Self-propulsion towards the extremes

Consider the following whatsapp forward I received a few years ago:

I’m 25 this year. I’m very pretty, have style and good taste. I wish to marry a guy with 100 crore annual salary or above. You might say that I’m greedy, but an annual salary 2 crore is considered only as middle class now days. My requirement is not high. Is there anyone in this forum who has an income of 100 crore annual salary? Are you all married? I wanted to ask: what should I do to marry rich persons like you? Among those I’ve dated, the richest is 50 crore annual income, and it seems that this is my upper limit.

I’m here humbly to ask a few questions:
1) Where do most rich bachelors hang out? (Please list down the names and addresses of bars, restaurant, gym)
2) Which age group should I target?
3) Why most wives of the riches are only average-looking? I’ve met a few girls who don’t have looks and are not interesting, but they are able to marry rich guys.

4) How do you decide who can be your wife, and who can only be your girlfriend? (my target now is to get married)

Ms. Pooja i Chohan.

A philosophical reply from Mukesh Ambani-

Dear Ms. Pooja,
I have read your post with great interest. Guess there are lots of girls out there who have similar questions like yours. Please allow me to analyse your situation as a professional investor. My annual income is more than 100 crore, which meets your requirement, so I hope everyone believes that I’m not wasting time here. From the standpoint of a business person, it is a bad decision to marry you. The answer is very simple, so let me explain. Put the details aside, what you’re trying to do is an exchange of “beauty” and “money” : Person A provides beauty, and Person B pays for it, fair and square.

However, there’s a deadly problem here, your beauty will fade, but my money will not be gone without any good reason. The fact is, my income might increase from year to year, but you can’t be prettier year after year. Hence from the viewpoint of economics, I am an appreciation asset, and you are a depreciation asset. It’s not just normal depreciation, but exponential depreciation. If that is your only asset, your value will be much worse 10 years later. By the terms we use in Wall Street, every trading has a position, dating with you is also a “trading position”.
If the trade value dropped we will sell it and it is not a good idea to keep it for long term – same goes with the marriage that you wanted. It might be cruel to say this, but in order to make a wiser decision any assets with great depreciation value will be sold or “leased”. Anyone with over 100 crore annual income is not a fool; we would only date you, but will not marry you. I would advice that you forget looking for any clues to marry a rich guy. And by the way, you could make yourself to become a rich person with 100 crore annual income. This has better chance than finding a rich fool.

As Whatsapp forwards go, this is a pretty mediocre “joke”. It obviously is not a true incident, and it is not an original joke either. Similar jokes have been made about other rich men for years now. I’ve known all this for quite a while now. However, for some reason, I’ve carried the joke with me for quite a long time. I’ve always been confounded by why someone would want to make a Whatsapp forward like that in the first place.

Was it Mukesh Ambani himself, who paid someone to create a joke like that? This sounds unlikely. He owns most of Indian media. He doesn’t need to pay people to create flattering Whatsapp forwards for him. Hence, it was probably some clown with a smartphone, who one day decided to plagiarize an already existing joke, hoping that a flattering joke about Mukesh Ambani would catch on and “become viral”.

But what made him think that a flattering joke about Mukesh Ambani would become viral? Was he sure that most, or at least a lot of Indians were fans of Ambani’s? Probably not. Most Indians probably carry a mixed picture of him. “Very successful, probably corrupt – but that’s okay because you have to be slightly corrupt to survive in this country, inherited a lot of his wealth and status, but look how well he’s doing he’s probably smart“, and so on. However, despite this mixed picture, most people lean (at least slightly) towards perceiving Ambani positively rather than negatively. But making this Whatsapp forward go viral would need a very large number of hardcore Ambani fans, forwarding this message to family and friends. How did the person making the Whatsapp forward make the inexplicable jump from “people definitely don’t hate Ambani, and might like him a little bit” to “most people love Ambani, and hence will forward my joke to make it go viral”?

This is because of the following phenomenon: when you and the people around you are slightly sympathetic to a cause, something in your brain clicks, and you assume that everyone loves the cause. Then you make an effort to make statements that project your love for the cause, hoping that you’d fit in with these cause-lovers, and hopefully even be idolized for it.

This is what must have happened with the person who created the crappy Whatsapp forward. He was perhaps subconsciously aware that society was slightly sympathetic towards Ambani. Something in him clicked, and he formed a picture of society in which everyone loved Ambani, and then he created that flattering Whatsapp forward, esconced in the certain belief that it would catch on.

