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We resume the series with a she’r that illustrates well some of the underlying beliefs of The South Asian Idea: nah thaa kuchh to khudaa thaa kuchh nah hotaa to khudaa hotaa Duboyaa mujh ko hone ne nah hotaa maiN to kyaa hotaa 1a) when there was nothing, then God existed; if nothing existed, then God would exist 1b) when I was nothing, then God existed; if I were nothing, then God would exist 1c) when I was nothing, then I was God; if I were nothing, then I would be God 2a) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would I be? 2b) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would I be? 2c) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would exist? 2d) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would exist? 2e) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then so what? 2f) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then so what?

In the context of the Cairo speech, I had asked the question whether President Obama ‘got’ his audience right. The question was prompted by a conviction that speakers of different languages had subtle differences in how they saw and understood the world.

It is quite a coincidence that just a week later I found a fascinating study that has empirically tested this hypothesis.

Here are some (unconnected) excerpts from the article describing the study:

Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives? Do people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages?

Before moving on in this series we need to make a correction.

One antonym for cooperation is competition; another is individualism. In the context of the behavior we have been discussing, individualism, not competition, was the appropriate term to use.

The inferences we have made are not affected but it is important to have the concept right.

Let us go over the essentials again and in a little more detail. The essence of the argument was that the nature of the labor requirements of different staple diets could be so different as to socialize very different behavioral attitudes in the communities.

I find it hard to believe that I forgot the reason for initiating this series on the possible origins of cooperative and competitive behavior using Malaysia and North India as the case studies. I had wanted to revisit the partition of India. This is an event in history that I visit again and again trying to understand how a tragedy of such magnitude could have occurred under the very noses of so many eminent personalities. And the one counterpoint I keep going back to is the situation in Malaysia which, from an ethnic perspective, was even more complex than India but was resolved in a much more satisfactory fashion.
Frankly, I do not know if this is a lot of idle speculation or whether there is substance to the hypotheses about the socialization of cooperative and competitive behavior. Nevertheless, I am excited about the range of issues one can think of once the imagination is given free reign. It is an endeavor that holds the promise of interesting surprises. A couple of questions on the last post suggest it might be useful to start further back in time. Readers have wondered how urbanization and education affect behavior. My response is that behavioral socialization is a very slow process and urbanization and education are relatively recent developments gaining pace only in the twentieth century. The behavioral socialization that was discussed in the last post (differences resulting from wheat and rice farming) is the result of 10,000 years of agricultural life.

We have been discussing the census, electoral rules, and the nature of democracy in South and East Asian countries trying to draw lessons from events that happened between fifty and a hundred and fifty years ago. It was therefore eerie to read a virtual replay that...

Question: Why are some people more inclined to cooperate while others are more inclined to compete? Answer: It’s all in the socialization. Let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion. I went to Malaysia for the first time about fifteen years ago. I saw in every government office I entered placards on the walls with guidance from the Prime Minister – Be Nice or Be Honest or Make Malaysia Great, etc. What surprised me was the seriousness that public servants accorded such messages.
There can be many responses to the Cairo speech each depending on how one wished to incorporate it in one’s agenda for the future. This is most obvious in the realm of politics: some want to see it as a hopeful point of departure and do not wish to be critical; others see in it the need to support Obama in his struggle with his domestic constituency that restrains his genuine aspirations; yet others read it as a reiteration of the Bush policy couched in more sophisticated words. Depending on the agenda some wish to emphasize the positives, others the negatives. This blog is not about politics. Our focus is pedagogy and analysis that serves the interest of pedagogy. We often choose political themes to illustrate pedagogical points simply because students engage readily with issues that are topical and of wider significance.
I did not watch President Obama’s address in Cairo because I did not wish to be influenced by his obvious oratorical skills. But I have the speech in cold print and would like to highlight ten weak points from the perspective of a non-Western audience in order to start a discussion on its wider implications. The reason for this approach is that every audience brings with it a different baggage of history, a different template for interpretation, a different metric of credibility, and a different set of expectations. Thus the reaction of an American audience is likely to be quite different from that of a non-Western audience especially one that has been at the receiving end of America’s pursuits of its national interests.