This post is for making better use of people who are similar to me, for furthering the promotion of rational thinking. ‘X is similar to me’ is defined by the following qualities:
- X is a rational thinker.
- X would like to contribute to promotion of rational thinking (in cash, kind, time, effort etc.)
- Contributing towards promotion of rational thinking is way down in X’s list of priorities.
Let me provide an example – myself. I try to promote rational thinking in my circle of influence, in small ways – at work, at home, and among friends and relatives. For example, at work, I have championed the campaign to do away with forced religious holidays. As a result, now we don’t have compulsory holidays for Christmas, Diwali, Bakrid etc. Only the state holidays (Gandhi Jayanti, Independence day, Republic day and a few other secular holidays) are mandatory. The earlier compulsory holidays are now added to the employee’s vacation, so they can take them whenever they wish.
But I don’t go out of my way to promote rational thinking. In some sense, I consider it ‘doing my bit to make the world a better place’. There are several other priorities in my life – my regular work, family, vacations, and hobbies – which are higher in my list. Unfortunately, given the travails of modern life in India, time is a premium. I spend a lot of my hours at work (I’m not complaining, I enjoy it for the most part). I spend a lot of time with my wife, my two small daughters (playing, educating, taking them out, vacationing etc). Then I also like to spend some evenings having a good time with my friends over a few drinks. I also like to go on long motor-cycle rides (I miss out on several of these trips due to my higher priorities). And I’ve wanted to sign up for music lessons for several years now. After all this comes ‘doing my bit for making the world better’. A case in point is writing this blog. The ideas came to me four months ago and I wrote down the bullet points in my diary. That’s a long gap between jotting down ideas and actually writing a blog on them.
Is there a way by which people like me can actually do something more regarding promoting rational thinking? That is the point of this post. For someone like me, spending a lot of time at work can be more fulfilling, if that work also promotes rational thinking. This is where exploiting ‘the profit motive’ comes in. A vast majority of people work several hours a day. And they work to make a living, not for having fun (if you have doubts, think about this. People usually pay for having fun, not get paid for having fun). And who provides work for these people? Primarily, it is the business owners, corporations and government. And why do they pay people? Except for the government, they pay people so they can make profit. So the ‘profit motive’ generates a lot of work for a vast majority of the people. The premise of this post is that if we can somehow exploit the ‘profit motive’, the adoption of rational thinking will grow exponentially.
This ‘Eureka moment’, if may call it that, as expected, came to me in the shower. I had the radio turned on and it was playing an advertisement for ‘Incredible India’. It goes like this. Some local loafers are passing not-so-polite comments on a foreigner (a woman). Aamir Khan then rebukes those people and talks about our culture, how the foreigner is a guest of our country and quotes ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, etc. The delivery was very emotional, touching and it probably helped change the attitude of several people across the country. I was impressed with that advertisement and that got me thinking. Who is funding this ad? The Tourism Department of Govt. of India. Why are they funding this ad? To promote tourism so India can get more money, i.e. the profit motive. Why did they rope in Aamir Khan? Because he is a very well respected actor and if he communicates the message, it will have a bigger impact than, say, the tourism minister giving the same message. Why did Aamir Khan do the ad? Probably because he was paid for it, again the profit motive.
Along with believing that ‘exploiting the profit motive’ can help in promoting rational thinking, I also believe its converse. That is, promotion of rational thinking is hurt by not exploiting the profit motive.
This is a problem not just with rational thinking, but other social causes like helping the aged, prevention of child labor, education of poor children. There are several organizations that work towards improving child education in India (e.g. CRY, Asha, AID etc.). But these are all non-profit. People who donate money, time, effort for these causes do it after their higher priority things are taken care of. For example, several of my friends ran marathons in New York, San Fransisco and other parts of the world, for Asha. They campaigned with their friends to donate because they were running for this cause. Because of my friends, I logged in to a US site and donated some money which was counted towards their kitty.
I’m not belittling this effort, but the point is: how much money did they generate? And is this a sustainable way of generating money for their cause? Maybe one person generated a contribution of 5000 US dollars. This is one-time money generated by my friend for a cause he loves.
Now look at his company. They pay him maybe around 100,000 USD as salary per year. And he probably generates a profit of 500,000 USD for his company. And this is not just one time, but year after year, as long as he works for the company. And my friend is probably not even passionate about the work he is doing for his company – he tells me he wants to retire as soon as he makes enough.
