You Know What Is Intolerance? The Non-Acceptance Of Diversity 

You Know What Is Intolerance? The Non-Acceptance Of Diversity 

by Banuchandar Nagarajan - Nov 1, 2018 03:30 PM +05:30 IST
You Know What Is Intolerance? The Non-Acceptance Of Diversity Members of Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam take part in a protest near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi against the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple. (Biplov Bhuyan/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
  • The majority verdict of the Supreme Court in the Sabarimala case pushes equality at the cost of diversity.

“God knows, God knows I want to break free.” – Queen

Evolutionary psychology teaches us that humans have a tendency to see patterns. We are wired to prefer order and not break free. We are uneasy with chaos. It is part of the survival instinct nurtured to reduce uncertainty and danger. Predictability gave a sense of ease about the environment early humans operated in. By “controlling the controllable”, the other vagaries could be tackled. Formation of stereotypes and matching patterns, snap judgements etc, flow from this instinct.

This has been so ingrained in us that over the years, we started designing our societies to make them more and more orderly. Our residences, our art, our schools – all have a sense of regularity and discipline. But at some point it must have led to diminishing returns. The opportunity cost of the unexplored path and inherent diversity in human nature would have come to the fore.

The society then would have started ‘tolerating’ diversity. They might have sniggered at it as crazy, but the society as a whole would have received the benefits of the deviation in thought. Lateral thinking would have made the deviants seem closer to god. The artists and scientists, who did not conform to order, would only have been subjected to such limitations that posed an existential threat to the order and hence put the well-being of the group itself in jeopardy.

Our society would probably have evolved like that over centuries. At every era there would have been deviants. The poets, philosophers and scientists were all deviant geniuses of some kind or the other. For example, among the 63 Tamil Nayanars is a lady called Karaikkal Ammaiyar. She was called ‘Karaikkal Pei’, the devil of Karaikkal, for her extraordinary passion towards Lord Shiva. Same is the case with Andal among the 12 alwars. But predominantly there was a greater freedom to experiment with ideas.

The Supreme Court majority verdict in the Sabarimala case was based on the idea of equality and conformity with the current thought. Not for once did the court look at it as an eccentric outlier, an exception and not a rule. Women were allowed in all but a miniscule number of temples in the world. Similar restrictions exist for men as well. Group rights, instead of being applied at a holistic level, were poked with and inserted at a specific instance.

Are women allowed to become priests in churches? Are women allowed in mosques in general? These are macro violations of fundamental rights of women. The equality of opportunity is absent. There is real discrimination; in the language of the judges, there is ‘untouchability’. It does not even call for guts to address it. It just calls for plain old honesty.

In engineering colleges, you are taught about errors and biases. ‘Errors’ are how far the observation is from the expected value. ‘Biases’ are observations that are bunched together and as a group are away from the expected value. The former calls for adding rigour to the experiment and the latter calls for recalibration of the machine.

Sabarimala can be categorised as an ‘error’, in scientific terminology. It has been known for centuries and accepted. Error is so minor that the experiment continued. Widely prevalent practice of not allowing women in many mosques is a bias. Practitioners are still not seeing the need to recalibrate the machine, even if it is programmed based on an algorithm of seventh century Arabia.

In another case, the learned judges declared with grandiosity that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy”. It would call for high-level of cognitive dissonance to call for accepting dissent and not allow for diversity of practice. The judges arrogated to themselves more than the collective wisdom of the Hindus over centuries. The ones that delivered the majority verdict have interpreted the Constitution to mean the dominance of equality over freedom of religion, as the sagacious dissenting judge has claimed.

Why would the judges do that? Aren’t they part of the community? Or are they deviants themselves? Are these the geniuses who we are not able to see? These would have been reasonable questions had they arisen from the cauldron of our society. But the process of judicial appointments is made in smoke-filled rooms. There is no democratic check on the selection. Had the judges gone through conformation, their judgement would have carried the trust it lacks now. It feels as if the deracinated, liberal intellectual elite have thrown something on the faces of the masses from which they have psychologically withdrawn.

This idea of ‘conformation’ forced on the society is past its sell-by date. Genetics have proved that the variations in the alleles are the reason we have thrived as a species. Consanguineous marriages lead only to destruction of groups. If the perspicacity to decipher the benefits of diversity is absent, at least a utilitarian approach can be taken on "how much crazy" can it be allowed to get. Greatest good to the greatest number.

The society has mostly benefitted from its outliers – people or ideas or practices. Even in the “land of the free”, the Securities and Exchange Commission imposed sanctions on Elon Musk for a random tweet. How regressive! (It is even dumber for the media to refer to his “smoking pot on live TV” charge. The two-and-a-half hour video was an education on the future of the world).

Europe wants Britain to conform. China wants Uighurs and Tibetans to conform. Campus liberals in American universities want students to conform lest they face ostracism. Communists want similarity and conformation of absurd ideologies that run counter to the human spirit. In our own policy-making, we want schools to conform to the same syllabus.

What these conformists are killing is the richness of diversity. Non-acceptance of diversity is the actual intolerance. The society does not move forward. It just becomes more familiar and comfortable. Not in the spirit of Mao but, “let a thousand flowers bloom!”

Banuchandar Nagarajan is a public policy adviser. An alumnus of Harvard University, he has worked in the World Bank, PwC and the UN. Follow him @Banuall.

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