Anna Hazare — A lerd????

I was reading chetan Bhagat’s article in “Times of India” today about lerds and the first name that came to my mind was Anna Hazare. Now am not hypothesizing or accusing Anna Hazare of being/acting like a lerd*1. Anyway, i tried to figure out/tease out some more details from my memory. It struck me a couple of hours later, during the bath. The reason AH’s name came to my mind was the recent news i watched about his protest against Lokpal’s bill. Now, the News channel(think it was NDTV, not sure) listed three points as to what AH wants changed in the bill. My first reaction was, those are vague.*2

Warning: If you came to this article expecting a stance and justification for the Lokpal/Anna Hazare beliefs, you will be disappointed. This is just a exploratory, wavering article, that will point you to a variety of links and make lots of suggestions, but will leave the conclusions to you.

So far, I have kept out of mainstream politics, news and keeping myself confined to tech news. Sure i knew there was a huge following for anna and a big furorre over Lokpal bill(people around me talk :-P), but i had deliberately ignored most of the debate. Now after spending half the morning ruminating over the issue, I had to look up the history on the Internet and Wikipedia*3 was my first source.

The first thing that catches my eye is the non-violent methods following Gandhi. For my stance on non-violence see here. Ok that was on the summary paragraph and a little detail on history says it’s not that black and white. He has grown up in Mumbai, selling flowers after the seventh grade(about age 11-13). From what wiki says, he sold them at the railway station and later bought/owned a couple of shops. That could not have been an easy road. I am sure he has seen quite an amount of violence(most probably on the receiving side) during that time. Anyway,the reason i said it’s not black and white is his support for forced vasectomy. The referred link*4 points to an interview where he mentions we should also take a look at shivaji. Amit Varma also makes an interesting analogy between Rorschach effect(As Obama claimed) vs How indians perceive Anna Hazare.

Also there is the accusation of him being authoritarianistic. I am not surprised, i have been in NCC and met some of my friends in military and can see a high correlation between military service and authoritarianism. Hell, if had been taken in by the Army during my army interview, am sure i would have stronger authoritarian views. Perhaps it’s Anchoring bias on my part or on his part. As for his interpretations of having survived the near-death experiences, they can be result of any of the biases (Moral luck , Hindsight Bias , Availability Heuristic ,Irrational Escalation)

Ok now on to some of his interesting achievements/activism in the village of Ralegaon Siddhi.

1.Alcohol prohibition:
I was curious as to how this could be explained. That is that it worked and the place is alcohol free. So looked up Social Biases under the list of Cognitive bias. . There is this False Consensus effect which says people tend to overestimate the extent to which others agree with them. But that can't have been sufficient to bring about a change in a majority of a village to publicly avow to ban alcohol. Clearly there has been the effect of Conformance.

2. Grain Bank:
This is an interesting way. In so many ways it is an effort to go back to the world before money became a unit of currency.Am not judging it, i have never known that world so can't honestly say either is better. One thing interesting is they did not trade among different goods. But there arises the question of how was the bank maintained and how were those costs paid. Storing a big amount of grains, safely and maintaining it is difficult work after all.

3. The Removal of Untouchability:
Now this is a big achievement however you look at it. Am still pessimistic about the effectiveness, but nevertheless it's perhaps even bigger than the Alcohol prohibition(for you can drink alcohol in private and still feel it's effects, while it doesn't work for untouchability). As for the reasons that could have contributed to this see the links on the Alcohol prohibition section. I will point out that the biases that he must have had to face and fight against. System Justification This is captured by "If it works, don't fix it " attitude. Status quo bias The difference between these two are very easy to miss. System Justification is an addition of motivation(Duh, another vague term). My interpretation is simple, if you are likely to do something to keep the status quo it is system justification. Status quo bias is simply not doing anything about an existing condition.

4.Collective Marriages:
This is another thing i am happy to hear about, though my reasons are focussed on the efficiency/wastage rather than fiscal cost. And for that reason, i think that this should be practised by the majority and not restricted to financially poor people.

*1 — Disclaimer: I don’t know much about him nor am I hypothesizing Chetan Bhagat meant him when he wrote that article. I personally think there is more variety in the spectrum inbetween nerd and lerd and place myself somewhere closer no the nerd end. Will try to stick to nerd throughout this article.
*2 — Infact the only reason i paid attention to that news item, was because i was argued into it by a roommate…(Phew, a side-effect of sharing living space with someone.)
*3 — The neutrality of an article on Wikipedia is very questionable. I know the general argument is it’s open to editing by anybody and so likely to be neutral. But that argument ignores a social tendency of self-selective groups. and some signs that it’s true in wikipedia editing.
*4 — Incidentally, that very link reeks of lerdism..i.e: it talks about how we are debating the wrong problem and what the author thinks is he right problem. So much so that i gave up reading it after the first paragraph and a quick skim over the rest.

P.S: I don’t like to take strong stances in the field of politics and/or governance. (I don’t think i can without having experimented or read the existing experiments.) So just trying to correlate what i have read and what i see. If you think this article does not tell a coherent story, you’re right. it doesn’t but let me know, where do you think i can improve this article. My goal is merely to find and point out parallels between what i learnt in cognitive science and what i see in real life.

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