Views & Reviews
A Conceptual Guide to “Envisioning a New Nagaland”
The statement, “Progress is within the beholder”, in a question form is, ‘Do we have a progressive mind or the idea of progress? All of us talk about development. We expect speedy development but developments are not happening as we wish it to be. Opinions are divided on this issue. Some blame it to the changed pattern of state funding or lack of resources, others say peace is the prerequisite, while others opine that we are still at a transitional period and yet still others, especially those who are well-to-do think, that we have developed enough. These opinions are all superficial. The first group goes by the saying ‘a bad workman blames his tools for his inefficiency’, while the rest of the others are suffering from a mental disease called complacency, self-centeredness and lack of initiative because they are contended with what they have.
What is progress then? I shall not go into the elaborate definition of progress but the understanding of how progress takes place and what are the conditions required for it to happen? Most of us today believe that money is everything. Let us find out the validity of the contention.
Rev. Nicholas Maestrini in his forward to Piero Gheddo’s book, ‘Why is the third world poor?’ says, “Even if all the rich countries of the world were to exercise perfect justice towards the poor- even if they contributed not only one percent but ten percent of their riches- this would not mean that the underdeveloped nations would automatically set out on the road towards development. The reason is that development is not something that can be imported from abroad; it is a process which must be undertaken by means of internal force through education, the changing of mentality and pre-technical social structures, the learning of modern techniques and above all the acquisition of the concept of the dignity of man.”
We see in this exposition three main issues. They are: – 1. Change of mentality 2. Pre-technical social structures 3. Concept on the dignity of man.
1. Change of mentality:
Saint Simon, a French Philosopher said in his writings, ‘To change society means to change attitudes, mentality.’ To illustrate what this means, let us look into the issue from a broad perspective, through a comparative study of thought process between the West and the East from three conceptual realms: Life, History and Work.
(a) In the west, man is the centre of the universe. They give importance to life values like goodness, generosity, bravery and skill. In Gracio-Roman culture, “Man is the master piece of God.” Their understanding of God is transcendence- which means that God is beyond human description, reason, knowledge and experience, in other words, God is absolute and man is the king of creations while nature is a gift from God to be enjoyed, explored and controlled, and thus it should serve to elevate man.
What we see in the East, which includes us, is that man is understood as insignificant, corrupt and meanest of all creatures. The concept of God is immanent or present in every created thing in the natural world and hence all reality is either mythological or divinized. For the eastern man, nature, therefore, is to be contemplated, feared, submitted to and respected. Man, at the lowest step of the supernatural world, is the prisoner of matter. His destiny is to free himself and become spirit to lose himself in God.
(b) The west has a concept of history that moves forward towards a future which is conceived as always better than the past. While for the east, the ideal is preservation of the status quo, sticking to traditions. Change, if at all, is only a renovation. Though the urge in us is to go forward yet when our ideal is the past, how can we go forward? Infatuation with the past is a disease because any society that lives the past glory cannot forge ahead and unfortunately, many of us, especially the elders, are victims of this disease. This is what makes us visionless people and ‘visionless people perish’.
(c) The west has an anxiety to progress, which enables the individuals and the group to accept novelty, whether technical, social or culture and for them any kind of job is a job. For the east, majority of who live in a purely subsistence economy have no aspirations beyond day-to-day living. Innovative ideas come to be termed as disobedience or singled out as against the norm.
So, what we notice here is that when an entire people or social group (tribes, clan, bureaucrats or village) is imprisoned in a traditional mentality, it is difficult even for the single individual to escape. Ultimately, we find complete lack of initiative and the courage to take risk. Fear to take risks spring from lack of vision and in turn lead to social failure, individual stupefaction and also institutional impotency and in effect, members of such a society become cowards and the law that governs is injustices where individualism and tribalism thrive at the cost of the common good that can be achieved only through sacrificing individual interests.
The most serious by-product of such a situation is disrespect for law and eruption of all forms of anti-socials leading society to chaos. Fraud come to rule the day while the bottom line of all these is despise for manual labour, the primary factor to development, as debasing and considering it as servile and below ones dignity. This is so because people see no more pride in hard work, truth or justice and ultimately come to regard corruption as a necessary evil.
We know that the most essential condition for development is hard work, it being it’s pre-requisite. Everyone wants progress but no one tries to understand or accept the foundation that development requires. Even physiologically speaking, by the fact that we have sweat glands, we must sweat; by the fact that we have joints, we must move them or they get paralyzed.
What is work then? Karl Marx gives us a holistic understanding of work. He says that work is the only means for man to manifest his perfection. It is through work that we transform our environment. Man is because he can work. The west understands this so well that they progress by leaps and bounds. Failure to recognize this ability turns the populace of this region into a mere parasite. Are we not?
2. Pre-technical social structures:
Saint Simon vividly affirms, ‘If you want to change society, you must necessarily change the philosophical beliefs of the people.’ The following case study has the clue to our confusion.
a) In Philippines, Dr. Haisin was commissioned to improve the hygienic condition of the Philippines. The technology, he came up with was to save rain water but he was confronted all along. The hurdle was that the people believed that rain is to flow over the surface of the earth and so we should not go against its natural process. For their use, they should find it in water holes. Gauging rain water was believed by his people as an insult to nature in the form of distortion.
b) Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh, like most other Indians, has the concept of the earth as Mother. The difference in approach to it was they refused to cultivate land with iron (tractors) because they believed that to open the earth’s bosom is to fail to recognize its generosity. The use of wooden tools seemed less brutal. For many Asian people, who mean us included, agriculture, unlike technology, is a religious act. We had a lot of spiritual rites performed (and we still are influenced by that understanding) from the day of marking the area of cultivation till the end of carrying the paddy into the barns for a rich harvest. No wonder, all our festivals are centered on agriculture. What we fail to understand is that an infertile soil does not need prayer but manure. The issue is not because people are against technology but the problem lies in their belief system that needs to be tackled first.
