One of Manipur’s most problematic issues awaiting a resolution is a general mindset that still perilously entraps the vision of the individual in a pre-modern time frame, when the rest of the world have moved into the postmodern era – a mindset which can perhaps be accurately generalized on the entire ethnic world, a global constituency which some scholars have provocatively categorized as the Fourth World. It is in a way the direct outcome of a tragedy of destiny that political and social formation amongst the human race should have become so unequal after the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. The end of the Pleistocene Epoch is generally taken by historical anthropologists to be the flag-off point for the development of modern civilizations. But the fact remains, while many societies are in advanced stages of civilization, with extremely well developed and sophisticated economies, political systems, art, literature and aesthetics etc. many others who come under the broad categorization of the Fourth World, are still on the edge of the Pleistocene epoch, with even settled agriculture still an alien occupation, subsisting on primitive economies constituting of nothing much more than hunting and gathering food. The paradox about the situation is, these communities live in two different time frames. In evolutionary time they are midway between the Ice Age and modern civilization, but in chronological time, they live side by side with postmodern societies. There are some very interesting theories on why this has happened, and many articulations of these theories have as a matter of fact become hugely successful bestsellers, anthropologist Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, being just one of them. The term postmodern, we know is a very wide concept, with greatly varying nuances in its manifestations in art, literature, philosophy and most prominently, architecture, but the connotation implied in our usage here would be closer to its manifestation in literature and philosophy – a continuity of the reconciliation process of the modernist’s dilemma in discovering that there may be nothing intrinsic about values. That values may not be the outcome of preordination by divinity, but man-made, so that the meaning of life becomes not God given but man-made too. Despairing questions such these made them lament the loss of belief and faith that the past eras so richly possessed. The postmodernist undoubtedly inherited all the despairing thoughts, but not the lament, thus in a way coming to terms with a harsh vision of life.
The philosophy and anthropology is merely incidental to the intent of this editorial. We are here interested in the real problems faced by those who missed the bus of this model of rectilinear progression of societies. The fact is, the Fourth World awoke late, and within this world itself, not everybody woke up at the same time, leaving the them at varying stages of social and economy formation, and this in turn created its own mesh of mutually entangled problems. Those of us in Manipur should have no great difficulty in understanding this. We see some very fundamental problems of irreconcilability in even very basic issues such as territory. Why do for instance, the Naga, the Meitei and the Kuki, to take just three of the major groups in the state, see so differently on the question of territory and its possession? It is not an accurate comparison, but the difference in vision is almost what is expected between the settled agriculturist, the shift cultivator and the hunter gatherer. The fact also is, all of these three visions are far, very far away from the modern paradigms that determine territory. In their closed world, the difference between them may be perceived as great, but from the distance of the truly modern world, all of their visions are extremely circumspect, just as the mathematical axiom informs us: any two points is equidistant from infinity. We are more than ever convinced today that peace in the Fourth World can come about only if its denizens make the supreme effort to rise above their world and come to terms with the modern.