Saturday, March 18, 2006

Republic of Assumption

Humans love assumptions the way a dog loves a bone. Or a drunkard loves the smoky ambience of a darkened pub. There is comfort in assuming things that one cannot have anywhere else. One can avoid long and serious deliberations over issues at hand and come up with pat answers. Quickly, easily and instantly. It can even make one look like a smug intellectual who has an opinion on everything under the sun at the snap of a finger.

If maps were ever drawn to trace the contours of our mental landscape, then, there is no doubt assumptions would resemble Russia. Not tiny Luxembourg or marginal heavyweight Brazil or big boy Australia but super giant Russia. Wide, expansive and gobbling the lion’s share of the topography, assumptions have a way of sprawling all over our mental atlas and shamelessly encroaching itself into our belief systems, language, perceptions and decision making.

Especially decision making.

It's amazing how we are so dependent on some of our pet assumptions when it comes to making decisions. It's as if we feel it's the most natural thing to do. All we have to do is select some of our readily available, neatly labelled, attractively packaged ideas from our cognitive shelf, and mix it up a little bit and create - what we think - is an individual opinion. It wouldn't be wrong to say that assumptions are the intellectual equivalent of instant coffee.

It all seems rather petty and harmless but it's not always so. If we are in a decision making position or situation - doesn't have to be a position of authority or a management role - it is highly likely that our assumptions will play a key role in the way we decide things. Not always but most of the time. And when it happens, it can be quite damaging to the general well-being.

If we rely solely on our assumptions, then, we are bound to believe that all men want to take advantage of women, or for that matter, every woman means 'yes' when she says 'no'. We are likely to believe that a fashion conscious woman just wants to get laid, or a metrosexual man is all style and no substance.

Assumptions will convince us that all white people are racists, middle eastern people are terrorists, Asians are poor and corrupt, and all religious people are, essentially, narrow-minded fundamentalists. We will be even prepared to take our broad generalisations to another level and pay low wages to our maid servants because we assume they won't mind or we'll suppose that workers from some countries appreciate low salary or that workers from another set of countries deserve higher salary plus benefits. Or we'll devise ideologies that state rich people are out there to exploit poor people and poor people are basically lazy.

It gets worse.

Assumptions can provide the philosophical groundwork for war or terrorist attacks. It can create a climate of fear and intolerance, and establish a social order composed of 'us' and 'them'. History has shown (and modern politics continues to show) how such a social order nearly brought humanity to near extinction. But we don't learn. We never have and we never will.

Our assumptions will drag us to hell and damnation unless we do something about this 'tragic flaw' as soon as possible. Inaction is not an option, not even an alternative, because it will lead to death.

Question is, what will we do about it?

(Note: assumptions were used in writing this article to point out that not everything is what it seems. More about this in another post)


MoodsAndColors said...

Slowly and gradually , over the period of time our assumptions become prejudices and obstruct objectivity and rationality in decision making process.So we should stay clear of assumptions as much as possible and rely more on facts while making decisions.
Nice writeup.

junoesque said...

well said. and its something that all of assume to be perfectly in order. making assumptions that is.

the change if at all we think it to be necessary, has to come from within. and it must be a conscious effort to stop and debate, evaluate and question before coming to an informed decision.

that, too maust never ever be a full and final decision but always open to change via discusion and debate.


gautami tripathy said...

Now at least you know...not assume....I read this!

Batul said...

Ashish, Like the name of your post. Republic of Assumption. No one can deny that what you are saying is oh, so true. But as you say, what are we going to do about it? It's easy, comfortable.