KAPIL ARAMBAM • In Pursuit of Freedom •

State and Violence

A layman’s perspective on the state’s monopoly of violence, its inclination to employ military approach in solving political problems and the consequences with reference to Manipur

You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed 

How do we get our nationality? In political science, we acquire it through two main ways: jus soli or jus sanguinis. By jus soli, we obtain a nationality through our birth; and by jus sanguinis, we obtain it from our parents belonging to a specific country. There are some other ways as well including naturalisation, marriage to a person of a particular nationality and special categories as in granting citizenship for those persons who are born from an assisted reproductive technology.

We are the subject of a nation; it is like our destiny and generally we become one by default through citizenship. So, an artificial label of nationality can be molded as a natural product just as in we are naturally an Indian—such is the power of a state. I belong to a region where this concept of modern state and citizenship is still a strange phenomenon because most of us are busy in defying the Indian sovereignty and confronting ethnic hostilities on one hand and on the other, in living our lives miserably with an identity crisis on the other. In between, it is the tragedy of life in an underdeveloped region.

Somehow ethnic nationalism has built a bridge from our former sense of a group or community to the trends of submitting to the state while abandoning our natural rights. However, in this transformation, the state is using all means, force, violence and other forms of coercion to streamline the new-found realisation of a nationality and citizenship.

Again, if we consider political science, we have given up some of our natural rights and submitted ourselves to the state on the belief that it will be mutually beneficial and that the state will exist for the common good. However, it is wretched when we cannot enjoy even the most fundamental rights to live and liberty. This basis alone is sufficient to justify the elimination of state and start a new collective life based on mutual agreements and as sensible, logical human beings.

In olden days there were kingdoms and village republics, before the British and then the Indian occupation of the region. The conflict arising out from different articulation of the concepts of state, the right to self-determination and using violence as a political means by both state and nonstate actors have destroyed the societies into bits and pieces. Observers note that in a place like Manipur, the psychological effects of brutality and hostility from the groups of gunmen—who consider themselves as sons of the soil, the patriots and the nationalists belonging to both the camps of the government and their adversaries—are getting profound each day.

By the book

According to Max Weber, the state is ‘a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’. Weber also believed in the rational-legal authority of the modern state, which in his views implies that ‘legitimacy is derived from the belief that a certain group has been placed in power in a legal manner, and that their actions are justifiable according to a specific code of written laws’.

This legitimacy is the genesis of our problems.

Several reasons might have compelled the state to take the drastic step of resorting to violence but on any level it is illegitimate. The Indian state is as well above the Constitution as evident from how the it snubbed the recommendation by the Supreme Court on repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Truth be told, it was not even the government but the ‘master’ ideologies of the military experts—the kind of people who have no sense of anything beyond the parochial notion of nationalism and patriotism. (Well, personally, they are just doing a job, just like a barber cuts hair or a web developer writes code. It is just a fashionable trend to say one is fighting for a country. It is also funny how they are always on a morally high ground of nationalism.)

If we look back in history, nation building was a military responsibility from day one. Who was that Indian nationalist who asked if there was any brigadier in the region in the wake of resistance from Manipur regarding its merger into India? For the record, that was just after the departure of the British imperialists. Is it some sort of Fanon’s idea of oppressed people becoming the persecutors?

Now, isn’t it ironical that the state has appropriated the monopoly of violence while there are opponents who not only challenge their domination but also run a parallel government?

The state’s system of organised violence is similar to the agenda of the militant organisations. If we take into account of our living experience, both of them are nothing but a mess. The state uses draconian laws, extrajudicial approaches, sometimes acting against the rules it had made and then, its agencies are also involved in extortion cases and bomb blasts. The militants, on the other hand, have lost sense of what the head and the tail are, except the fact that the movement is underway.

