Koramangala rarely disappoints. This time, it was the Uber ride, and the thoughts it sparked. From Whitefield to Koramangala, I repeatedly watched the driver refusing to learn from his mistakes. e.g. sticking to the right lane and getting stuck behind cars waiting to take a U turn, when we had to go straight. Advice was futile. This (the behaviour, not the driving!) took me in a couple of directions.

First, our species’ (generalising, of course) refusal to rethink belief systems even when new data presents other possibilities. In the last few weeks, I have seen two levels of this. One is at a (public) personality level – from Modi to Tata. While I have little reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s intent in the entire demonetisation exercise, I see the absolute lack of empathy (no, crying and listing one’s sacrifices doesn’t count) and the failure to course correct as arrogant and cruel. When multiple sources indicate that Ratan Tata’s governance wasn’t really spotless, shouldn’t he be attempting a better route than allowing the spat to be drawn into something as silly as Twitter hashtag wars, especially when the claim is that the organisation’s legacy (and not his own) is paramount for him. In both cases, ego could be the barrier.

This also operates at a follower level – the cult of personality. Hero worship ensures that who is saying occupies precedence over what is being  said. It also kills nuance. In addition to the Modi and Tata scenarios, I saw this come into play during the episode of Mohanlal’s letter (it’s in Malayalam) in support of demonetisation as well. While he is absolutely entitled to his opinion, the part that I found callous was his equating standing in a queue for movies/alcohol to standing in front of ATMs for cash. I found it astounding that he seemed oblivious to the simple concept of choice! But in the discourse that followed, it was clear- you were either for or against him. You couldn’t like him as a an actor and not agree to his views! It is almost as though it is an affront to the fan’s ego that his deity is wrong! For what does it say of his own judgment? And what does it do to his entire narrative thus far –  it loses meaning! In all this, the irony is that in his letter, Mohanlal himself states that it is not the personality (Modi), but the thought he admires.

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Both levels of refusal to rethink belief systems seem to have a common factor – ego. Which brings me to the second direction. I do not think evolution has an ego. It experiments, learns, and scales. Rinse, repeat. Does that mean it will prefer its creations not to have one either? It’s difficult to answer that since we are its first species to really be affected by ego, and to have our civilisational narrative at least partially driven by it. That has also resulted in the destruction of a lot of evolution’s efforts thus far! What I do know is that if evolution does indeed prefer a species without ego, there is an emergent one that fits the bill. The algorithm under Uber’s hood is exactly that, and in the near future, it is going to replace the driver! That way, ego could easily be remedied by a cult of impersonality – AI!