By Amar Yumnam
Development history of the world teaches us one fundamental lesson of progress. This is about the role of knowledge and technology. Sustained rise of population has been made possible by the evolution of agriculture ten thousand years ago from hunter gatherer phase. This was founded on the accumulated knowledge of food production over centuries of experience. Modern trading system based on promised settlement of payments for exchange in a future date owe a lot to the experiences over centuries of people moving across territories and into among strange places and people. The best example of this is the Spanish experience of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries.
But we need to appreciate here how knowledge grows and what is the best context for its growth. There is the imperative for looking into the historical experiences of development around the globe as to whether homogeneity facilitates or heterogeneity boosts. Modern trade first flourished and took the present shape in Spain because of the long distance exchange of products on Spanish soil by people from within and without. We often say that even supposing a society produces all scientifically competent population and everyone becomes a physician. The composition of population of the society would be homogeneous as it consists of only doctors and even in this all of them should be based on the local culture. It would be a very boring and monotonous society. The growth in the stock of knowledge among the doctors would also be limited. Knowledge necessarily should have an interaction with external agents to grow. The increasingly collaborative research work today across scholars from different countries and fast expanding network of student transfers among universities located in diverse locations are testimony to this. Growth of knowledge has strong cultural roots. Culture, on the other hand, has locational foundations as something usually held in common by people in a particular locality. When knowledge is founded on this unique culture alone, it is like a dead end. Neither culture nor knowledge would grow over time in such contexts. While the core values of human significance might remain unchanged over time, both culture and knowledge have to undergo transformation in order to serve the sustainable transformation of any society. This injection of new elements of culture and knowledge has to come from external agents for they are based on a culture and knowledge unique to their place of origin as compared to the one dominant and prevailing in the locality. This infusion would lead to a new strength and evolution of knowledge and technology.
The resilience of the Manipuris as compared to the other population groups around the country is very competitive by any standard. For this we often cite examples from every aspect of human importance – education, sports and what not. The smallness of the size, both in terms of demography and territoriality, has not been a deterring factor. Even within the North Eastern Region, five sportspersons from Manipur out of ten representing India to the forthcoming Olympics cannot be without some cultural foundations. The large scale conglomeration of people from every direction over centuries has definitely infused a continuous flow of new ideas and new technology to the settlers in the valley. This has also been made convenient by the existence of heterogeneous ethnic groups all around. As said above, a society of only a single culture would not be a conductive environment for sustained expansion of knowledge. The shock of early exposure to new knowledge and technology due to the comparatively intense interaction with external population has definitely caused the valley to score ahead in the race of development compared to the surrounding areas.
While this has served the individual progress and advancement, the direction for collective advancement seems to be calling. While we have made ourselves look like moving upwards at individual levels, something has gone terribly wrong. The social ethos for status and importance have become so topsy-turvy that in the long run we would be finishing ourselves and not because of any external force. We have forgotten the tremendous role, for example, being played by the people who produce the traditional clothes in our economy and society, while the contractors (as contemporarily existing in Manipur) and a culture of VIP have started playing havoc with our lives. As Paul Krugman has just written in his The New York Times column criticising the rich oriented approach of the Republican candidate for the American President, no government of the rich 0.1%, by the 0.1% and for the 0.1% can bring about progress, jobs and
Another related issue concerns our collective action problem. Here I would like to quote from economist Robert Shiller of Yale University who wrote in June: “Imagine that you are watching an outdoor theatre production while sitting on the grass. You have difficulty seeing, so you prop yourself up on your knees. Soon everyone behind you does the same. Eventually, most people are kneeling or standing, yet they are less comfortable than they were before and have no better view. Everyone should sit down, and everyone knows it, but no one does.” This collective action problem has been the undoing of the Manipuris so far. As said above, we are excellent population at individual levels and absolutely treacherous at societal level. We have failed to evolve what Mancur Olson once called “collective incentive” or “collective reward” structure.
We have utterly failed to put in place a collectively shared collective good.
Collectively we feel to be effective only when the joint energy is directed against some external force.
All the ethnic groups, Meetei and all others, are against one another for that is where the collective action behaviour becomes manifest. It is as if we do not exist collectively unless we come together against some external agent. We must however need to cultivate a more significant manifestation of collective action. This is a very potent force for bringing about transformation within. If we could evolve a culture of collective action where everyone within our society could be better off, the world would be ours.
This is the biggest challenge facing us, but the world will not wait for us to develop this ‘will’.