Statists are rigid with the social and economical inevitability that only the state can provide, but in our case the representatives are in cahoots with the militants and government officials in looting the public exchequer in this place where infrastructure and means for development are non-existent. Now the joke is on the statists, rational-legal authority, legitimacy, justifiable actions and the code of written laws. With no accountable and effective state security institutions, the state’s monopoly of violence is worse than HIV-AIDS. At least we can take some precautions to stay away from HIV but the gunmen roam openly around the towns and villages. Besides killing, they rape and harass the people once in a while as a mark of their tribute to the nation.

Idealism and reality

Ideally, the state has a condition in which administration and governance are run under a genuine civilian authority, so are its police and armies; and all the personnel should conform to the norms and principles. Yes, ideally. But that has never been the case. Besides, in conflict-torn areas there are concepts of disarmament and demobilisation that provide a space for building a modern living condition. On the ground, however, those necessary elements are clearly scattered everywhere but the places they are supposed to be.

To Frederick Engels, the culture of the state is the culture of war; war is the business of the state; and it is the military leader who becomes the leader of the state. To Slavoj Žižek, generally, ‘violence and counter-violence are caught in a deadly vicious cycle, each generating the very opposite it tries to combat’. To Hannah Arendt, ‘The very substance of violent action is ruled by the question of means and ends, whose chief characteristic, if applied to human affairs, has always been that the end is in danger of being overwhelmed by the means.’

Alternatively, there is a danger that the political means of using violence will overwhelm the end as the state showcases its culture of violence in a vicious cycle of attacks, counterattacks and more violence.

We are not interested in what comprises violence and what not. Likewise, there is little use in finding what contains in legitimacy and what not. We can leave them to the researchers in humanities; and we have too little time. Simply it is the political obligation of an individual in a society. There is no ideal state but just a simple condition of living in which we can enjoy our freedom, bask in the glories of living and if time permits, see in it what is so special in living on occasion.

However, the existing conditions have sucked our blood dry, leaving no option but to take a step back and chew over it. This also leaves us with the notion that state and violence are not separate entities but the two faces of just one creature. All the line differentiating political violence and mere crimes have disappeared, thanks to the government security agencies. A few people prefer to label such a violent-torn state as defunct or dysfunctional but a spoilt food is spoilt, it is not a food anymore. Period.  

The consequences of state terrorism and violence are felt all over the place. This is as well a global phenomenon in the so-called highly advanced 21st century. Elsewhere in the world, for instance, the US bribes the monarchies in West Asia—developing their economies while the US keeps creating the nastiest of extremist organisations. It is no different, especially in Northeast India, how the army and paramilitary forces are hell-bent on recognition that they would even kill civilians. All of these sound like the corny scenes in a B-grade film when the characters get ready for a military expedition as they blacken their face, check their guns, get ready to jump off to go to a war. Sheer ridiculous.

If we really dig into the consequences, the list will be endless. First of all, we can only hint the emergence of organisations working on broad human rights issues plus groups who are campaigning for people who have disappeared after police arrest and for victims who have been killed in fake encounters and so on. The physical injuries, long-term ailments from police brutality, psychological problems, social isolation, loss of educational and employment opportunities and expenditure on treatment—many of these are not even newsworthy and saying the wound is deep would just be an understatement.

How about the social, political and economic consequences? How is a society build on a foundation of fear and intimidation ever going to be good? If the state is enough, there are more gunmen, the state’s enemies, to make sure you are not out of the loop of all this mess.  


To summarise, the state is the main problem. It is artificial, power hungry, unthinking and too mechanical. On top of that, it is the primary source of violence in our society.      

Height of comedy 

India talks about safeguarding democracy and human rights in international forums.

Reading materials

Politics as a Vocation – Max Weber
On the Postcolony – Achille Mbembe
Reflections on Violence – Hannah Arendt
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict – Ed. by Erica Chenoweth and Adria Lawrence
State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace – Christian Davenport

10 Causes of Poverty and Remedies Through Sustainable Development


Nearly 21,000 people die every day from hunger. The figure is equivalent to one person dying every four seconds; the majority of them are children. That’s the estimate from surveys conducted by the United Nations. The bottom of the pyramid (refer to the Industrial Workers of the World poster), which occupies the lowest and poorest level, is the largest socio-economic group across the world.

Text source of SDGs and 17-goal image icons   United Nations Development Programme
‘The 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which in September 2000 rallied the world around a common 15-year agenda to tackle the indignity of poverty.’

With Love, To Paris

‘France’ fries

‘Tragic’ is the least we can say about the violence in France on the last Friday the 13th. Considering the patterns of coordinated attacks, arising from Mumbai 2008 and the Friday’s mayhem, in which extremists are choosing public places for their plans, it is a real cause for concern.

A news report in a day before yesterday’s New York Times screamed: After Paris Attacks, a Darker Mood Toward Islam Emerges in France. A civilisational contest is going on between the adherents of Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ. Even the gods must be fed up of religions. While the Western Christians who draws their ideas from imperial thoughts are active in exploiting the resources, which are found abundantly in the Muslim stronghold areas, the Muslim radicals are proactive in unleashing terror in resistance and the whole vicious cycle of violence continues.

The New York Times report elaborated: ‘Unlike the response in January after attacks at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and elsewhere left 17 dead, there were no grand public appeals for solidarity with Muslims after the Friday attacks that left 129 dead in Paris. There were no marches, few pleas not to confuse practitioners of Islam with those who preach jihad.’

The western countries under the supreme leadership of the United States are messing around with the Muslim nations especially those in West Asia and the Arab countries. Oil has become a cliché in today’s world and the vocabulary has been transformed with fancy expressions like the War on Terror, the Rise of Caliphate, invisible Weapons of Mass Destruction, Jihad and Mujahedeen, the Authorisation for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists and the likes.        

However, we have an entirely different problem. In the wake of the Paris attack last weekend, support for the French people is pouring in from all the four directions, thanks to the advent of social media and 24×7 news.

A majority of the Americans are stupid so we can ignore them but there have been a sea of sensible people though with a one-track mind that they would support the French government and the military. Briefly, why would nobody see that the attack was a response to the French neocolonial policy on some sovereign nations? It is as well an open secret how the US has been responsible for the rise of some of the most radical Muslim organisations. But many of us seem to have lost our mind in the barbarity of a group of political extremists, which in this context refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or simply the Islamic State.

The Islamic State is an outlawed organisation in the eyes of various countries. Still we have another cliché in contemporary history: one man’s terrorist is another man's revolutionary. The US, for instance, has been making the complex situation even more complicated. During Ronald Reagan’s regime (1981–1989), the American establishment termed the Afghanistan’s Mujahedeen as freedom fighters. In those days, they were in a war with the erstwhile Soviet Union (1979–1989), the US’ main opponent. However, two decades later when the same Mujahedeen started challenging the neocolonial western powers, especially that of the US, George Bush (2001–2009) lost no time in calling the group a terrorist organisation.

Today, the Paris attack has claimed 129 lives and more than 400 people were wounded. In a highly emotional listicle, recently The Atlantic featured ‘Crimes’ Jihadists Will Sentence You to Death For, in which the writer made a list of 32 activities that people can be killed by the Muslim extremists and the first ten of them includes: Vacationing in Egypt, Shopping in Nairobi, Going to work in New York, Flying in an airplane in the US, Riding a train in Madrid, Riding a bus in London, Attending a wedding in Amman, Guarding a Canadian memorial, Praying in an unapproved mosque and Being Jewish. Quite understandable; the wound is deep as much as the issues are complicated.

Western shenanigans

One of the worst problems the West is facing is in allowing only the politicians in tackling the issues and challenges. Their so-called military and democratic interventions in other sovereign countries are the foundation of all the 21st century problems occurring at a large scale. No wonder, many of these countries are built under the foundation of wars and massacres; take France for example. In the wake of the Paris attack the French President François Hollande assured a merciless response and in less than 24 hours, fighter planes started bombing several areas in Syria which are allegedly training areas of the IS.

However, if we take a step back, we can see the glaring errors. All along France endorses military occupation of West Asia and surrounding areas. Its patriotic soldiers are deployed in every strategic areas of the region besides pursuing violent operations against the IS and other Islamic radical groups. If these are not errors per se then these are definitely absurd. In a way this is also quite a lesson for the Indian military establishment, which works with the magic wands of democracy to run parallel governments in the conflict areas of Kashmir and the Northeast.

The farce of the western powers is not going to end soon. Instead of pulling off their troops, it is more likely that they will be intensifying their military onslaught and as always be coming up with fancier terms to rationalise their action or rather deception. While world leaders are apprehensive about the extremists getting a hand on nuclear weapons, the consensus tells a different story. In the name of geopolitics and economics, these hegemonic western powers are having a free run in underdeveloped or developing countries that are rich in resources.

Add to the injuries the insult of the US to others by supporting Israel, which is one of the worst states in the world. There is nothing anti-Semitism about this view. In fact, Israel is no different from the Nazis, considering itself the die Herrenrasse/das Herrenvolk or the master race, converting the Gaza Strip and Ramallah as concentration camps and pissing on Palestinian territories in a manner that resembles the Nazi’s concept of Lebensraum and what not.

As mentioned earlier, the US poked its nose into Afghanistan in 1978. That was directly responsible for the 9/11 attack. How can it sleep peacefully after killing so many people? In the pre-9/11, it was in deep shit during and following the Vietnam War and the Gulf War; and in the post-9/11 decade, Afghanistan and Iraq became its political and economical labs, but it seems to have forgotten that people—real people whose lives are more important than oil—reside in these places. Extremism is condemnable but countries such as the US and France are the real sponsors of terrorism and genocides. In direct ways too, they are, as we can see from how the US funded the Afghan Mujahedeen and redefined the modern state terrorism.

According to the Stop the War campaign, terrorist attacks have been growing since the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, in a conflict, the civilians are always affected the worst. The figures of casualty shows that the American war on terror has killed more people than terrorism has done and the majority of them are civilians. Now all these monkey businesses, attacks and retaliations only bring out the worst in people. Nothing good is inherent in the Taliban, the rule of Caliphate as espoused by the IS, the promise of 72 virgins, shitty concepts of believers and Islamic intolerance yet the disagreement is about the western shenanigans.

I’ll conclude with the remark by Bertrand Russell: ‘War does not determine who is right—but only who is left.’

Cash of the Jitters

How do we look at the rich and poor people? Or specifically, why are people worried about a one-off incident in Paris while we have not heard a single voice against the daily killing of hundreds of people, including infants, in and around West Asia? This is not to demean the tragedy in the City of Light but there has been an ugly trend.

Three centuries ago, David Hume wrote that we respect people now and then, not for their personal traits and qualities, but simply for their wealth and power. It stands true today as evident from people using an image overlay of the French flag on their Facebook profile photos. Over our photos, none of us would like to use the transparent flags of Somalia or Syria. (Sidenote: Nearly 500,000 have died in Somalia since 1991, according to Necrometrics. In Syria, the ongoing civil war had claimed almost 191,000 lives between March 2011 and April 2014, according to a UN figure).

The first gut feeling is we have different attitude towards rich and poor people. Don’t you think, in our daily lives, it is easier to ignore a poor yet important person than a rich, unimportant person? Media is making the case more lucid if we take the example of the France attack. Many experts in psychology and human behaviour are of the view that even our social class can determine how we are concerned about others’ feelings. It is a law of nature, and verified by studies that the poor are more empathic than the rich though this does not necessarily mean that the poor has the larger heart all the time. One overdramatic dialogue in some films beats the rest: You don’t need a big wallet to help others; you just need a bigger heart!  

