The Ghetto Mentality : The Rule Of The Silent Majority



A ghetto is defined as a living area occupied by a minority. It also refers to the restriction to an isolated or segregated group operative words define the word: isolation/ segregated/ minority. And one word binds them together: restriction. In other words, a ghetto is a bound, composite entity that is isolated (i.e. separated from the mainstream majority), based on some attribute, usually minority-ism. What binds the ghetto together, is its non-majority-ism.

Declaimer: This article was originally in May 2018, and some of the data points may be outdated

The city of Bengalis

So, in a city full of Bengalis, all non-Bengalis will come together (based on their NON-Bengali-ness), or in a country full of Hindus, all non-Hindus will come together (based on their NON-Hindu-ness). In other words, apples and oranges come together BECAUSE they are NOT bananas.

The problem with ghetto-ism is that it subsumes your identity, and renders it irrelevant to your membership of the ghetto. You remain a ‘thing’, your identity as an apple is subsumed by your identity as a non-banana. This is seen spectacularly in religious minorities, who don’t allow themselves to be integrated into the larger community because they must protect their religious identity.

So Muslims in India, Christians in Pakistan, and even Jews in the US are so busy protecting their religious identity that they lose their other identities….i.e., as professionals, or as adherents to a larger cause (say, environmentalists), even their political identity. So in India, if you’re a Muslim who finds merit in Modi, you’re a traitor to both Islam and the Congress Party (the natural ‘political owner’ of the Muslim community).

Ghetto-ism brings people together on a common platform, based on some NON-attribute, i.e. non-Aryan Germanism (Jew), non-Muslim (Pakistani), non-Hindu (hence anit-BJP, hence pro-Congress/SP/TMC). This religious minority-ism is converted into a political (minority).

The Silent Majority

Which brings me to the silent majority. The Silent Majority is not bound by any threat perception. It does not revel in its ‘same-ness’ like the Hindus don’t relate to each other as Hindus, but Muslims (in a ghetto mentality) will relate to each other based on their Muslim-ness. They (the Hindus) don’t have a threat perception, so their defensive/ predatory instincts are not well-developed.

We see this in Nature. Elephants don’t get together to attack lions, but lions get together to bring down a single elephant. The largest herds in the jungle are vegetarian, but the best hunters in the jungle are packs that have great brotherhood, and team players who subsume their identity to that of the group. In other words, by a process of natural selection, the ghetto rises to the top of the food chain.

All these characteristics are lost when the ghetto finds itself in the mainstream, as happened to the Muslims who went to Pakistan, or the Jews who went to Israel. Slowly, the ghetto-ism turns into a majority-ism, and the threat perception fades. Hence, the ghetto mentality has to be kept alive through artificial means, such as the war-mongering and false alarms that we see so often in Pakistan.

Soros first found this in markets and then extrapolated this behavior to politics and sociology. In markets, he noticed that contrarian behavior comes together in packs, held together by the same logic, the trend that dominates the Silent Majority. And mostly, they are looking for a crack in the trend, which happens more often than not. Contrarians are those who are looking for the Big Trend, which coalesces into the Big Consensus (i.e. Bullishness). And as the Big Trend gets increasingly linear, you bet against that very linearity….not the logic of the trend (i.e., whether there is the fundamental reason for the bullishness, but the fact that everybody believes in it). This ghetto is dominated by Hedge Funds and leveraged players, who display the same brotherhood that we see in religious minorities.

An interesting trend is seen when the ghetto mentality starts to fade as the thought goes mainstream, and dissolves into the Silent Majority. It becomes impossible to hold together the passion that created this ghetto mentality in the first place. This is what prompted Soros to predict the fall of Communism in the first place (for which he was often blamed for causing it, rather than just predicting it).

The current anti-modi movement

The current anti-Modi movement is showing all the symptoms of the same ghetto-ism that we saw in the anti-Indira post-Emergency “Janata Wave’ in 1977. A motley group of politicians, held together by their anti-Indira sentiment, came together on their sole commonality, their anti-Indira passion. This all cemented a set of people with nothing in common, other than their interest in occupying the PM’s chair. The moment the common threat was marginalized after the 1977 elections, they came apart.

Today, the wheel has turned full circle. The same Congress now finds itself heading the same rag-tag bunch of anti-Modi politicians, held together by a common thirst for the PM’s chair. And if, by some chance, this ghetto-ism breaks into the mainstream, you will see History repeat itself.

Politics is all about bringing people together, cemented by a common interest. But things hold together ONLY when this cement is made up of the pursuit of a larger, common good. In the case of Modi, that is development and reforms. A sectarian interest, whether the Hindutva agenda or the ‘Congress’ sectarian agenda (of the pursuit of power), will not be either sustainable or sticky enough to be politically effective.

We saw it in a smaller way in Bihar recently, where the Nitish Kumar-Laloo Yadav coalition came together based on a sharp increase in the Index of Opposition Unity (IOU), a measure of how combined the Opposition was. But the coalition broke up within a year because there was nothing but anti-Modi-ism to hold it together. As the threat perception increases, we are seeing that happen: the unlikely coming together of the SP/BSP in UP, which won them the by-elections.

Ghettos need a common sense of injury, to hold them together. If this is artificial, like the ‘Intolerance’ chorus in India, that is orchestrated by fringe media just now, it falls apart when the main protagonist goes missing. It can’t be a crutch for a political campaign. Ghettos also need a common threat perception, which disappears the minute they get a political victory, something we have seen before in 1977.

So Modi’s political challenge is really about ghetto-ism, which is a known pattern of human behavior, NOT the visible political faces he sees in Congress and sundry others. And the waxing and waning of ghetto-ism, is going to be a decisive political factor in the coming elections.

When you pursue a larger, diffused agenda like development and economic transformation, you are addressing the Silent Majority, which is politically unresponsive and can’t be trusted to reward you with political office. Ghettos, however, gang up based on their perception of the domination of the Big Trend, which is Modi in this case. Unfair, but that’s life…

To coalesce a counter-ghetto, you need to create a counter-threat perception. Right now, that is the threat of Congress Rule, which is coalescing those who have memories and understanding. But there are still enough people who will respond to Modi’s political dominance the way contrarians do in markets….they don’t like him JUST because he is politically dominant.

 The rule of thumb

Consumer marketers follow a rule of thumb, made famous by Honda, to not pursue a market share exceeding 65%. Honda discovered that beyond a market share of 65%, it was no longer profitable to seek market share. So many niches and ‘not Honda’ bikes would spring up, that fighting for any customer beyond the 65% line, was turning out to be unprofitable. I think we can apply this rule to political, religious, and even sociological/ cultural dominance.

An ancillary benefit of not keeping capacity beyond the 65% market share target, was that relatively inefficient players set prices at the margin, based on their cost curve. If you start to milk profits after you cross the 65% market share milestone, you will maximize profits. Politically speaking, it makes sense to leave some space for the Congress, because if Modi comes to dominate the political space in a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, there is no saying who will come in its place. And if that party, launched by a political upstart, has a genuine offering with some initial credibility, it will prove to be a bigger headache for Modi/ BJP. Best to leave Congress in its current configuration.      



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