Rashomon Effect

Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.com

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech — Søren Kierkegaard

The world today is nothing like the world I saw growing up as a child. The scars on my mind today are much deeper than the ones I had on my body as a child jumping off of trees in my own backyard. The sweet voice of singing birds mixed with peacocks dancing, on the rooptop, to the beats of the falling raindrops has disappeared in a man made cacophony of always on social media. Every piece of information seems to be seducing my short attention span like the sirens persuading sailors to their own doom. On this fathers’ day, I cannot help but cry out at the thoughts dividing us from each other. This article explains why the world today seems very similar to the Japanese movie “Rashomon” where people have very different perspectives about the state of affairs today which leads to irreconcilable differences. This article explains why solutions to today’s exponential challenges need co-operation more than ever and lays out some ways we can come together to solve these issues facing mankind.

Rashomon Effect

Akira Kurosawa is a legend. As a child, I enjoyed watching an extremely comical (in my humble opinion) Bollywood movie titled “Satte Pe Satta” which was loosely based on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. More importantly, the movie that left an indelible impact on my young mind was Rashomon (1950) primarily because the logical discourse the movie spawned. While the story is about three different characters giving different accounts of the same encounter, its analogy represents the division in our world views today. Robert Anderson, in the year 2016, laid down the epistemology behind the movie as follows:

“[T]he Rashomon effect is not only about differences in perspective. It occurs particularly where such differences arise in combination with the absence of evidence to elevate or disqualify any version of the truth, plus the social pressure for closure on the question”

As the world celebrates “Fathers Day” or doesn’t as the case may be, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by what fathers and parents in general are obliged to do. While all of us have our individual responsibilities as parents, we also have a collective responsibility i.e. to leave the world a better place for the next generation.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

The Upanishads are texts contain ancient Hindu philosophy. The Upanishads are a part of the Vedas and contain the central tenets of Hindu beliefs. One such phrase, which is part of the Maha Upanishad is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. The phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्) consists of several words: “vasudhā”, the earth;“ēva” = indeed; and “kutumbakam”, family).

While this way of thought is very ancient and is to a large extent common sense, it can prove to be the single most important concept in combating existential threats. This is because socioeconomic unrest is ranked the number one threat to our growth and to our very existence by many experts today.

The biases of modern channels of media arises from their own individual incentives. Although I still believe that there are people who report facts in an unbiased manner, many would agree that you could argue any point of view by selectively picking your evidences. Therefore, it is no surprise that I have completely stopped debating with anybody. Period. All of us, including I, seem to have forgotten that the purpose of a debate should not be to debase the opponent. Rather, it should be to debase your own previous, ignorant self. Ultinately, the debate should lead us to become better humans. So loud are our words today that we can hardly hear our own thoughts which may express a contrary opinion. Think of debating with members of your family or friends.

Many husbands, around the world, routinely lose debates with their wives. That loss is a demonstration of love and is a key ingredient in sustaining a healthy relationship. No pun intended. There comes a point where you realize that arguing will have diminishing marginal utility and in fact, it could lead to the complete destruction of relations cultivated over decades. Why then do we not see those consequences when we debate others?

Our first obligation towards anyone is empathy. Taking a pause to reflect on somebody’s past experiences can go a long way in explaining their point of view. It is very easy to make a counter argument. However, an empathetic rebuttal is extremely rare to come by. Then, the search for a middle ground can truly begin. Unconditioning our mind from our biases is the first step towards reconciliaiton.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

On a lighter vein, let me take a topic very close to the hearts of all the fathers that escape to their man caves and to their thrones (a lazy boy sofa that holds soda and a box of popcorn) for some stress busting action — playing video games. Personally, I love video games. I admire the artistic rendering of characters in video games. In my opinion, it is truly modern art of the digital kind. In particular, I am drawn to period pieces i.e. reliving a past that I otherwise cannot. One such piece of art is a game soon to be released on the Sony Playstation titled “Ghost of Tsushima”.

What you see above is a fight with Mongols that relies on painting as accurate a picture as existed in those times which is 13th century Japan. The Samurai Jin Sakai battles Mongols during the first Mongol invasion. What is truly unique about the game is that there is a unique collaboration between experts from various fields including ones very familiar with Mongol ways of fighting. Just as art imitates life, the video game is just an analogy for real life. Without multidisciplinary approach to life changing technologies such as AI and CRISPR, these technologies could become weapons of mass destruction. Economists, ethicists, engineers and doctors need to come together to harness the tremendous benefits to humanity these new technologies could bring.

A multidisciplinary approach to problems is, therefore, indispensable.

The Atlas of Stability

Inertia, or the lack of proactive responses to global headwinds is like the absence of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. Very similar to the Rashomon effect, our thinking is guided by the problems in our immediate vicinity thereby clouding the bigger truth and in some cases the root cause of our common problems. Think about it — we emerge from a world war to plunge headlong into a Cold War. We manage to stumble across another financial crises, of our own making, as soon as we have emerged from a previous one. We think we have lasting peace when hotspots burn around the world. All of these reactions to exponential changes makes it hard to escape the question-

Are we as humans destined to be selfish, short sighted and incapable of global cooperation unless an existential threat comes along?

Prosperity, ironically, becomes fertile ground for the next crisis. History repeats itself because we repeat the same mistakes as soon as our memory is wiped clean. Today, our memory is extremely short lived. So, imagine the frequency of mistakes.

We should therefore use the time that prosperity and abundance buys us by laying the foundation that will hold the world together. The proverbial Atlas so to speak.

Bringing It All Together

There is definitely a lot of social pressure on us to find solutions to problems before they become the proverbial can we kick down the road to our children. There is also myopia driven by our limited, and at times selfish, world view. We also can find evidence from media that reaffirms our biases and in fact turns them into a vicious cycle of self reinforcing selfish interests. This is the classic Rashomon effect on a global scale.

Our failures as a society are the very reason our collective success can be that much sweeter. Only if we connect our world views to form a single version of the truth. The truth is that we are one big family. Science may call us Homo Sapiens. I would just say we are human.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Abhishek Kothari

Abhishek Kothari

Futurist@The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba