Are we like this only?

Understanding (and shaping) India

About this blog

The refrain, “We are like that only”, is used to answer many questions about how nothing seems to get done on time (referred to as “Indian Standard time”), or how attention to detail is often missing, or how people obey the laws and rules only when it is convenient (or if someone is watching), or even how we treat each other (e.g. in traffic).  This simplistic response, although convenient, is very dangerous because it is a conversation ender. It suggests that one should just accept the status quo and learn to live with it instead of asking:

  • Are we really like this? If so, why are we like this? If not, why do we think we are like this?
  • Who is the “we” that is like this? Or are we all like this?
  • What is it that we are supposed to be like?
  • How different are we from people in other countries?
  • Have we always been like this? If not, what has changed?
  • Is it bad to be like this? If so, what can we do to change?

Each of these questions is worth discussing at length. In this blog, I will share my point of view on particular behaviour that we know is bad for us as a society like excessive honking while driving, spitting on the roads, accepting or giving dowry. I encourage everyone who stumbles upon this blog to comment with their own perspective.

I will be talking about issues that are close to many people’s hearts and will question our beliefs, our so-called Indianness and our moral makeup. My request to all is to keep the discussion focused on issues and solutions and present your thoughts devoid of any rhetoric so that each idea can be discussed and evaluated based on its own merit.

Before starting, I must admit that I have some pre-conceived notions about why people behave the way they do courtesy Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (authors of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) and my interest in Game Theory.  I will be happy to shed these if proven wrong. I believe that people will behave how you want them to behave given the right settings and the right incentives. The tough part is creating the right settings and choosing the incentives without undesirable side effects.

At the time of writing this, I have no idea whether people will read what I write, whether they will care enough to comment and whether through these discussions, we will be able to come up with solutions that will impact public policy. At the very least, I can say that I tried.

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