Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Can superstition and science be reconciled?

The Paradox of Manipur Society is, Much of its so Called Intellectual Elite Have Still Not Grown Out of Compte’s “Theological” Mindset

Modernity does not emerge in a harmonious way. Advances towards modernity were accompanied with lots of chaos and disorder. On one hand there were changes that raised hope for a better future and simultaneously there were also very dismal situations as during the 19th century Europe and causing immense despair. Earlier in an earlier era when faith in Christianity was complete, nobody doubted that when God said let there be light, there was light. But by the 19th century, to use Alexander Pope’s words, God said, pun was, let Newton be! And all was light. Therefore it was seen as a creation of human effort, courage and ingenuity.

The classical thinkers including Comte, Marx. Durkheim, Ferdinand Tonnies, George Simmel, Max Weber etc who lived in the 19th and early 20th century were all obsessed with the crisis of modernity. There was a massive force of economic revolution, political revolution and intellectual revolution that gave rise to the onset of modernity.

According to Weber, modernity means a rational transformation of social life. We advance towards greater efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. In Manipur for instance, in an earlier era people travelled by bullock carts but these have since been replaced by modern vehicles. Earlier we may have approached “maibas” or “maibis” for some bodily ailments assigning the causes of diseases to some supernatural forces which are incalculable. Today modern pathological laboratory will gives us a report carrying a numerical figure for every aspect of body functioning. Modernity has also led to the increase in span of control where a person sitting in Manipur can handle his or her business outsourcing unit on any part of the globe. These are the instances of rational transformation practically everywhere in every society.

There was also a major shift from feudal agrarian society with a subsistence economy to a capitalist industrial society with a market economy where surplus is earned by exchanging goods and services in the market. And today we have global capitalism guided and fuelled by unlimited desire and accumulation of wealth. If tomorrow we discovered that some people have begun to habitat planet Mars, then all these world renowned brands may also come to be exported to Mars.

Modern society is characterised by what Weber calls as “goal-rational” action. It is the progressive use of efficient means to achieve practical goals. Practical goals are the specific goal that can be evaluated. A suicide bomber who thinks that he will achieve heaven after sacrificing his life is not something which can be rationally evaluated. In a multi-religious state, it would generate a catalyst for conflict if religion and theological ideas are brought into social and political life. Hence affecting the practical goal of social and cultural harmony.

Manipur for that matter, is indeed a great place. The circumstances and situation itself demand us to be more accommodative and flexible as we have varied religious sentiments and ethnicity. And finding unity in the vast ocean of difference is perhaps the essence of true knowledge. If I am a narrow-minded person who thinks exclusively of my own religion or ethnic interest then this land is indeed a great place that serves as an “intensive care unit” to help cure my “sick” mind. The slogan for unity is meaningless unless our mind is as broad as the territory of Manipur. We cannot shout the slogan for unity while at the same time do not hesitate to do things that may hurt the sentiment of others in the name of religion or exclusive ethnic interest. That’s just hypocrisy veil behind the mask of secularism or compassion.

In simple society, such “goal-rational” actions are rarely found. But in advanced modern societies, the constant focus is to shift toward the predominance of “goal-rational” action. In Manipur, it seems that though the entire population are obsessed with the idea of modern education where the most economically deprived parents are determined to send their children to educational institutes, the practical implication of those education seems to be least manifested. And our temperament seems to be stuck predominantly somewhere in what French sociologist Auguste Comte terms as a “theological” mode of thought. It is in fact a contradictory and paradoxical situation found in Manipur.

Many including some academicians in Manipur who are supposed to be ethnicity-neutral and claim to go by academic facts alone and encourage scientific temperament, but seem to interpret history linking this to “myths” and “theology”, which is surprising.

The most recent incident was that of the controversy of removing the “prop” that support the jaw of “Kanglasha” where people seem to go more by emotion and myth rather than scientific and academic facts which is a characteristic feature of social life describe by Comte in theological stage of development which I will discuss below. Many seem to believe that kanglasha was another form of Nongshaba which was there since the immemorial past incarnated in this land to protect people from evil forces. And because of the “prop”, the jaw of the mythical creature remained open as if it is uncomfortable to the creature for which many people remained sad.

