Absorbing Counter Cultures


Source: Imphal Free Press

The government’s strategy to address issues of anti-establishment and  counter-culture tradition in the state should not be always about confrontation, as if this is the only response possible, but to think of absorbing them. Expectedly, the idea will be seen as somewhat problematic by the political correct. Once upon a time assimilation was seen as a legitimate nation building strategy, today the word for this same phenomenon is pushed by a section of self righteous intellectuals to mean cooption. This, we are of the opinion is intellectual dishonesty for there ought to be a nuanced distinction between what the two terms signify. When a certain culture assimilates with another, it implies both parties adjusting and accommodating each other. Cooption on the other hand implies coerced or circumstantially compelled embrace of a dominant one by a smaller one. This twist given to the two terms is intellectually cynical if not sinister. The deliberate semantic obfuscation has today virtually made all ideas of disparate cultures coming together to ultimately combine into a larger whole, suspicious. This obfuscation must be unravelled so that the two ideas involved are once again given the different meanings they were meant to have, so that assimilation is no longer a taboo word. Failure to do this would virtually mean the surrender of an important handle to an effective and intuitive conflict resolution institution.

One of the most famous counter cultures which disappeared without bloodshed or the need for anybody having to suffer any trauma, temporal or psychological, is what the world once knew as the “Hippie Culture” of the 1960s and 1970s in America, which was basically a protest culture by a great section of the American younger generation at the time rejecting in disgust the dominant culture of their country which they saw as violent, war mongering and unmindful of human rights. Take just a few symbols of that protest. At a time when their society valued dress and music discipline to the extent of appearing regimented, rock and roll, long hair, faded or even torn jeans, would have meant literally challenging a sacrosanct established code. But what happens if the larger society itself decides to transform itself and its codes. Supposing, long hair, faded jeans and rock and roll came to be accepted by the same society against which the rebellion was directed, these lifestyles would suddenly cease to be the same symbols or else acquire new symbolic values. This was practically what happened. The protest of the “Flower People” as the Hippies were also often referred to, came to be absorbed into the larger American culture, so that to live like a Hippie became just another lifestyle choice and not a protest. In a reciprocal process, the counter culture also forced the larger culture to change and accommodate them and their outlook to life.

Take a more immediate example. In the recent seminar organised by the government on the topic: “Manipur – the way forward”, quite expectedly some of the speakers in painting a picture of the multi-faceted ethnic divide in the state had pointed out that it was also religion and food which marked the fault-lines. Keeping this in mind, just suppose two hypothetical situations. One, in which religion ceased to be the defining factor of ethnicity or community as the idea of a secular polity entrenched deeper into the Manipur society. Two, if the divide were roughly between meat eaters and vegetarians, imagine what would happen in a situation in which either the meat eaters began preferring vegetarian diet or the vegetarians began eating meat. In both the cases, what would fade away are the dividing lines defined by these differences. This blurring of fault-lines can happen in any given conflict situation, and in fact must be treated as a mutually beneficial strategy by all peacemakers. Giving this strategy an academic interpretation, Judith Butler, in her book “Precarious Life: The Power of Violence and Mourning” recommends a reconsideration of the Hegelian question “Who am I?” – the fundamental query and building block of “identity”. The dynamic of this Hegelian identity works by delineating “I” from “you”. “I” makes sense because I am different from “you”. The reconstruction of this question as per Butler’s conflict resolution strategy would run something like “What would I be without you?” If “I” makes sense because “you” exist, then the “I” would also lose meaning if “you” did not exist. This new identity dynamic which rests on the “power of mourning” would by its humility alone, unite rather than divide.


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