The frenzied mob that created a riot at the US Capitol building has a lesson for all of us emotion loving Indians. Don’t let your emotions rule you or take over your ability to reason. Interestingly, this lesson is cited in the Bhagwad Gita, one of our ancient holy texts.
In what has to be one of the most bizarre episodes in modern world history, a mob consisting of a mix of Trump supporters, election fraud conspiracy theorists, far right activists and angry rioters stormed the US Capitol building on January 6. Thousands of protesters stormed through the building, disrupting a joint session of Congress. Many of them vandalised and destroyed property.
The Senate and House of Representatives had to be evacuated, the entire Capitol area had to be locked down. The fact that this happened in broad daylight, in a powerful and developed nation like the US, is what makes the entire episode truly bizarre.
Scarily, it also suggests that if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere, including India. The world today is a fragile place. People can become emotionally charged, suspend reason, believe in theories without real evidence and come together, not just virtually but also in real life. The entire episode would have been funny and amusing, if it weren’t for its dark aspects. Five people died, ranging from a police officer to a lady who was part of the mob but had served in the US defence forces.
Over 120 people have since been arrested, thanks to ample video evidence of the incident taken on multiple mobile phones. Global condemnation followed. Social media companies suspended President Donald Trump’s accounts. It’s fair to say that the US was embarrassed. But true damage will come to members of the mob themselves. Those arrested face long prison terms. They have essentially ruined their lives over this one mad frenzy.
There’s a lesson for everyone here, including us Indians. Don’t get swayed by emotion (which we Indians love) to the point of completely giving up reason and destroying your life.
For a tiny application of reason would tell you that violently storming the highest offices of the most powerful country in the world is a stupid idea. Similarly, an application of logic will also tell you that there’s neither any evidence of any rigging in the current US elections, nor is it possible to do so in that country at a meaningful scale. However, we don’t live in times where reason is encouraged. We live in emotional times, where multiple entities are trying to tug at our emotions round the clock.
To be fair, attempts to tug at people’s emotions have always been there. Even in the pre-internet era, marketers made advertising to get an emotional response from customers. Movies, books and television shows that are successful almost always manage to connect to the viewer emotionally. In India particularly, movie viewers love emotions. Hence, we root for the hero who beats up ten people at the same time, even though logically such a feat is unlikely.
Politicians also often look for a cause that will make the voter emotional as that will often decide the actual voting decision. How many Indians vote on the logical reasons of economy or governance versus emotional reasons such as identity (caste, religion, region etc)?
Tugging at emotions has indeed been around for a long time. However, the internet means today this has multiplied manifold. Social media influencers, WhatsApp forwards, YouTubers and even news channels today constantly try to tug at your emotions. So do your relatives and friends in those WhatsApp groups.
Sooner or later you will succumb to something that touches you at an emotional level. Imagine an unemployed and frustrated Hindu youth somewhere. He sees a video saying how Muslims took away all opportunity, and this video has a million views and thousands of likes. Chances are he will buy the theory. Just as an unemployed Muslim youth may buy a theory of the Indian state plotting to eliminate Muslims.
Both these boys may find solace in the community that likes such videos. They might even forward their respective video to others. Meanwhile, the video creator gets popular and monetises the videos. It’s a self-sufficient, incentivised ecosystem that propagates evidence-free tugging at emotions. Soon enough, some politician will tap into this group, lend the theory support and legitimise it further. Eventually, this emotion fuelled ecosystem snowballs and erupts into bizarre events such as the US Capitol riot.
None of us are immune to emotional manipulation. For our emotions are a stronger force than reason. Emotions make us act and believe faster than reason. Sometimes emotions make us suspend reason altogether.
Don’t get me wrong. Emotions are extremely important in life. They make us human. However, if you let emotions rule you or make every decision in life guided by emotion, you’re pretty much destined to fail or head to disaster.
The Bhagwad Gita talks multiple times about the importance of emotional control, of striking the right balance between emotion and reason and not taking decisions guided by extreme emotions. Of course, the Gita did not anticipate dozens of marketers, political outfits and influencers tugging at your emotions every day. But this only makes the emotion control lessons more important.
We should take pride in our emotions but be wary of the forces that are trying to manipulate them. We must always balance emotion with reason. A bizarre video or speech shouldn’t sway us into destructive action. Nation building and patriotism requires not only emotion, but also the ability to reason. Our scriptures mentioned the need for this balance centuries ago. It’s time we imbibed those learnings, especially in these emotionally manipulative times.