Why Blank Slate: Fighting Tribalism one day at a time

Loads of people ask us why we are called Blank Slate Chronicles? We thought we would give you our reasons. We are living in the eye of the whirlpool, that will reshape the future of the blue planet, for better or for worse. One trend that is sweeping the world, is the entrenching of intense tribalism, or to put it in the words of President Obama, “a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity”. The outgoing President spoke in 2016 at a joint news conference with Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, where he warned earth citizens against the above-mentioned sentiment. Closer home, in India, the warning seems more relevant than ever.

The political, cultural, economic and societal framework of the country is going through a transformation. And amidst the chaos of change, modern tribalism has taken deep roots.

What is Modern Tribalism?

Tribalism is a fundamental feature of human group living. The sense of fraternity, that we feel towards the groups we belong to, is rooted in biology. Darwin propounded that the tribe with most members willing to sacrifice personal interests in favour of the group would prevail over other tribes. This social instinct has helped man’s march to the top of the animal pyramid. And yet, there is a moral dilemma baked in the concept: unity within a group is directly linked to hostility towards ‘outsiders’.

In the post-modern era, many had expected a gradual decline of tribalism in favour of globalism.

At a time when it seemed the idea of ‘earthling as a tribe’ would take root, something collapsed.Possibly as a byproduct of decades of corruption and marginalizing, a completely opposite social trend erupted – one of fragmentation and isolationism, better understood as the age-old “us vs. them”.

The dominoes have tipped over in the UK, Europe and USA, geographies that are now actively fighting the aftermath of tribal mistrust. In India, the storm is brewing.

Up, Close and Personal

At around 8 pm on 8th of November 2016, Prime Minister Modi announced the demonetization of high-value currency notes in India. It was an extreme political move that, understandably, evoked a wide range of emotions among those impacted. Social citizens (like myself) took a side (for or against the move), based roughly on their political affiliations and started debating the move. Up to this point, it was a fairly healthy political process, the sign of a powerful democracy. But, what happened (and is still rampant) after, on social media, is a case study on neo-tribalism.

Within hours, the discussions had given way to dismissive labeling (‘libtards’, ‘bhakts’ and so on) with an effective shut down of rational processing.

The extreme right wing (individuals, media houses and organizations) has been creating, digging or promoting any story that could support the move. The rest of the political forces have been doing the exact same, with the opposite intent.

The speed, at which questionable, and sometimes clearly false, stories are being distributed, is incredible.

The divisive politics has only accelerated since, sweeping the nation into a frenzy of fanaticism and violence. Amidst all the noise, it is hard to discern a single voice of reason, even as truckloads of experts take the mantle.

The Emperor’s New Clothes: An Ode to Curiosity

During my formative years, heated conversations and political debates were the norms of my immediate society. I have witnessed innumerable shouting matches on varied (sometimes frivolous) topics, where each party presented facts and opinions, like absolute champions. There was a code of honour to this madness, though. One, nothing ever got personal and two, there was a genuine curiosity to know and understand, to engage and expand the horizon – a process that I look back to with much nostalgia!

The rise of political tribalism has completely crippled this process, thereby creating ideological walls, that reason is unable to breach.

Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield, and co-author of the book Mind Hacks, wrote an article in September, where he stated, “Psychology has long shown that education and intelligence won’t stop your politics from shaping your broader worldview, even if those beliefs do not match the hard evidence”. But, he does point to a trait that might help in overcoming bias – curiosity, a trait more abundantly found in children!

As a sentient being, it is impossible to remain neutral in times of great upheaval. But, it is important that we allow our minds to process information, without severe prejudice or lack of empathy. If we care to move towards conversations that are solution-oriented, we must go beyond tribal beliefs. And all we need is a little bit of curiosity!

A rare example of adult curiosity has been demonstrated recently, by the (seemingly?) Liberal photographer, Brandon Stanton (of Humans of New York fame), who is touring the Macomb County, that voted emphatically in favor of the Republican President-elect, to understand the lives and decision triggers of the people in there, without judging them for their choice.

Our Stand

When we selected the name ‘Blank Slate’ for our project, it was symbolic of our intent. A blank slate, to our mind, represents the idea of unlearning, curiosity and an unbiased worldview. Blank Slate Chronicles will always endeavour to have no affiliations, other than the one to reason. And, we sincerely hope that the thinking Indian would join us on our mission.

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