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India 2018! And yet she witnesses the same old archaic conflicts between her people divided—by idiosyncratic differences, stemming from their affiliation to some (not too) distinctive belief groups. The most common display of this has been an uprising of more armchair activists than ever, who show support and loyalty to their groups by slogan mongering their hashtag #dissent via social media, status updates and forwards on Whatsapp, and even ‘wearing their ideology’ on their sleeves (Dhawan, 2018)

Every major news outlet—more or less—is nagging our conscience with interrogations, making us ask ‘are we true nationalists?’ or ‘true Hindu or Musalmaan?’ But in a democracy, it is of no pre-requisite necessity to have or accept any mainstream ideologies, whatsoever! Then of what importance are such inquiries that are also intrusive of our right to free thinking?

This article shall attempt to assess the widespread impact of such "supremacism" based on one's belief, morality, ideology etc. It shall explore such a case in the Indian context as well.

Just! But Right?

Supremacy can assume any form, basing itself on age, sex, faith, values, race, etc. A group can believe itself to be superior based on their attributes or belief systems. Morality and ideology are also within one's belief systems.

Morality is a pursuit to define and distinguish good and bad thoughts and behaviour, or (more precisely) socially acceptable and unacceptable as decided by the group and the status quo. One may feel superior to others because of one's strong moral views or being a part of a certain traditional or ideological group that abides by the same.

A social psychological inquiry has discovered that many times such people get misled into thinking their own actions as being right, or justified for the greater good--even when violent--just because of their moral high ground. This can lead to conflicts with another group(s) of people, who may or may not also have such a belief superiority of their own.

And India, being the confluence of conflicting streams of ideologies, has for centuries been the hotbed of communal tensions between different groups.

It Is A Psychological Issue

Psychological studies on morality have discovered that people have a highly irrational self-appraisal, resulting in a ‘positive illusion’ about themselves (Tappin and McKay, 2016). This enhances their self-image as they compare their virtues to be greater than others.

Such people can do morally questionable acts, even when they disapproved the same in others. The phenomenon has been termed as 'moral licensing' (Sachdeva, Iliev and Medina, 2009) as opposed to a well-documented phenomenon called moral cleansing. While the latter is a compensation (think: charity, reformism etc.) for ‘immoral’ acts, licensing could be a kind of compensation or leeway to do immoral acts. Such self-appraisal also makes a person behave less generously than others.

Personal Aggrandizement Beyond Morality

Supremacy, whether moral, cultural or ideological (your political or religious beliefs), notoriously grants such a sense of superiority and distinguished status from others, which may also feel threatened by others' contending belief systems. Is this akin to some 'territorial' imperative, to safeguard our beliefs and lifestyles against any "foreign invasion"? To keep the pariahs out!

Our culture, faith, lifestyle etc. are personal, and, if we choose so, we are free to live by them. But that doesn't decide its righteousness, let alone superiority over other kinds. Nothing gives us a right to dictate others.

The Indian Instance

Closer, within the homeland, one doesn’t need to sniff out for scattered incidents of such supremacy. A Reuters report in 2016 described how the Modi Government, rooted in RSS ideology, has created a scholastic committee attempting to ‘rewrite’ Indian history to prove as a ‘scientific fact’ that present Indians (regardless of religion) are descendants of ancient Hindus who inhabited this land for many millennia. All religious differences were merely caused by external invasion and conversion. But their "DNA" is Hindu. Moreover, they aim to show that these Hindus were not visitors from the North, as has been documented about Aryan migration and consequential retreat of Dravidians towards the South.

That not sufficing, these ‘discoveries’ will soon find their way into academics, with History textbooks imparting to students these newfound truths.

Early RSS leader held the view that Liberalism and Secularism as proposed by Jawaharlal Nehru and successors, on which our democracy and constitution are found, were ideas bought under western influence, and it is important for Indians to accept their glorious past and supremacy of their ‘Hindu History’. A surf through the internet into the historical antecedents of RSS will reveal their ingrained ideological supremacy and effort to create a Hindutva Samaj in this country. And for that matter, they aren’t very discreet about this either. There are instances cited in a different thesis on Hindu nationalism, such as that by Casolari (2000), about early RSS leaders like Savarkar, Moonje & Golwalkar expressing a favourable opinion about a fascist style of governments in Germany and Italy. Traverse their roots as far as the 1930’s. They propounded openly that India needs a cleansing from the differing ideologies and minorities. Basically the "purification" of the Hindu Nation and the establishing of its rightfulness and superior status on this land.