In my hometown, people have high regard for rich people—the exact people who in various global research studies are found to be more greedy and selfish, have a high level of narcissism and are more prone to lying and deception. Even if we backbite about them we cannot simply ignore them. The consensus is that disregarding them will be a sort of foolhardiness or cutting our bridge to getting help in our miserable future. Sometimes, it is only fear that influences us because many of these rich people are connected with the government forces as well as the militants. Well, that’s the trendiest stuff in our violence-riddled and fragmented society. Out here, there’s no place for merit or hard work and it is funny how people say education and hard work pave our way to success.

Apparently money cannot buy happiness but it seems it has a natural ability to pay off for pathetic human behaviours and actions. It is daunting if we think about the fact that our leaders are mostly led by a sole insatiable lust for wealth. For long we have never had a true leader, except pick a couple of names here and there in the town. What is even more worrying is the ever-widening gap between the rich and ‘everybody’. The only consolation is that elsewhere a car rider would drive pass people giving a hoot to the water-filled potholes, while the passers-by on pedal get spattered with muddy water—but this is not possible in the leikai and leirak around the town, owing to the clubs and organisations that also don the role of a vigilante group.

Back again, someone rightly said that being poor is expensive. From this condition everybody seems to be pursuing wealth. Wealth is health now, as we would say because nowadays the wealthy old people look much younger their poor counterparts. It also seems for this same motive that we have become partial to reason, while romanticising and glorifying the rich that we would go to any length to support France but give a rat’s ass to Syria.

Consider another scenario in which you are driving a vehicle in a heavy traffic. How would you react when you are overtaken abruptly if (a) that driver is on a public transport vehicle and (b) that driver is riding a luxury car? There has been no empirical study as such yet we can predict that the response will vary according to whom we ask the question. Still, one thing will be common: We might speak harshly to the public transport vehicle driver, perhaps, yell at him while we might not be able raise a voice, leave alone confront the luxury car driver.

In this context, capitalism is like an ad when it comes to persuading the ‘customers’. It will never show the major defect—the concentrations of wealth—again just like showing only the advantage of a product or a service but never its disadvantages in an ad. Capitalism is the embodiment of greed, selfishness, narcissism, lies and deception. It thrives on inequality and profiteering, judging us on the degree of how much we consume ‘products’ and ‘services’. It is this system of reason without logic that produces the kind of difference in how we see people. Paris is a luxury brand independent of its national leftist legacies; while Damascus and Mogadishu reek of used non-commercial products.  

Conclusion      Several reasons can be attributed to the mass response to the Paris attack—it was barbaric; it happened in one of the most well-known cities; the casualties include 20 nationalities and the list goes on. Yet, in the aftermath of the attack, we have been observing a curious set of human natures up close.  

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Mum’s Not the Word


A thought on the western-centric view of the world and the contemporary narratives of economics and neocolonialism 

History and historical geography as it is taught, written, and thought by Europeans today, lies, as it were, in a tunnel of time. The walls of this tunnel are, figuratively, the spatial boundaries of Greater Europe. History is a matter of looking back or down in this European tunnel of time and trying to decide what happened where, when, and why....Non-Europe (Africa, Asia east of the Bible Lands, Latin America, Oceania) receive significant notice only as the venue of European colonial activities, and most of what was said about this region was essentially the history of empire.
— JM Blaut, The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History 

Postmodernism has brought about a sweeping change in how we understand the world. In the good and the bad olden days what we saw was what the West saw and it most cases we gladly surrender to the image that we were shown. Now the time has changed, as people belonging to the supposedly lower echelon of the global society have started asserting their rights. The situation has given rise to the issues of neocolonialism as experienced in a place like Manipur. Much more significant than postmodernism or anything else, the trend is noteworthy on many counts.

