of the fruits of the act does? Would these acts be really selfless? Wouldn't such acts be considered as being done by the person for his own sake without actually caring about others? If such a reasoning holds true couldn't all supposedly 'selfless' deeds be considered selfish where the actors were doing it for the sake of the internal result?

Even if it were partly true, i.e. if the person gains some internal returns but were doing the act for the recipients sake or that the recipients received more than the actor, the person would be getting something in return for the supposedly selfless act. Now getting something in return should imply that the act was not fully selfless like we have defined before. Shouldn't that imply that there is no such thing as a fully selfless deed?

There is an interesting aspect about this argument. This can be extended to every deed and we can claim that we are rewarded internally for every deed that we do and hence all of these are selfish and the true reward of all these deeds is the 'happiness' or the state of mind that the person achieves through the action itself. This can be extended again to state that the objective of every action is ultimately the internalized 'happiness' or the above mentioned state of mind. I am still not very clear about this angle but it is an interesting thought.

If we take out the philosophical perspective that every selfless deed can indeed be selfish then we can take a look at why people praise such deeds. In a society where only the fittest is supposed to survive why would an act where the actor bears the cost and somebody else enjoys the fruit get promoted.

I feel that this adoration for selflessness is a trait that has evolved in society to reward 'selfless' deeds that are valuable for the continuation of the species. There are two types of selfless deeds that I think are relevant here. One is where the actor does something very beneficial to the society at his cost and another is an act where the actor does something which the society expects somebody else to do for him if such a situation arises.

An example for the first would be where somebody, in a medieval society, risks his/her life to fight off natural dangers, for example marauding animals, at their personal risk. Cumulation of such acts would have provided protection to the society as a whole but sometimes at the cost of the individuals similar to how a worker bee sacrifices her life for the hive by stinging invaders.

An example for the second would be where a person spends time and effort by rushing to accident scenes and providing care to accident victims. A cumulation of such acts would act like an insurance policy for every individual in the society. The individual who acts might not really be doing it for the insurance aspect, and in fact mostly wouldn't even be thinking about these aspects. It is like a transparent social security net woven by societal evolution.

'Selfless' acts also serves to balance out the costs in the society. Persons capable of bearing some extra costs, by doing the selfless deeds and bearing such costs, enable people who are not capable of bearing such costs (or being not in a position where they could bear such costs as in the case of accident victims) enjoy the fruits of such actions. This again is another perspective of the social security net mentioned above.

The society is banking on the theory of diminishing efforts. By incentivising selflessness, the society is hoping to get more people to do such deeds thereby making the cost of such deeds smaller and smaller for each individual and ultimately reach a perfect state (which it never will) where every individual will only pay the proportion of cost that he is bound to pay. The biological reasoning could be that the species have a better chance of survival against other species if individuals of the species stand together and grow together.

So through the adoration people are incentivised to do such 'selfless' deeds for which individually they might not get a direct benefit proportional to the cost (or effort which is also a cost) they bear. Let us join in and do such 'selfless' deeds and hope that the secret agenda of our society moves forward towards its target and of course ensure the continuation of the inherently selfish species homo sapiens sapiens :-).

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