Theologians can perhaps believe and make such statements but if the present generation who are exposed to modern education and scientific knowledge begin to believe in such irrational ideas which have nothing to do with reality and facts then the society seems to be heading nowhere. And the unruly incidents that followed for forming healthy and rational criticism against the removal of the “prop” reminds one of the most classic and famous example of science denial in western history in the 17th century where Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei stood against the orthodox Catholic church defending the heliocentric model of the universe for which he was even placed under house arrest for life. But the fact is Galileo lived in the 17th century where the scientific revolution was just dawning while we lived in what some philosophers even term as the post-modern society where thinkers belonging to the this schools of thought even reject the classical grand narrative tradition and view the post-modern world as a new condition and state of existence characterized by high differentiation, fragmented varying cultures, pluralities and ethnicities.

If we go by theological ideas then the orthodox Christian will start claiming that we are all brothers and sisters descended from the first human “Adam” and “Eve”. And we will throw away Darwin and start claiming that Man was created in the “image” of God.

The Hindu would start claiming that humans are descendants of Manu, the progenitor of humans, born out of the different body parts of the creator deity Brahma. And there may be millions of such creation stories belonging to each tribe or community in the world.

For the purpose of enhancing knowledge, we can study the entire religious philosophy on the planet if we can privately or academically. But if we start factualizing those “myths” and “theology” then that’s the sign of a serious pathological and psychological state of abnormality. And “manipulative” minds can misinterpret history according to their own vested interest and conveniences. As Italian thinker Gramsci stated that masses could not become self-conscious of their own and they needed the help of intellectuals. Ideas were to be generated by intellectuals according to Gramsci and then extended to the masses and put into practice by them.

Therefore we need honest and truthful and ethical intellectuals who believe in objective facts and rationality. And not those who were the false “mask” of an angel but have hidden and exclusive vested interest. And the public platform particularly involving the media must promote a scientific atmosphere that encourages scientific temperament and reason based on empirical facts. It is better to keep our theological ideas and religion at home.

Religion has no role to play in a secular society and it is purely a subjective choice and private business. If we bring religion into social and political life, it is sure that we will always see communal tendencies and conflict amongst people.

Religion involves uncritical acceptance of ideas without testing and verifying it. And it accepts everything at face value and concludes that such beliefs are true. If such is the case then it is better for parents to stop sending their children to educational institutes but rather approach some theologians to educate them. And we seem to value the word of theologians more than ethical intellectual who believe in objective facts and scientific temperament. This is an absolute tragedy and a paradox.

This phenomenon is labelled by American sociologist William F Ogburn as a “cultural lag”. Ogburn pointed out that the rapid change in society is more likely to occur in material culture. But the material culture and non-material culture (ideas and belief system) are interconnected and interdependent. However, non-material culture tends to resist the change. Therefore technology and modern infrastructure produces a change to the material culture but the tendencies of the non-material culture to resist the change will lead to unevenness of development. This unevenness of change has been called “cultural lag” by Ogburn. And this tends to generate conflict in society.

This is a situation where the “cognitive” aspect of modernity is rejected while the “technological” component of modernity is easily accepted. For instance, a religious fundamentalist easily accepts the advances technology such as modern internet, cell phone, modern arms etc but they continue to be beholden to traditional belief. As a result this led to uneven changes in society. It is only when cognitive advancement is accompanied along with material change, we can see genuine progress in society.

Therefore, it seems that we need a serious filtering of our mind. We need to ask and introspect on why are we going to educational institutes. If not, we are heading nowhere but just following the populist trend.

Educational training and degree are not the means to heighten our “ignorance” and “ego” and “pride”. True learning enlightens us and most importantly it makes one more and more humble. If this is not the case then there is something seriously wrong about the knowledge and educational training itself.

According to Comte, the human mind passes through three stages of development where the “theological” stage is the earliest stage where the type of ideas are predominantly religious which characterise the nature of social life and organization and people interpret every aspect of reality through the prism of religion. Religious ideas are predominant in such a stage because technology is very simple and humans are dependent on nature. As a consequence they tend to invoke the idea of supernatural forces to control their environment or world. For instance, a person with chronic psychological disorder will perhaps go to “maibas” or “maibis”. It will be considered as if some evil spirit has possessed the mind.

And society was also organised militaristically. And the social life was dominated more by “feeling” and “emotion” rather than “rational” thinking. He corresponds such a stage with the “childhood” stage where the child is motivated more by “emotion” and “feeling” rather than rationality. And out of dependency, the child tends to perceive their father or mother as if they are superhuman that will protect him or her.

