The Favourites of Favouritism

Recently the passing away of Bollywood actor Shushant Singh Rajput (SSR) has led to skeletons of Nepotism tumbling out of the shining closet of Bollywood. Allegations are running thick and fast against the Bollywood big shots like Kapoors, Khans, Johars, Chopras about how they sabotaged the career of SSR, who on refusing to kowtow to the tune of one of the big shots was banished from the city of Bollywood to its outskirts. This, as many are alleging, led to the suicide of SSR. So many are calling for an end to Nepotism in Bollywood and demanding its end per se from all spheres of life. What is Nepotism and Favouritism? What are its origins? Are we by nature biased towards certain things or persons or people? Can this be ever ended? This article intends to discuss these questions in the context of human behaviour.

What Is Nepotism?

Originating from the Italian word nepotismo which is based on Latin root nepos meaning nephew, comes from the Middle Age practice by certain Catholic popes and Bishops of elevating their nephews (not sons, as the Popes were celibate) to the Cardinalate. So, Nepotism is the practice of granting favours to relatives in various fields of business, sports, politics, religion, entertainment and other activities.

Its Different Forms

The conceptual sibling of Nepotism is Cronyism and their parent is Favouritism. Cronyism is the practice of granting favours to friends and other social contacts who do not share familial relationships. While Favouritism is the broadest of all concepts, which is the practice of favouring one’s ‘in-group’ members over ‘out-group’ members. So, here onwards we will be discussing the basics of the more general concept of Favouritism or In-group Favouritism than specific concepts like Nepotism.

Origins of Favouritism

Sociologist William Sumner in 1906 proposed that humans by their very own nature tend to join together in groups, and they have a general tendency of favouring their own group over others, proclaiming how “each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exists in its own divinities, and looks with contempt to outsiders”. Now the formation of in-groups can be on the basis of anything, e.g nation, religion, gender, occupation, social acquaintance, ethnicity, similar interests, sexual orientations, emotional bondages etc. Now the question naturally arises that why do we favour ‘in-group’ members over ‘out-group’ members.

Why Do We Indulge in Favouritism?

There are two approaches to this question, one is the Socio-psychological approach and the other is the Biological approach.

Socio-Psychological Approach

Again, two prominent theories are there in this approach. One is the Realistic Conflict theory, which proposes that in-group bias arises to strengthen the position of a particular in-group in the game of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ against out-group members, when both the groups are vying for scanty resources. Hence, in our goal of protecting selfish interests we form groups and identify ourselves with the in-groups that we belong to so that we can root out competition from out-groups to ensure our own survival. The proverb ‘United we stand and divided we fall’ is the summary of this theory. The second theory is the Social Identity theory, where one associates one’s self-esteem with the group one belongs to, thus favouring one’s in-group over out-group. An individual always in search for self-esteem and importance tends to think that his/her group is superior over other groups since the individual is part of that group, so the group has to be better than others. In the womb of our ego-centrism, the social identity superiority is nurtured.

Biological Approach

The biological foundation for the psychological edifice of in-group favouritism is Oxytocin hormone. The neuropeptide produced in Hypothalamus of our brain, released by posterior pituitary gland helps not only in sexual reproduction, childbirth but also social bonding. Prof. Carsten De Dreu, who is a professor of Psychology at the University of Leiden, in a research showed that oxytocin enables development of trust towards in-group members promoting both cooperation and favouritism in between the individuals belonging to such groups. It has been further studied that Oxytocin raises our defence-mechanism towards in-group members whenever there is a threat to them from out-group members. This hormone gives birth to a double-edged sword with one edge having cooperation and favouritism in-group and the other edge having adversity against out-group.

The Double-Edge Sword of Favouritism

In the Darwinian ‘struggle for existence’, how did Homo sapiens ensured the ‘survival of the fittest’ against the other species from the genus Homo? It’s simple, the biological booster dose of Oxytocin sparked the ‘United we stand and divided we fall’ attitude which eventually rooted out the competition, justifying the Realistic Conflict theory. The climb of humans from the ground floor of insignificance to the top floor of global dominance was through the staircases of Cognitive revolution, in-group cooperation and out-group exploitation. This struggle for dominance didn’t end with our eventual global dominance, it just spilled over to intra-species dominance. Now the Homo sapiens started forming in-groups and out-groups in-between them and continued the struggle, giving birth to concepts of Nepotism, Cronyism and in-group Favouritism. A person caring for one’s family, locality, district, state, nation, religion, caste, gender, football club, colleagues, same interest group, same political views, is just responding to the calls of Oxytocin, thus proving the legitimacy of the Racial Conflict and Social Identity theory. Thus, we see business houses carrying on surnames like Ambanis and Tatas, political dynasts favouring own family names, friends favouring fellow friends in entertainment industry, Communists or Capitalists protecting fellow Comrades, an individual caring for one’s family, a soldier fighting for one’s nation. This double-edged sword of mutual cooperation once led and is still sustaining the global dominance of humans but at the same time it’s rearing its ugly head in the form of Nepotism, Cronyism, Dynastism, Favouritism of which SSR and countless others are just a victim.

The End of Favouritism

Can we love everyone and everything irrespective of its caste, creed, religion, species, gender, sexual orientation, state of consciousness, state of living? Can we fight against Oxytocin which make us humans at the very first place? “With malice towards none, with charity for all” can we see every being in this entire creation? Can we see our Self in others and others in ourselves? Can we feel the presence of the same all-pervading eternal unchanging entity everywhere? In that case we have to trade our human nature for something which is beyond our beliefs, emotions, orientations, rationalities, experiences, likings and beyond us. Maybe 2020, when the world is standing on the verge of a global pandemic, economic distress, tensions it’s the right time to introspect in retrospect so that humanity can take the next leap, which is to go beyond Humanity itself.

-Aishik Bhattacharya (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2o20 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)


-Wikipedia (In-group Favouritism, Nepotism and Cronyism articles)

-Sapiens: A brief history of mankind, by Yuval Noah Harrari

-News articles on the death of Shushant Singh Rajput

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