Political polarization

Let us now analyze political polarization in the same light. Imagine that I lean slightly left, and most people in my immediate social group also lean left to varying extents. However, my brain will uniformly characterize my group as far-from-centre left-leaning, and I will incentivize myself to say far-left statements in order to gain their approval. Of course others in my group have the same mental picture that our group is predominantly far-from-centre left-leaning, and my far-left statements will convince them even further of this fact. Soon, they will start agreeing with me and making statements of a similar nature. Our group will progressively become more and more left leaning with time, at least in terms of our opinions (and possibly actions), although individually we might not be as far-left as we pretend to be.

This has happened to me a number of times. Whenever I am hanging out with people who seem concerned with any political issue, say immigration, human rights violations etc, I find myself vehemently expressing my outrage at these issues. Of course I assume that all of them are extremely pro-immigration, pro-human rights even in fringe cases when their stand contravenes state law, and voice far-left opinions in order to perhaps gain their approval and trust. Of course, their true stands might be closer to the centre. However, my statements inevitably lead the group conversation further and further left.

Of course I do meet opposition. Some people do withhold commenting on the issue, or question some of my assertions. However, those people are generally slightly right of centre, and their questions are only disguised disagreements with my stand. Hence, the phenomenon of a group moving more and more to the left is possible only when all the members of the group are at least slightly left of centre on the political spectrum to begin with. When there’s a mix of left-of-centre and right-of-centre people, this problem may be avoidable. Of course, such a varied group is unlikely to exist as people are more likely to hang out with other people with the same political inclinations.

Explaining Chomsky

Noam Chomsky often makes the statement that the media is biased in its reporting of world events. When questioned on how the media acquired its bias, and whether journalists are bribed or otherwise pressured to write these biased reports, Chomsky says that these journalists themselves choose to become biased, whether in school or university, and are then hired by media houses. I was confused by this statement when I heard it for the first time. Now I think it has begun to make sense to me.

If I am an aspiring journalist at a university in the United States, for instance, I will mostly be surrounded by students and professors who are left leaning to various extents (there will be some people who will be right-of-centre of course, but that will be the exception and not the norm). Inevitably, my brain will tell me that the people surrounding me are all heavily left leaning, and all my writing and speaking will henceforth become more left-leaning in order to subconsciously gain their approval. Because it is journalists like me that then go on to join major news outlets, most news outlets will also progressively become more left leaning with time. In this way, I will have chosen to become more left-leaning than I initially intended.

Of course this phenomenon is not restricted to being left-leaning. If I am slightly sympathetic towards any particular world view, and the people around me are the same way, I will for some reason assume that they are very sympathetic to that world view, and will make statements to assert my supreme sympathy for the same. I will have chosen to bias myself.

Shattering to pieces

Any inhomogeneous group of people ultimately fractures into two groups that propel themselves to the opposite ends of the political/opinion spectrum. These groups may again fracture based on some other issue, again self-propelling to the opposite ends of the spectrum of that particular issue. If this happens repeatedly, we end up with multiple groups that have pretty extreme opinions on most issues, and don’t know how to talk to each other. Of course this is currently happening in the world already, and things may only become worse with time.

One way to avoid this is to repeat Eliezer Yudkowsky’s refrain: “Arguments are not soldiers”. You’re allowed to pick out the “best” arguments from both sides of the spectrum. You don’t have to declare yourself part of any ideological group. Of course this goes against our evolutionary instinct of sorting ourselves into cohesive groups rather than remain in inhomogeneous crowds. Hence, the reason why political polarization is such a hard problem despite having our best minds on it is that it is a really hard problem to crack, and goes against the very thing that makes us humans- our proclivity to disintegrate into factions and attack each other.

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Graduate student

2 thoughts on “Self-propulsion towards the extremes

  1. Interesting post!
    I actually don’t think the self-segregation/polarization spiral effect has much to do with the whatsapp forward going viral.
    It seems primarily a status-slapdown effect like you’ve described in later posts. Ambani is merely a generic-very-rich-guy placeholder. What drives people sharing the post is people wanting to mock someone who is merely “very pretty” but thinks she’s at the level of “marrying someone with 100Cr”

    1. That’s interesting. It’s possible that people want to show the pretty woman “her place”. But they also seem to be elevating Ambani’s status, as he is the one who does most of the status slapping.

      It’s possible that this forward is just one of many misogynistic jokes that go viral every now and then, in which a woman who is trying to elevate her status “beyond her place” is slapped down. But I still don’t think that it completely captures the deification of Ambani. This joke must surely reflect the exalted position that Ambani enjoys in India, and wouldn’t work with Vijay Mallya, for instance.

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