Rudi Rubiandini, Associative Thinking and Problem of Identity

I was a little bit surprised hearing news about the arresting of the head of SKK Migas, Rudi Rubiandini, on the time when all Moslems were still celebrating Eid Mubarak day. He was arrested based upon the investigation conducted by KPK that he allegedly received bribe from one of oil companies operating in Indonesia. The news eventually triggered surprises among my peers, especially because he was well-known as a prominent figure in Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Many comments were raised in the day trying to comment about the truthfulness of the case. There were actually two main sides when I read social media’s comments: those who blamed Mr. Rudi for his alleged involvement in bribery case thus also negatively charge ITB’s name and the side who try to stand still in any positive possibility since the status of Mr. Rudy has not yet been escalated. Regardless of the opinions present on the social media and the conflicting ideas, I would rather like trying to generate my own individual opinions in regard of the case, especially in the case about identity since I have found that several news portal have improperly reported the issue thus rendering a bias standpoint among Indonesians.

Identity that cannot be stripped off

In his book, Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen is right to say that every human being is endowed with numerous identities even an identity that we cannot consciously choose such as nationality in which we were born. Identity is then something that cannot be easily stripped off. It will deliver human beings to develop a nation on the one hand and to destruct others on the other; and the former requires unity among identities and the later requires hatred against other identity. Thus, being endowed with this huge amount of identity, what is the impact of such a condition to our daily lives? The answer is quite easy: identity is often used as the easiest way to determine your attitude as human beings.

Let us take the simple example. Indonesians are often correlated with the politeness attitude. Bearing Indonesia as identity means that other expect you to be polite regardless of the situation you are currently facing. If the outcome dos not in line with the others’ expectation, you will be considered as harming your identity.

Unfortunately, this evaluation process is often in blind condition for any circumstances. People can easily mix altogether identities that are actually not really important or have any correlation with current problem. Let us take a simple example. There is a man good in sport, especially athletic. He can run so fast or doing anything related to athletic and has an outstanding performance. One day, he decides to try mountaineering activity in which very new for him. He does not perform well and is very exhausted. People then say, “How could it be since he is a good athlete in field?” The confusion is happening here. His identity as a good athlete does not necessarily mean that he could become a good mountaineer. Many aspects should be further reckoned in order to evaluate his performance as mountaineer and cannot be based solely by his identity as an athlete and more importantly not just by his strong endurance in running track. By doing this, other people can then be easily negatively influenced and will consider him as a bad mountaineer and maybe a fake athlete.

The condition I try to describe here has also been completely explained by Daniel Kahneman in his book: Thinking Fast and Slow. He says that actually the thinking system in human beings can be divided into two main parts: system 1 that deals with fast thinking and system 2 dealing with slow thinking. Fast thinking does not require additional energy to be done, it happens unconsciously, and is preferable since it costs less energy. System 2 occurs when people need more energy to focus on the problem they are trying to answer such as when people are facing calculus problem. System 2 requires more energy thus he says that system 2 is a lazy controller since it costs more energy and people tend to choose the fastest way to solve any kind of problem.  A question then arises: what is the correlation between system 1 and 2 thinking and the problem of identity, and especially in regard with Mr. Rudi Rubiandini case?

Mr. Rudi was the head of SKK Migas on one hand and also a lecturer on the other. Both of these positions are his own identity and as I have said before: these identities cannot be stripped off from him. But when he was allegedly arrested for receiving bribe from Kernel Oil Company, what identity was he actually bearing: a lecturer or a head of SKK Migas? From the incident reported from many news portals, it was clear that he was arrested not as a lecturer. He was arrested in his position as the head of SKK Migas. Thus, why can people correlate this condition with his achievement as a lecturer? The answer also lies in our system 1 thinking.

Reconsider identity

One character of system 1 thinking is it will always try to find an associative way when dealing with any kind of problem. Associative way means that the system 1 thinking can produce a story and if it is endorsed by system 2 will become a belief. When Mr. Rudi was arrested, system 1 thinking would produce anything that can be associated with Mr. Rudi. Some people would think he was the head of SKK Migas, some would think of him as a lecturer at ITB, and the rest would think he was both of them. With the enormous effect of media, mingling effect would then happen. Several news would then report him as the head of SKK Migas while the other trying to report him as a lecturer and the other would also try to bring out the news about his role as a father in his family. Unfortunately, all of this information can be easily gathered from one news portal. This confusing flow of news then would trigger the associative thinking in System 1: it would create the story that combined Mr. Rudi’s role as father, head of SKK Migas, and a lecturer. What would happen next? People could not reject the idea that the identity of Mr. Rudi could be separated and he should be judged by all of the identities he was bearing. That was why several days ago you would not find any difficulty to find news contrasting his achievement as lecturer and his condemned action as the head of SKK Migas. The system 1 works well while system 2 is still sleeping to just receive anything without trying to evaluate the identity that was actually being investigated. Remember: system 2 is too lazy to evaluate what had been done by system 1 since the results satisfied your desire. You need not to think further and just condemn him as bad lecturer, bad father, and also a corruptor. Why do not people separate those identities and not let them to be mingled?

Lastly, it is very important to us for not letting our associative thinking leads the way in judging others. This article is not made to defend Mr. Rudi. This is purely individual opinion. I do not agree with corruption cases like all of Indonesians. But what I am trying to underscore in this explanation is: when we are reading news, try not to be confused with our system 1 thinking. We can easily correlate one incident with another without trying to confirm whether or not there is any real relation between them. We just try to satisfy our needs about information and forget to differentiate the identity of the people we are currently judging. If Mr. Rudi is well-known for his cleverness in his academic background, and can be very well delivering his subject to his student, should it be used to consider his role in corrupt case in SKK Migas? I do not think so. He is always clever as a lecturer and I always salute him for his outstanding knowledge and on the other hand, it should never conflict my standpoint that I also hate a corruptor. Just do not make an associative story that will only contribute in rocketing the rating of news portal. We should be more careful and become cleverer.