One of the most important aspects of this change is the recounting of authentic narratives unlike those with biases and ignorance of the past and foreign narrators about the natives, which in most of the cases, live in the underdeveloped and developing world. It also implies the recognition of rights that naturally belong to the people. Briefly, it shows the reality of the people, not the perceptions of reality created by the likes of Western anthropologists, ethnographers and historians. These are the days of indigenous awakening across the world too. It is important to note down in a postmodernist world the ideas of resistance and critique are not one sided, even if it seems paradoxical that we always trace the origin of the ideas on resistance back to the West.

The economic rise of China and India is an example that western-centric thoughts are waiting for the last nail on its coffin. This will be clearer if we consider a few words, terms and expressions that are a product of the Western-centric notions of the world. Their newer substitutes explain the shifting equations in contemporary political and economic scenarios.

Far East, Near East and Middle East + East Asia, Central Asia and West Asia 

‘Far East’ is a relatively old term having its origin in the heydays of British imperialism around the 17th and 18th centuries. The term describes all the countries that are located east to India. Now we use Asia, South Asia, the Southeast and the likes for the same geographical entities.  A similar term ‘Near East’ comprises those are set closely west to India. Now it is Southwest Asia or Central Asia.

The most common term that has almost become a brand is the Middle East—just like Colgate stands for toothpaste and Tata for trucks. Geographically it is West Asia, which has gained ground in its usage in the post-colonial days but it is still used interchangeably with the ‘Middle East’. Ironically, we use only English language but somehow that’s inevitable in today’s globalised world.

For that matter, even the native armed organisations waging war against the union of India for sovereignty take their inspiration from the 100% Western-centric ideologies of Marx and various socialists. Actually, Marx was of the opinion that the Western countries should take up the responsibility to educate and develop the eastern countries—a phenomenon which years later Rudyard Kipling came up with a fancy term called the ‘white man’s burden’.

It has been the sheer economy might that has catapulted the West to become a general manager of the world. This acceptance is just a space spared for practicality.

Mongoloid + Oriental

‘Mongoloid’ is a generic term for the slit eyes! Researchers are of two minds on its classification. For instance, everybody has different opinions on whether to include the Native Americans as Mongoloid or not. This term is another Western conception but the problems are multi-pronged. Western scholars studying race were carried away, so to say, after classifying the people broadly into the three races of Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid.

Now the usage of ‘Mongoloid’ has been criticised from racist perspectives because the term connotes an error-ridden typological model of classifying people and it is used ignorantly while equating the term with people suffering from Down syndrome, genetic disorders and other intellectual disabilities. Just like how Australia differentiates Asia—according to the ground-zero perspective for instance, the Southeast and Central Asia—the classification as ‘Orient’ or its adjectival ‘Oriental’ is more valid. ‘Orient’ means the east so it goes fine with the straightforward ‘West’. It is a more etymologically and politically correct term but it is no surprise that some people still consider it as a demeaning term laced with racist pejoratives. The politics of language is sometimes too hot to handle.

As a sub for both the terms we can play safe by simply using the nationalities and getting rid of stereotypes. This is quite a suggestion from someone who consider himself an anarchist. But such a change of perspective is indispensable today. In several countries, the citizens would proudly describe their societies as multicultural as a sort of tourism and call-for-investment ad, while in their backyard there are rampant crime and issues related to racism. Just like PM Modi has been doing these days.

Zomia + Ava 

Talking about racism, incidentally, we belong to a region rechristened as Zomia by Willem van Schendel, a Dutch historian and more popularised by James Scott, the American academic. I cannot negate the central premise of this region being located on a rough, elevated terrain, an appropriate anarchist dreamland and so on.

Nonetheless, Manipur—which is included in this Asian Appalachia—is an old Asiatic kingdom with its own monarchies, languages, arts, religions, philosophies, traditional customs, value systems and cultural artefacts. Then elsewhere in and around the region, there are the dynastic regimes and rules of the Ahoms and the Konbaungs (the latter which Manipuris refer to as the Ava), that are sufficient to prove the insufficiency of the Western scientific approaches.

