Monday, March 1, 2010

The Consequences of Choice (Part 2): Why China is overtaking the US and leaving behind India

Here I am at it again, thanks to the kind words of appreciation from a few people.
In the last post I talked of how the availability of choices affects the decisions of people taking the example of technology business, more specifically the case for why people might not prefer Android over the iPhone. A friend pointed out that the iPhone is much more costly than the Android and thus it need not be the case at all that the Android will lose to the iPhone. I have to agree to it in the sense that I chose to analyze just one of the possibly infinite variables that affect an outcome. It was a conscious decision on my part to look at just that one variable called choice. This is a common practice in science and a lot of other fields too that while studying a complex system, all the variables affecting it are fixed but for one.
In the same breath I would like to distinguish this from the concept of game theory which is also played out based on choice. A line from the Wikipedia entry on Game theory says, "Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual's success in making choices depends on the choices of others." On the other hand what we have is a case where the availability, and the number of choices itself influencing the behavior of persons. But it is interesting to note that the non-availability of choice actually collapses most game and there can no more be a theory. Nevertheless the choice of eliminating choices itself is a small topic in Game theory as illustrated in this book: Game Theory at Work: How to Use Game Theory to Outthink and Outmaneuver Your Competition (pages 10&11). It is a really good book and I just remember I din't get to finish it either. Something for the to-do list. Now enough of digression, getting back to our theory...
The last post mainly dealt with how people react when faced with choices. But in this I explore the more serious implication, the one of how you control the people by controlling their choices.
Just to give myself some place to start I am quoting here what the constitutions of China and India define them as. You can skip ahead if you like but it is interesting to read what the wise old men had in mind for us!

Article 1. The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People's Republic of China. Sabotage of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited.

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a _1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the _2[unity and integrity of the Nation];
(1&2 After the changes made in the 42nd Amendment w.e.f. 3-1-1977)

Basically China is an apparent dictatorship and India is a so called secular democracy. So it all boils down to what is commonly known as freedom or the choice to act according to volition. People of china have less of it (or more of what they cannot do), an example of which is right there in the Article 1, and people of India have more of it (or less of what they cannot do). People in china cannot legally engage in any form of protest or even express any opinion again the government even if the government is plainly wrong. If they choose to protest, they either get massacred like at Tiananmen Square or, based on different interpretations, like in Tibet. Or if you crossed the line as an individual, you will just take a walk with the police never to return and never to be heard of again. So by all the restrictions the Chinese government has effectively made sure that the small subset of actions, which the people can legally engage in, only contributes to nation building by their own definition of the term.
While on the other hand, in the countries like India there is just too much of choices in the name of democracy. There is hardly any convergence of interest when you take nation as a whole. People think they can do anything just because they have the choice to do so. Some go about burning buses and blowing up rail tracks while others blatantly abuse their position of power. It is interesting to note that what would be an act of terrorism if committed by a banned organization suddenly becomes a legitimate struggle when done in the name of political organizations. This is due to the fact that there is no single persistent authority that limits the choices of people. People can openly act against the national interest in India and nothing would be done about it at all.
This is evident from the fact that despite India having a lead over China in various fields in the 60s, China has now overtaken India in nearly every possible way and the gap only continues to widen. So if we can just turn a blind eye to all the human rights issues and other paraphernalia of control measures in china, we have to agree that Chinese way of governance based on limited choices has indeed pushed china far ahead than what would have been possible otherwise. One other country that is towing a similar line is Iran. It is a democracy If I am to believe what I read, the technological progress Iran is making is rather phenomenal and is the even steeper than that of India and China.

But the excess of choice can result in anything from the grimness in India as above to the hilarity in US as below.
There was recently a Great Animal Rights Debate in my university which discussed the killing and eating of animals. One side was represented by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). What surprised me was the group that represented the opposition. It was not the people representing poultry and cattle farmers, or the meat processing industry. It was not even the plain non-vegetarians. What formed the opposition in the debate was the campus Republicans. Yes, you read that right. The republicans do have every right to profess their ideology/diet and there is actually nothing wrong as such in that. But the absurdity of it hits you with full force once you consider the following complementary hypothetical case. Just imagine a presidential debate where John McCain represents the republicans and Barak Obama talks under the banner of PETA. One can then argue that just like the republicans' right to profess their diet, the members of PETA have the right to express opinions on matters of national significance.
The way I see it, either these people have become confused about their own identities when confounded with choices even across totally different ideological domains or do things the way they do it just because they have the choice to do so. Both possibilities are equally bad.
Many of you will find this hard to digest. You may tell that that the Chinese people don't have any choice at all when many of possible actions are branded as illegal. You may claim that this argument is not valid when fear becomes a variable in the equation governing response to a choice. But to act despite fear and threat is still a choice people can make and we have examples of that as has happened in China and Iran itself. Fear can cloud the mind of people only until when freedom becomes the idea whose time has come!
After having expounded this theory I would still bat for it to fail precisely due the same reasons. If I were to live in such a restrictive environment I might not even have the choice to write this article on the consequences of choice! Hence I am glad that choice is just one of the several variables influencing the decisions of people and that it is possible to eliminate them or create them at will.


  1. Srikanth, in Matrix II - there is a plot which explains the nuance of choice in a society (reasoning is similar to yours). Personally, if you reason out before each decision there will be only few or no choices .

  2. can we really reason out all choices?

  3. Even when there are umpteen choices, somehow most decisions converge to picking one or more sticky choices. As a precursor to your theory, I could go about asking how choices become available and whether choices are specific to environments. In the case of India and China, I am tempted to ask ... is India always at unrest because nobody cares to unite to pick one good choice? I wonder ...

  4. Actually I did not think about how choices become available until you asked. Have you read the 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost:
    "TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both..."
    It makes you think that the choices have already been laid out and that you have to make a decision when you get to the intersection. But fortunately or unfortunately that is not to be the case. You said "somehow most decisions converge to picking one or more sticky choices", but this whole drama is enacted only in your head. And just like in the case of decisions converging, the diverging of choices are also played out in our minds.
    You create them every time you stop and think, when you are not certain what you want, or when you don't have enough information about the possible result of the choices. Thus Frost continued:
    "And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth..."

    What my friend Vishnu pointed out is indeed true but, you can reason out the choices only if you sufficiently sure of their consequences. Like in Matrix-3 where the Oracle tells Neo,"We can never see past the choices we don't understand" and follows it up with "No, you've already made the choice. Now you have to understand it". For example when you are driving to your friend's place, you don't stop at every intersection to deliberate what you should do because you have answered both questions... i.e. what do you want? (get to friend's place) and which path takes you there (direction to destination/what awaits you at the end of that path).

    Having said that an important revelation just dawned on me. Subconsciously and at a subtle level I have been writing my own life story here. ;P

    Now coming to your second question...
    I believe it is indeed true that there no cohesion because of the fact that there is no central authority to enforce choices on the people. It is impossible to have 100% of the population to be happy with what is chosen for them, but one can always work for majority. Still you don't dole out the options directly. You first gyrate people towards a common platform by striking on sentiments before enforcing the restrictions. A precious opportunity to achieve that was squandered away in 1947. Now that it was wasted, some minority groups are being influenced towards the very same possibility.