But over a period of time, this stage undergoes changes. The basic stimulus for changes lies in growth of population and that leads to a new demand in the social organization. Therefore the system of division of labour undergoes changes and society has to reorganised itself and move away from one stage to another. However this movement of society from one stage to another is not a smooth process but involve conflict and disorganization.

Comte stated that such ideas will get ultimately dispersed with the rise of modern science where even philosophy based on “reason” which he calls as the “metaphysical” stage have to be subjected to “empirical” disciplines. And we have to look for the proof of abstract ideas into observable facts. Comte compares enlightenment philosophy as the peak of the metaphysical stage. In the metaphysical stage, people talk about the utopian ideal or perfect society.

And in Europe, particularly the idea of a French philosopher belonging to enlightenment was held responsible for the French revolution and that in turn led to massive chaos and disorganization. And this resulted in a widespread craving for peace, harmony and order. Unlike that, the “positivistic” stage is based on empirical research that gives us certain, definite and exact knowledge which can be used for social reconstruction. And that is why it is called the “positive” stage. It affirms reality rather than rejecting reality.

He compares the “positivistic” stage with adulthood while the “metaphysical” stage with adolescence where the thinking is characterised by ideal but by the time they become adult they tend to realize the limitation of practical life and their thinking is shaped by reality and practical experience. Therefore in the “positivistic” stage “reason” or philosophy will also be subjected to research. And that is what we call science. And the development of such science of society is what he calls sociology.

I have earlier stated the idea of “goal-ration” action given by Weber which characterised the social life of advanced industrial society. Similar ideas can be found in the ideas of Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto which he terms as the “logical” action. Logical actions are those actions where people identify specific goals and adopt the most appropriate means to achieve those goals.

But Pareto says that most human actions are “non-logical” which he classifies into two parts which he dubbed as “residue” and “derivation”. Residues are the “sentimental” and “instinctive” tendencies which guide action. While “derivation” is the rationalization of the instinctual tendencies or residue. For instance, a deceptive romantic partner may wear a false persona where he pretends to love his romantic partner. But his hidden motive and aim may be something else which is not so easily visible to his romantic partner. His hidden motive can be to win her trust and ultimately to gratify his base sensual need. And that is the residue.

And all the concern and love and affection the person pretends is the justification, legitimization and rationalization or derivation of that residue. For a woman, it seems that, often the cases may be the other way round particularly in a conservative society. Physical intimacy may bring them lots of problems and risks of pregnancy. It may also lead to social shame and stigma as a consequence. Therefore they are to be more careful and alert and wise before taking any impulsive action and becoming an easy prey of false people.

Similarly it can be argued that the real intention and motive of a deceptive politician to hold “power” may perhaps be motivated by personal sense of self-fulfilment for enhancing family wealth and business to suit their narrow interest of self-aggrandizement and uplift his or her family business to lead a vested luxurious life of their own. And he or she has to do it by winning the trust of people. Therefore the political rhetoric they come up with during the election campaign blowing up high sounding development propaganda and the veil of “compassion” that they wear are the rationalization or derivation of their hidden instinctive residue.

Therefore we need to rise above from the base “instinctive” tendencies and “emotion” towards the higher plane of “reason” and “rationality” coupled up with scientific minds. Emotion has less to do with the faculty of reason and when the faculty of reason is entirely lost and emotion prevails then sectarianism and bigotry are perhaps the consequences we see. And then we will be stuck in the emotional plane as described by Comte in his law of three stages and go on rejecting the “cognitive” aspect of change as put forward by American sociologist Ogburn while wearing a false mask of modernity outside of us.

It seems that we had and have always been obsessed with what is ideal. We want everything that is good and ideal. If we find our condition miserable then we stand up and say “how horrible and wicked the world is? It seems to be an inherent tendency since our childhood to lay the blame upon something outside of ourselves. We are always standing up to set right other people. In the process we missed nothing outside of us but seriously missed ourselves. We missed to introspect and question ourselves. But if we ourselves are so good enough then why should we find ourselves in such miserable social and cultural “anomie” and political instability?  Therefore it is time to question ourselves rather than seeing our own “dark shadow” or “evil” in others and putting blame on some external entity.

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