Today I had a frustrating conversation about post-colonial discourse from an Indian acquaintance of mine, as well as a frustrating experience dealing with customer service, and it struck me that both of these experiences were deeply similar. My Indian acquaintance was seeking to blame Europeans for the brokenness of India and its politics and economy and so on, and I was having none of it . Similarly, when we deal with the customer service systems of various companies, we find that there are often elaborate and extensive efforts at justification at why the person who we are talking to–whose understanding of English is often shaky–are not to blame for whatever problem we are having with the company, and of course can do nothing about it to fix the root causes of our inquiry and dissatisfaction.
Ultimately, such efforts at justification and avoiding blame are entirely profitless because people do not care about the origins of the brokenness of individuals, institutions, and societies, or who is to blame for it, but rather are interested in what we are going to do about it. It is this latter matter for which we bear total responsibility. We are deeply concerned with questions of blame because we desire to absolve ourselves of the responsibility for our present broken state. Yet the question of who is to blame is ultimately unprofitable and useless in helping us to get better, which is ultimately all that anyone else really cares about. It matters not who is to blame for the state of the world, the state of our institutions, or the state of ourselves. What matters is what we plan on doing about it, and the effort that we spend trying to absolve ourselves of blame for these problems hinders us from actually getting better, which ought to be the main goal.
Why is this so? What accounts for the gap between what we spend our efforts in and what other people expect from us? There are all kinds of asymmetries in humankind by which we judge ourselves by our intentions but judge others by their results. We know our internal state–or at least we can know it–but we have little insight into the internal state of others. And that which we cannot determine ultimately does not matter to us. We may judge the intentions of others to be friendly, hostile, or indifferent, but we have little capacity for certain knowledge however we may judge. And ultimately, this lack of knowledge into what is going on inside of other people’s heads leads us to spend most of our effort and interest on that which we can see and judge, and that is what others do. Because our behavior is most of interest to others, and the behavior of others is most of interest to us, our efforts need to be based on that which affects our performance and not that which is of interest only to we ourselves.
This is an incredibly difficult point to truly understand. Because we are deeply interested in the question of what limited extent we are to blame for the difficulties that we struggle under, and that which affect our performance in all kinds of matters of interest to others, we waste a great deal of time and effort seeking to justify ourselves. Institutions and governments write humungous regulations that seek to divorce front-line employees from any kind of meaningful ability to do something about the frustrations and problems that are involved in dealing with government and corporate bureaucracies. Again, though, these are useless, because what matters is not that we have followed procedure but did these institution serve us and our interests and do what we wanted. If they did not, the fact that their employees followed procedure matters not a single bit. Your justifications don’t matter, your procedures don’t matter. Only the results matter. Only the behavior matters. Everything else must be judged by God, who alone apart from ourselves knows what is going on inside us anyway. You can either spend your life trying to get better or get bitter, and it’s pretty clear what the better option is for your own well-being and that of everyone else who you have to deal with. It simply remains to do it.
 I reminded her that by the time Europeans became deeply involved in Indian politics that India’s political situation was already deeply divided by civil war within the Mughal dynasty as well as hostility between various nawabs who were seeking to gain or maintain a high degree of independence from central authority in Delhi, and that while the British and others certainly exploited these differences, it was not as if the British were invading and corrupting a paradisical society, but rather were exploiting the existing brokenness of Indian society. Furthermore, India had an ancient tradition of cyclical rise and fall going back at least a couple thousand years or so. Similar traditions can be found in other cultures, especially China.