Saturday, February 25, 2017

Correlation, cause-effect, survival of the fittest

Today I listened to a talk by a very senior government functionary. I have heard him a few times over the past 15 years, when he was not so high up the pecking order. He is very lively behind the lectern and the phrase “body-language” appears to have been tailor-made to describe him! And, he has not changed his habit of finishing a sentence and starting the next with the last few words of previous sentence. A quirk, perhaps, but I have gotten used to that.
In his speech he narrated what he claimed to be a personal anecdote. It is not for me to call him as I do not have that kind of money to add to the pot. But, from where I was sitting I took his story as just that, a story, in a failed effort to add color to his speech.
The story was about how a simple tap on the shoulder obliged a person to pick up a chocolate wrapper from where he had casually thrown and dispose of it off in the trash bin. The speaker must be very intelligent, and without claiming causation he claimed it. He said that he suspected that the positive response to his shoulder tap would not have happened without the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Just a bland statement.
“Just a bland statement” (to mimic the speaker!) is precisely the thing one does not expect from the speaker, given his normal over active body language!
Now, cross the seas and go to Kansas, USA. There, an Indian immigrant engineer, who earned his immigrant cred in an US university, was shot dead. I read the article in a news paper, online, and one of the comments shocked me. The commenter merely dismissed with a wave of his hand the possibility, the mere possibility, of Trump’s triumph in the election that could have emboldened the shooter.
Compare the two situations, happening within days of each other. Where there was no reason to even suspect causation, someone suspected causation (assuming the narration to be true). And, where the cause-effect link stares one in the face, someone denies it vigorously.
Both are Indians, one a high Indian government official and the other, in all probability an Indian immigrant in the US. So, you know the real cause-effect. The correlation is objectively established, but the cause-effect connection is subjective. The official was toeing the government line and the commenter was protecting himself. Survival of the fittest.  


Indian Satire said...

Since I have given up on current affairs, identity of both is not known to me

mandakolathur said...


About the Indian government functionary, I had deliberately given only clues, strong ones at that. About the other, I did not want to finger the commenter, even by his name as given in the comments column. But, what is significant is the contrast.

Thanks for coming in early.