The censor board edited certain parts of a documentary shot by a prominent personality who aligns with a political ideology. The result was an outrage against the censor board from people who support his ideology, and a deafening silence from supporters of the opposite side.
Then, the same censor board brutally edited a movie directed by a celebrity with the opposite views. This time, the other side outraged and the previous one feigned ignorance.
The same censor board carried out the same work. But the same people behaved differently in each instance.
A person of one community was lynched. The result again, was outrage from followers of one political ideology, while the other justified it or called it fake. When a person of another community was lynched, the other side outraged till they exhausted their voices (or fingers), while the previous side justified it or called it fake.
Do you notice a pattern here? In both case, and thousands of others, one side was quick to jump to conclusions when people they opposed carried out a certain action. But when people they supported did the same thing, they believed there was more than what met the eye.
As much as we want to vindicate our beliefs, they don’t stand the test of logic. We call what we don’t agree with ‘fake’. But we embrace what suits our ideology without question. We declare our subjective truth as objective. This opens a can of worms.
Here’s how Yuval Noah Harari defined both terms in Sapiens:
Subjective — It exists depending on the consciousness and beliefs of a single individual.
Objective — It exists independent of human consciousness and beliefs
Notice the gap? What happens when we accept a subjective truth as THE truth? And can anyone know the whole truth?
Within infinite myths lies an eternal truth,
Who sees all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes,
Indra, a hundred
You & I, only two. – Devdutt Pattanaik
Is it surprising that fake news has risen alarmingly in the last decade?
Of Heroes, Martyrs, And Us
As humans, we also love to think of ourselves as heroes or martyrs. We consider ourselves heroes when we condone an action, justifying it as a step towards the greater good. But when the same ideology gets in our way, we condemn it and consider ourselves martyrs — displaying exaggerated discomfort or pain to evoke sympathy or admiration.
While working for a firm, I once asked an HR executive to approve swapping places between a consenting colleague and me. She refused. “It is not part of the process,” she quipped. The same day, she sat with us in the cafeteria, complaining about what teachers were saying about her toddler at play-school. “They point out that he doesn’t mingle with peers,” she said. “They said mingling is part of the process,” she said. “What the hell do they mean by that?” The irony wasn’t lost on me.
I’m not trying to pull her down. God knows I’ve done actions I condemned and justified them. I’ve behaved like a martyr and a hero, depending which side of the table I was on.
I want to highlight the aspect which makes us unique, but we repeatedly ignore.
The Unique Human Brain
The pre-frontal cortex makes the human brain unique. It helps us think rationally as well as imagine — neither of which animals are capable of. We can step back, analyze our thoughts and decisions, and make sense of them.
Yet, when we blur the lines between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ — when we condemn something which doesn’t suit our point of view but condone it when it does — we compromise this ability. Fake news thrives on our refusal to examine the other side.
How, then, are we different from our four-legged counterparts?
Train yourself to observe your thoughts. Deploy reason more than emotion. The latter is important, but the former is essential.
Don’t jump the gun when you read about someone or observe an event. Stop for a moment and reflect. Has someone you support behaved in a similar manner? If you’re honest to yourself, the answer will be “yes”. (I highly recommend being honest to yourself.)
Examining your thoughts and preferring rationale over logic directs you towards new virtues; understanding and logic, for instance. It helps you develop fortitude, and find calmness within yourself. That calmness let you control your thoughts, your actions and behaviors and the outcome. And your level of inner calmness is directly proportional to your happiness. When you stop being selective and ignorant, you see the world for what it is instead of what it should be. You will build acceptance and pull away from negative thoughts.
You can either behave like an animal, or like a human being. Rational thinking comes naturally to you — you got the gift when fate decided you would be born as a human. You can look at both sides of the same coin. Will you use it? Or will you stay at the mercy of others? Will you let them think for you? Or will you think for yourself and take control of how you lead your life?