By Amar Yumnam
Now is the time to be a student of Social Science –Economics, Political Theory, and Sociology in particular. There is so much rethinking about the disciplinary exemplars, to use Thomas Kuhn’s term, in these subjects that the excitement is something to be fully absorbed and explored by the students. While an established academics would be constrained by his or her earlier training and disciplinary commitment to the exemplars, a young student would be free from all these. A young scholar fully exploring the new developments in these disciplines can emerge as a path-breaker with the new exemplars and contribute in reshaping the society and the world. In fact, I personally feel like becoming a student in the true sense of the term. In this piece, I wish to concentrate on two very interesting recent personal experiences.
Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, recently wrote in the New York Times proposing for a reduced pursuit of productivity than it is yet. He proposes for reduced working hours in order that more can be employed. He writes: “But the relentless drive for productivity may also have some natural limits. Ever-increasing productivity means that if our economies don’t continue to expand, we risk putting people out of work. If more is possible each passing year with each working hour, then either output has to increase or else there is less work to go around. Like it or not, we find ourselves hooked on growth.” The economic crisis dwelling the United States and Europe for the last few years has literally forced the intellectuals for a rethink in all the ways they have been used to while pondering and articulating on society and the world. The latest report on the employment situation in the USA portrays a picture of no improvement in the number of unemployment and unemployment rate scenario while the long term unemployment is on the rise. The condition is no better in England and Europe. The most recent writings of intellectuals in America and Europe are a treat for the mind. Kaushik Basu’s recent writings for a new Economics are also of this genre. The problem we face in our Manipur is not one of the productivity being stretched as Tim Jackson has talked of the western economies. But there is one aspect in his piece which is of immense value and lesson to us. He concludes his piece thus: “Of course, a transition to a low-productivity economy won’t happen by wishful thinking. It demands careful attention to incentive structures — lower taxes on labor and higher taxes on resource consumption and pollution, for example. It calls for more than just lip service to concepts of patient-centred care and student-cantered learning. It requires the dismantling of perverse productivity targets and a serious investment in skills and training. In short, avoiding the scourge of unemployment may have less to do with chasing after growth and more to do with building an economy of care, craft and culture. And in doing so, restoring the value of decent work to its rightful place at the heart of society.” I have quoted Tim Jackson extensively for he is a key player in the rethinking in the Social Sciences. It is exactly in this context of new disciplinary orientations that I recently experienced two intellectual experiences. One, I checked into the thinking of the New Economics Foundation, an organisation based in England defined by itself as “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.” The criticality of values of communities and the respects for individual contributions are fundamental insights for restoring and ensuring well-being of individuals in a society. This is where the economists, Kaushik Basu par excellence, are questioning, for instance, the income gaps between the skilled and the non-skilled personnel. The other experience I had was witnessing the recent North East Theatre festival. When intellectuals are emphasising the values of culture and role of social norms the world over, it is highly heartening to find that theatre in our land is alive and kicking. The employment, social and cultural values of this were made to feel anew, thanks to the new directions in thinking around the globe.
Second, I understand that we are nowhere the level of development in England or America. We still need to pursue growth extensively and intensively. But we can in no case afford to forget the lessons to be learnt from their contemporary problems consequent upon historical pursuits of growth. We should be honouring our conventional ethos and not lose sight of the ethical dimensions of development interventions. Here I would mention two aspects where we need to apply our mind without any loss of time.
In Manipur the most intense sector of activity today is construction. But we are killing our hills and mountains in this process. All these are places created by nature and endowed to us in plenty. Development interventions are put in place to reach the mountains, but the nature of these has been to enhance the beauty and utility of these. This is the approach in civilised countries. But in Manipur we have been doing it without any ethics; in the valley most of the hills have fallen prey to the illogical use of chingleibak to fill any low-lying portion and any space on the plains. We have sacrificed ethics and ethos for immediate conveniences. We can finish the hills and hillocks in the valley today, but we must remember that we can never recreate them, or recreate only at prohibitive prices. Besides, the new values created by their lost are not superior to their presence.
Further Manipur now stands at an historical juncture where we necessarily have to evolve ways for empowerment and inclusion of all the ethnicities in the development process. We have experienced a period of deterioration in inter-ethnic relationships almost bordering on the pre-historic behaviour of treating anyone from another community as stranger. One possible explanation for this scenario is the historical continuance of ethnic inequalities in intergenerational mobility; intergenerational mobility is the opportunity to lead a better life from one generation to the next. While such inequalities in terms of contemporaneous income, employment, education and opportunities have been historical, we have allowed them to worsen temporally. Unless we address these inequalities, we cannot think of a coherent and sustainable social existence in Manipur.