On an interesting note, ever wondered why--in their political rants--they repeatedly refer to India as ‘Hindustan’, but not Bharat?

This is also an instance of cultural superiority, a rationalization used for righteousness by dominance (because we’re the majority here or we were the earliest here) rather than being racist—even as people mete out extreme treatment— toward "others." Ghemawat (2011), in his book, showcases the misplaced sense of moral and cultural superiority Indians have, which is further fuelled by the ‘influence marketing’ done through advertisements, campaigns, T.V. shows, films and other media (and the more recent kind of propagation via education by rewriting history.) He states that Indians, by and large, feel the need for cultural protection, stemming from insecurity due to the growing presence and influence of outside cultures. Indians also compensate for their economic backwardness and third world socioeconomic status by emphasizing their towering status in matters ‘spiritual.’ Perhaps present generations can view the situation differently, if education, economic growth and free-thinking prevail.

Bringing It Together

The common thread running under these findings, made repeatedly by social researchers, is that: irrespective of the content of the belief or the degree to which it is—if ever—valid (which the believer is unquestionably convinced of), it is the way that these groups hold their beliefs and practice them that ultimately produce undesirable effects, even to the believers as to others. Such is the perilous effect of our perceived personal supremacy. It leads to an "us vs them" situation. Where "us" or "we" represent the fighters for what is right, anyone apart from our ideas has to be--inadvertently and yet consequently--wrong, dangerous and the root of evil! And nothing good can be accomplished unless first the elimination of such elements of distress is undertaken!

Such extremism often (and definitely when unchecked) leads to violence and enforcing—in the name of moral responsibility, to the extent of compromising the fundamental, human and democratic rights of other persons or groups, which is essential in Indian democracy, at least on paper!

Historically, it's questionable whether such people carry out any proper assessment of the situation with sound reasoning and scientific rigour. Even less so, when they're operating from a mob mentality. It rather looks like a struggle to see the world become into what one has taken to be just and right, even with evidence of ensuing ill effects. It may not be good, but it feels good to fight for such a "righteous world".

In short, when we perceive ourselves as superior, owing to any personal attribute or affiliated ideas and beliefs, we diminish our powers of reasoning, put "blinds" on our mind, and at length become a force of harm rather than help. Self-awareness, unbiased self-reflection, and free thinking--free of stubborn compliance with a set of beliefs are mighty helpful to lose these blinds. More than trying to prove righteousness, let's try pursuing effectiveness.

 

References

Casolari, M. (2000). Hindutva's Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s. Archival Evidence. Economic And Economic Weekly, 35(4) 3-7

"Cultural Racism." Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. . Retrieved November 06, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cultural-racism

Dhawan, H. (2018, August 26). Bhakts vs liberals: War plays out on tees. Times Of India. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/bhakts-vs-liberals-war-plays-out-on-tees/articleshow/65545949.cms on November 14, 2018

Ghemawat, P. (2011). World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How To Achieve it. Harvard Business Review Press.

Hall, M.P., & Raimi, K.T. (2018). Is belief superiority justified by superior knowledge? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 290-306.

doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.03.001

Lasseter, T. & Jain, R. (2018, March 6). By Rewriting History, Hindu Nationalists Aim to Assert Their Dominance Over India. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/india-modi-culture/ on November 14, 2018

Sachdeva, S., Iliev, R., & Medin, D. L. (2009). Sinning saints and saintly sinners: The paradox of moral self-regulation. Psychological Science, 20(4), 523-528.

doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02326

Tappin, B. M., & McKay, Ryan. (2016). The Illusion of Moral Superiority. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8.

doi:10.1177/1948550616673878

Image Credit: WFSU News

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Written By Nikhil Rao

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