Now imagine if that company was Asha and also somehow they have figured out how to ‘monetize’ the work they are doing. My friend would be passionate about working for Asha as he loves the cause. He will be getting a salary of US 100,000. For Asha, he would be bringing in 500,000 USD instead of the paltry 5000 USD. And the best part is that he would be working 2000 hours a year for this cause, not the 10 or 20 hours he is putting in now (I’m not counting the time he spends on preparing for and running the marathon).
The same thing applies to me and rational thinking. If I was working for a company that made profit by promotion of rational thinking, it would satisfy my first priority of working to make a living. Automatically, that bumps up the number of hours I spend on promoting rational thinking to 2000 hours a year. And the company might have time and effort being put in by several people who are not even interested in the promotion of rational thinking. Imagine the rate of progress of rational thinking.
To illustrate, take the case of Coca Cola or Pepsi. Plainly put, these are aerated-sugar-drinks, with very little nutritional value. But they have reached every nook and corner of the world. Why? Because of the profit motive of these corporations, and armies of people working hard creating, selling, advertising these aerated-sugar-drinks.
Well, you might say, the ‘for-profit’ motive makes sense, but is it really required? Look at the movement for Indian independence, or the French revolution. They were not ‘for-profit’. My answer for this objection is that in those cases, people were clearly aware of the problem. They perceived that their lives were miserable and would improve if the movement succeeded. With rational thinking, we do not have that luxury. Several people do not even know that they are suffering due to irrational thinking and belief in superstitions.
Assuming we agree that it is rational and worthwhile to exploit the profit motive for promoting rational thinking, the big question is ‘How do we monetize rational thinking?’ Clearly there is value in moving from irrational thinking to rational thinking. To name a few, I am a much happier person, free from guilt, don’t consider myself a sinner, and am not living in the fear of divine retribution. There are other benefits too, but we’ll leave them out of this post. The bottom line is that rational thinking has value. And it probably has more value than aerated-sugar-water. So if someone can monetize that, we should be able to monetize rational thinking also. This reminds me of a myth (or reality) about Google. Apparently, when Google came up with their search engine, they knew they had something of value – everyone wants to search for information, right? And the story goes that they did not know how to monetize it until much later when they came up with AdWords. So, we can be inspired by Coca Cola and Google to see that it is possible to make money from rational thinking. But I don’t know how to do that yet; I have some general ideas and directions and plan to blog them in the future. The intent of this post is to start the thought process so that someday, somewhere, someone will start a profitable venture selling rational thinking. If the founders are generous, I don’t mind getting some royalty 🙂
The fundamental point I’m trying to make is that ‘not-for-profit’ organizations make a much lesser impact than ‘for-profit’ organizations. Here is one example. Fifteen years ago, getting a telephone connection in India was a great event. There used to be 10 year waiting period. And now, you can get a mobile phone and connection instantaneously. One reason is that fifteen years ago, only the Govt. was providing telephones and they did not have a profit motive to drive it. There are several players in the mobile phone space, and they are all ‘for-profit’. As another example, consider mankind’s fight against diseases. What do you think is the more likely cause for the rapid progress in medicine? Man’s desire to make the world a better place to live or the profit motive of the pharmaceutical companies?
Here’s another pressing reason. The competition is exploiting it heavily. Just look at the amount of money the religious institutions, quacks and spiritual leaders are making. I think it is a fair hypothesis to say that they are in it only for profit. And they are using all the proven techniques of making money, from selling fake medicines online to getting celebrities advertise products like the Rudraksha. (By the way, here is a nice article by a venture capitalist about ‘marketing lessons from the spiritual world’.
Rational thinking can grow leaps and bounds if we exploit the profit principle. With due respect to people like Narendra Nayak and others who are evangelizing the cause by using media (print and TV) also as a tool, imagine the impact if Shah Rukh Khan was delivering these messages. Or imagine an ad where Priyanka Chopra throws the ‘Aarti Saaman’ of Karva Chauth, starts feasting on delicacies instead of fasting for her husband, and says ‘Why should rationalists have all the fun?’
Don’t get me wrong, I have very high regard for Narendra Nayak. In fact, if Narendra Nayak were the CEO of a ‘for-profit’ rational thinking company, I would like to invest in that company.