Female Infanticide: A Flash Back

Year 1996: My team from school would travel to Karumathur, a small village near Madurai to collect data and statistics for a project to present at the National Science Congress. We had no clue of the risks of project we were pursuing which would later win us a National Award (after District and State Level). The topics were chosen by our guides and ours was on social science which actually gave us an unique edge over physical science projects.

I was on a team with Prasad, Safeek and Senthil to research on a hot social topic – ‘Female Infanticide’ – The intentional killing of female infants soon after birth. More detail on this topic is available in the classic 1986 India today article – Female infanticide: Born to die or watch the movie Karuththamma

We would go around the village interviewing people about why and how it is done. ‘Innocence is bliss’ – I don’t think I have the guts to do it now.  We got to know about the recent killings at that time and who and how it was executed. Quite some people gave us information on real cases.

It is almost two decades now and I could hardly recall our interviews. But there was one interview that I could never forget. We were discussing with one villager on a recent incident at that time and how it was executed. We were testing our knowledge of methods (paddy and poisonous cactus milk or ‘Kalli Paal’) that we read on papers and watched in movies. But he brushed off those claiming that they were very old methods with low success rate! Rather the newer method was to put them in a jute bag and suffocate them to death! How Cruel!The surprising fact was that he explained it in high level of detail citing references without fear or remorse.

I have no idea what has changed in the past two decades but the ‘Thottil Kuzhandhai Thittam – A baby hatch program by the Tamilnadu Government’ still exists today!

Some not so Interesting Facts:

  • Prenatal Sex Determination is banned in India
  • ‘Thottil Kuzhandhai Thittam’ – a baby hatch was set up in 1994 by the then Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, to prevent female infanticide
  • In 2002 an “e-cradle” scheme was also introduced in Kerela – The high-tech cradle’s entrance opens automatically when a person enters. He/she can deposit the unwanted baby there in the cradle and return. The electronic buzzer rings loudly once he/she leaves, announcing the arrival of a new one.
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Logos, Ethos, Pathos – On identifiable victim effect and why it is more powerful even when you realize that you are biased

Aristotle’s ‘On Rhetoric’ has clearly explained the three modes of persuasion

  • Logos – Logos is logical appeal or the simulation of it, and the term logic is derived from it. It is normally used to describe facts and figures that support the speaker’s claims or thesis.
  • Ethos – Ethos is an appeal to the authority or credibility of the presenter.
  • Pathos – Pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the terms pathetic and empathy are derived from it.

Is ‘Persuasion’ important? – Think about it! We do it every day and it is an essential part of our personal, corporate and social lives! May it be asking for date, getting a job or getting a vote!

You might logically think that as an educated person you tend to be persuaded only by logic. Is it so? Look at the images below. It is self-explanatory. All of us are emotional!I11

How powerful are these images? The Syrian civil war has been on the news for quite some time and has resulted in loss of several lives. However this one recent image has generated so much attention and hopefully results in positive action.

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The reason for this irrational behavior (Responding to a single image and not to statistics) is due to Cognitive Bias and specifically – Identifiable Victim Effect.

“We care more about suffering when it is represented by one individual”

See these famous quotes below

“One Man’s death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” – Joseph Stalin

“If I look at the masses, I will never act. If I look at the individual, I will” – Mother Teresa

How much has the image of the Syrian toddler impacted people’s emotions? – There is tool that that I use to read people’s minds – “Google” and “Google Trends” gives us and insight of what people think or query.

https://www.google.com/trends/

Below is the result of query for ‘syrian refugees’. Needless to say it is very evident the amount of attention that this one picture has brought as compared to rest of the year.

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Update [06-Sep-2015]

The graph got even more vertical! Update

Past 12 Months

Since 2004

Since 2004

Here comes the dilemma – Is ‘Pathos’ an ethical means of persuasion? Humans are rational and is not ‘Logos’ an ethical means to persuade people? We do dislike politicians when they use ‘Pathos’ to earn votes from the masses. How about the picture of the Syrian toddler. If not for this picture people would have never acted.

I am not concluding anything! Just a food for thought!

Credits: Dan Ariely, Google Trends, Collins and Taylor, Aristotle

Note: The author has interest in behavioral psychology with no academic credentials on the subject (except for a Coursera course!). Apologies if the content seems creepy or inhumane.

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Reflections on Honesty

YinYangIt was my first day in Wipro (earlier company I worked with) and during the induction session was faced with a very difficult question. We were given a list of moral principles(general ones) and were asked to choose 10 principles that we would never dishonor. Everyone had a tough time choosing it. Suddenly a lady on the front row shouted that she would not dishonor any of them in the list (Of course she knew the expected answer already!). The instructor was very happy since it was the expected answer. As expected everyone else repeated the same answer. There was a bold reply from the behind row. He stood up and declared that during several situations in his life he had to dishonor each of them but he would always try his best to honor them. Not surprisingly he was given a strange look from the rest of the group. I was about to support him (inspired by “Thank you for Smoking” that everyone’s opinion should be heard) but had to shut-up as the instructor went wild against him and mentioned to him that if he choose to dishonor any of them then he would be sent out of Wipro.

To me he was the man with real integrity who was able to accept the fact and was suggesting how we should approach it. The real issue was not even one was ready to listen to him. We all acted as if we were the most honest person on earth and he was an exception. No one was willing to talk about it. I was searching for long the reason for this behavior of us and even doubted if I was the second person after him and everyone else is perfectly honest. It was a struggle everyday and as it was a fact that people at Wipro were so scared about integrity issues that many decisions could not be even taken.

The movie Phas Gaye Re Obama confused me more. Though it is a satire film it did show the honesty and work ethics within gangsters and politicians which could not be explained.

Recently I came across this book from Dan ArielyThe Honest Truth About Dishonesty“, I already read his book Predictably Irrational. But this one is the best.  It was like a Bible that gave most answers to our dilemmas in life. I will not explain much and let you read an enjoy the book. However below are some interesting keys points from the book.

  • All of us cheat! But cheat a little bit!
  • All of us intend to be good and feel good about ourselves
  • We feel guilty when our mistakes directly involve money but are flexible when it is in some other form like a can of coke or downloading copyrighted information from the internet (Luckily I bought this book on Amazon and did not feel bad)
  • We don’t feel we are cheating when do it together with a crowd
  • Religious beliefs keep us good (Finally a scientific method to prove religion actually helped us keep good)
  • White lies are sometimes good
  • We feel good about cheating when we do it for altruistic reasons (Robinhood Effect?). The same is shown in lot of Indian movies as well. Hero is someone who is against the government and his unethical methods are always justified
  • We find out reasons to rationalize our unethical behavior. The more creative we are the more easier to rationalize
  • We justify our actions as a revenge against someone (like governments!)
  • The Best of all – Heavy punishment does not prevent someone from committing a crime.

All of these research is done under ‘Behavioral Economics’ which I feel is an irrational name for this subject.It is very interesting however as we could relate it to most of it that happens around us.

I would like to see more of Dan’s research on heinous crimes and impact of alcohol and drug abuse on committing crime. All of Dan’s concepts presented in his book are not just ideas but scientifically experimented and published.

Apart from these I still can’t understand why vast of the original thinkers of our times are mostly from Israel.

More Links

Dan’s Ted Talks

Dan’s Website

Coursera Course on Irrational Behavior

A Documentary about (Dis)Honesty – Kickstarter Campaign – You can contribute as well!

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