Random implementation of technology cannot bring development but wastages. Classical example of such is the Dimapur traffic light system, which was inaugurated jubilantly as the first of its kind in the region, but presently lies in utter waste. Peiro Gheddo aptly describes “development does not mean change but growth. Change, in its turn, means social, cultural, economic both qualitative and quantitative modifications.” In other words, substituting an ordinary type writer with computer or from ordinary office filing system to computer system is no progress because these are mere change of modes only. Progress implies creating conditions and avenues to attain the desired goal of better life environment.
The immediate and primary need for us to progress today is also not e-governance but urgent construction of good roads and other infrastructures in all the villages. Before connecting the villages with satellite, telephones, more airports or railways the primary need is good roads. It appears that we are more concern about roofing than foundation. Former Andhra Pradesh CM, Chandrababu, also nicknamed the ‘high-tech chief minister’, failed to retain power, not because he was inefficient in implementing the IT technology but because what the common majority needed was not an IT revolution but revolution in food production and from destitution to a better standard of life of the general populace through investment in good roads and agriculture and its allied.
3. Concept of the dignity of man:
One of the vital factors of progress is the correct understanding of what man is in relation to nature. Genesis tells us, symbolically, that God, after creating man in his own image and likeness, commanded him to have dominance over all creatures and subdue it but, of course not to destroy it or to subdue over other men. God made man master and ruler of nature, which invariably means that man, is also the determiner of his own destiny.
In the west, man at the center of creation, thinking and acting, became the essential nucleus around which everything else revolves. On the contrary, in our case, as Etzioni Amitai, in his book, ‘The active society’ says, ‘the central concept of man is still that of a passive observer in a world not of his making and not under his control.’ Coupled with this passive mentality baptized by our wrong understanding of religion have made us slaves of nature. Man, not at the helm of creation, but at its bottom cannot be better than slaves and a slave has no dignity of life. A society at the mercy of nature will remain poor because his destiny is allowed to be governed by the caprice of natural phenomenon and not by his intellect.
Another important factor is that man is a social being. To be is to be social. Man is not unless he is social. This is the reason why no one can set himself free without extending the same liberty to ones fellow men because the transformation of self is deeply rooted in the joint act of a society transforming itself through the process of individual education for collective responsibilities. In other words, individualism has no place so also selfishness or greed that people tend to breed. These are nothing but diseases. A Greek motto describes it as, “An idiot is a man who is completely private.”
At this point, we may ask, ‘How other countries are progressing and why are we still impoverished in a land of plenty? Sauvy points out, “After many trials and errors, economists of every land, even of America, have come to the conclusion that the origin of development is not money, as was so long believed, not capital, but culture-men’s ability to know how to enjoy their natural riches.” How true this is! This means to say that the immediate need, for us, is education to have healthy mentality and right attitude to recognize our abilities to harness the resources we are blessed with to enjoy a fuller life.
The fact about progress is that ‘Rome was not built in a day’ or for that matter, America did not become wealthy and powerful overnight or simply by the grace of God or through mere prayer and fasting but by declaring war on poverty and destitution of its citizens prayerfully. Studies tell us that the Americans organized countless programs in their struggle against poverty, illiteracy and famines to be what they are today.
In conclusion, we have discovered that belief plays a very powerful role in, both individual and societal level; therefore, one extremely important area that needs our urgent attention today is to rectify our understanding of Christianity itself. We find others drawing their strength from Christianity itself but for us it is a stumbling block both for individual and social growth, which means to suggest that we have a very wrong concept and understanding of this religion itself.
Christianity today has been reduced to mere personal and private property rendering it toothless for any social reformation and the worst is reducing it to some kind of cult system and soothsaying in the name of prophecies and the funniest and most unrealistic of all is whenever we are faced by social problems a prayer week or fasting month is announced instead of uniting our hearts and minds to solve the issues.
In our understanding of religion, we have also an unfounded conclusion that religion and politics are separate but at the same time are perplexed that these are not totally independent to each other. This is nothing but reduction of personality to schizophrenia. This means mental illness that causes the sufferer to act irrationally- a withdrawal from social relationships etc. In reality, as true human beings, we are duty bound to bring abundance of life by harmonizing moral and religious life to subsist as integral aspects and not as two opposites.
The need today “is not love, sweet love but a stern and uncompromising change of heart-a metanaeio, a basic reordering of our values which would put people a head of personal, selfish possessions to the patriotism required to change our society” for a fuller life as Amitai rightly says. Development cannot be limited to few individuals, as it is happening today, but it has to promote the good of everyman. As long as majority of the society is poor no rich person in that society can say that one is rich because the majority poor will sooner or later find that they had been abused and misused. Development besides having more, in its truest sense, means to be more human because man is more precious for what he is and not for what he has.