Sceptical about Sceptics


Healthy scepticism is recommended on any public issue. This is what the time worn cliche `scientific temper` is all about. Never let anything go by without having it first pass through an intense scrutiny keeping in mind Murphy`™s Law that if anything can go wrong, it will. Or the derivative of this law that if everything is going right, begin suspecting something is wrong. This will, above everything else, put our policy framers under pressure always to perform at their optimum. While scepticism is a virtue and a necessary quality of perfecting the democratic system, there is also the common and grave danger of it slipping into abject cynicism, a condition in which the sceptic begins to believe there can be nothing good coming out of anything the government or anybody else does. The deeper trouble with this kind of cynicism is, while those in its grip have learnt to reject ideas and policies, often deservedly, they are woefully lacking in interest or capability of suggesting credible alternatives. In many ways they become the `dog in the manger` of the nursery school book parables. Our die hard sceptics, which would happily include many of us in the media, must guard against the danger of this delusion.

But it is sad to say that this vigil against cynicism has not been always successful in the Manipur society of today. Hence the numerous cases of irreconcilable dichotomies in the manner issues are faced or challenges met. Take the case of the slipping law and order problem. Practically everybody would have grumbled and complained in private about it, predicting even an ultimate collapse of the state because of the near total failure on this front. Yet, this same society would object to any tough law to control the situation, invoking amongst others, human rights. Take again the abysmal power shortage. There possibly cannot be anyone who has not at some point or the other been blinded by fury and dark thoughts of personally causing mayhem to electricity department properties, including local transformers, when routinely condemned to a fate of unscheduled blackouts. Yet there are still amongst us who would say an unconditional `no` to any power projects, citing our love for the environment. Fine, but if this must be the way, can we be still justified in cribbing about power shortages. Or in the earlier example, is there any case for complaining that the law is in the hands of anybody with some degree of nuisance value. And these are just two examples. Our society is confronted with the same mindless dilemma on so many other matters, including the most trivial `“ say traffic regulation or public hygiene. From the government`™s side, you have a flyover coming up to ease traffic, but you think nothing of bus depots in the heart of the city that causes frustrating regular traffic jams. You don`™t want private vehicles parked along busy streets but you also do nothing to provide any official parking areas in the city. From the public side, you want a clean city, but you have no scruples about littering in public, you are vocally against corruption but would not hesitate bribing to get official favours etc.

This is no way to get out of the quagmire the Manipur society has been trapped in for all too many decades. There has to come about a time when we are clear about what we want definitely, and then single-mindedly pursue it. We cannot possibly hope for a positive outcome riding two boats at a time all the time. For instance, if we want quality education, teachers must teach and students must learn and not the other way around. More importantly, teachers must be capable of teaching and students of learning. Just as those in the government must govern and contractors must do contract works, not the other way around. Similarly, if we want electric power, it is not going to drop from Heaven no matter which God we pray to. We will have to either allow its generation at home or else buy it if we can afford the cost. If we are not willing to do either, for whatever the reason, let us not complain about power scarcity. True, we have to weigh our options, for sometimes the price we pay for something we get, can have so many hidden costs that ultimately we end up the losers, but at least let us make the effort to sincerely assess these options, rather than jump blindly into bandwagons of protest or support. Sounds like a conundrum, but the need often is also to sceptically examine the position of known sceptics. In many ways, scepticism is an unavoidable condition of the thought process, like reason. Even if you do not believe `reason` can explain everything in life, you still have to give `reason` for this non-belief to be able to convince anybody reasonably.


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