Continuing from yesterday’s post on American “weirdness” – the fact is that they are not simply different, everybody is different, after all, that doesn’t make anyone special, what is so special about Americans is that they seem to be more evolved in a certain direction than any other nation or community.
Actually, there are differences in this level of “evolution” across the country, too, between East and West coasts, for example, but that is not particularly relevant to today’s post.
So I was thinking how people in the varnashrama system would share the reward in the $100 dollar test. To remind – two people are given $100 dollars and they can keep it if they can successfully share it without negotiating with each other. One person offers the sharing formula and the other person has to accept it. If the other person rejects it on the grounds that it’s unfair, they both get nothing. Americans are the only nation that strongly gravitates to 50/50 split, others are either stingier (offering less than a half to the partner) or more generous (offering a bigger share to the partner).
Researches discovered that this perception of what is fair differs from one society to another and that it’s shaped by how people see themselves in their society, how they relate to other members of the society, and how strongly they conform to ideal communal behavior.
Some might feel they should be generous but can’t miss the opportunity to extract a bit more benefit for themselves, by offering their partner $40 and keeping $60. This also depends on their perceived role in the experiment itself – do they feel in charge and in the decision making position, having struck a little pot of gold, or do they feel their role is equal or even inferior to their partner.
It’s hard to judge the value of two roles even with all the time in the world, there don’t seem to be any easy criterion to decide who is in the position of power, and people were under time constraints, thus prone to justify whatever their first thought was, so this probably also was more shaped by their first impressions. Some people by default preset to think that they are in charge while others are pre-programmed to depend on their community and therefore defer decision making to others.
Americans are taught from their very birth that everyone is equal in every way and everyone deserves an equal shot at and a share of happiness. It’s natural for them to go for 50/50 offer. It’s not natural too feel that way unless you are an American, most other people see themselves somewhere on the hierarchical ladder, part of a collective, and that position determines their expected behavior.
If that experiment was conducted in India, for example, I would venture to guess that brahmanas would have no problem asking for a bigger “donation” for themselves (or rejecting less than a $50 offer). Poorer people who are accustomed to depend on the mercy of others would not mind getting less than $50 for themselves.
India, however, is not a varnashrama society, they are too screwed by the caste system, their perception of who they are in the society is based on material birth rights, they never see themselves as equal to everybody else.
Actually, in the true varnashrama this experiment wouldn’t work at all – choosing two people of the same community and of the same status lies at its very core, so you can’t just pickup two random people, you have to pick up two people of the same varna, and, presumably, of the same ashrama (grihastha ashrama, naturally).
If that condition is met, and both participants know that it is met, then they would have no choice but to see themselves as equal and offer 50/50 deal right away, just like the Americans.
I don’t see a reason why members of a varnashrama society would think they deserve a bigger slice of pie for themselves. I can see why they would offer more to their counterpart but being in the position of responsibility as grihasthas they are also obliged towards their dependents and their duties. Nobody takes the money for themselves, after all, varnashrama is the society of duties, not rights, and everyone’s duty is as sacred as that of any other.
That’s why I think in varnashrama this experiment would show results close to that of America.
So, there’s no wonder that Americans (and Western devotees in general), are so receptive of varnashrama when they talk about spiritual equality. They see the future of ISKCON where gays and women are serving side by side and no one feels sidelined or restricted in any way. In their view (shaped by their upbringing) everyone in the varnashrama system naturally gets freedom to express himself as they desire, so they talk about unity in diversity, they appreciate everyone’s efforts to serve Krishna in whatever way, they talk about Krishna Consciousness giving people real freedom, guaranteed by God Himself, not just by their politicians and governments.
They see ISKCON as an America of their dreams.
So, why do I hate it so much then? Why do I feel extremely uneasy and threatened every time I see these devotees propagating their views? Why do I feel the need to put brakes on their progressive ideas? Why do I find myself gravitating towards conservatives, not liberals in ISKCON?
I think I have a perfectly good answer but I’ll leave it for another day.