Over the ages, the Manipuri kings in the Imphal valley did used to impose tax on the hill dwellers who considered themselves as village republics. Now the contestation is one of the burning topics in the region as the hill people are forcing the other natives to respect their unique histories and fighting for a separate polity against both the union and provincial authorities. In this context, it is interesting to note that some native historians believed we had a highly developed system of cartography though it is an open secret how the colonial mapmakers still rule the roost. But truth be told the sense of boundary and territory is like chalk and cheese in the erstwhile kingdoms and the modern nation-states.

Postcolonialism + Neocolonialism

Since becoming a republic in 1950, the Indian map has been changing though unofficially. National borders are anyway imaginary lines drawn by, as they say in history, the winners of war. Some of the pressing issues more urgent than the fluid borders and maps are listed below:

One, it is a fact that India draws a bulk of its administrative and governance concepts from the British colonialists—making it obvious why it is easy to state that the nation was founded on neo-colonialist ideologies

Two, the Indians are torchbearers in subaltern studies because the mainland scholars never expected that India with its indivisible sovereignty will be once questioned

Three, the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 is a law that allows even the army to kill people on the basis of mere suspicion in the purportedly largest democracy of the world; and this law is itself a carbon-copy of the British’s Armed Forces Special Power Ordinance, which was imposed to quell the Indian fight for freedom during those days of Quit India Movement in the early Forties

Four, PM Narendra Modi, who was recently in London, spoke that diversity is India’s pride and strength while racist crimes continue unabated in the country and as if he had no hand in the Gujarat genocide in the early 2000s

Five, there are armed movements in Kashmir, the Northeast and the Red Corridor affected by Maoist insurgency; rumour has it that the joke is on the mainland Indian experts on postcolonial and subaltern studies

Six, while India claims to be the postcolonial big brother, there are several parts in its territory that has started redefining the meaning of neocolonialism

Seven, in contemporary politics, several European and East Asian countries have been accused of spreading the germs of neocolonialism. Yet India is on a much lower level, so it is still below anyone’s gaze. Coincidentally, the neocolonial low-profile maintenance is similar in how it describes the armed movement as domestic low-intensity conflicts arising out of bad law-and-order situation. On the other hand, Marxists would say neocolonialism is the last stage of imperialism while India contends that it will be the first step in which China will successfully lay its ever-spreading trap across Southeast Asia.
Eight, just like Marxism is alien to specific local problems outside Europe, critics of international relations theory contest that the deliberations in this field is not constant across the world; in fact its details are embedded in the soil of western countries. Particularly, the issues of security and economics, howsoever they are essential for each respective country, are elucidated from an insular western vantage point. No wonder, in modern history the study on international relations/affairs germinated as a product of the Westphalian narratives around the 17th century.

Nine, one certain thing when it comes to postcolonialism and neocolonialism in India is a proverbial lesson: Every time it points a finger, four of its fingers point toward itself. Call it double standards or whatever, all the claims of being the largest democracy, the leader in spreading the ideals of unity in diversity and the initiator in ‘alleged’ ethos of multiculturalism are just a hokum. Period.

[(a) The only ‘thing’ I like about the postcolonial/subaltern studies in the Indian mainland is Gayatri Spivak. Read Who Sings the Nation-State, a book out of her conversation with Judith Butler. (b) As I typed the authors’ names on MS Word, G Spivak’s name is underlined in red apparently to show spelling errors, while J Butler’s does not. Even MS Word is West-centric! The answer to the Shakespearian What’s in a Name is ‘an underlined text in red’.]

From the east to the west

Five years ago, HSBC, the English banking and financial service provider started a trend when it shifted its head office from London to Hong Kong. Its chief executive reasoned that it is the most rational decision considering ‘the world’s centre of gravity is steadily shifting east and south.’

This might have been compelled by financial inevitability but it does not erase the blot on the history of the West. It is deeply embedded in the consciousness that the West is the centre of the universe and it sets the benchmark in whatsoever field we can name. Like the mainland Indians impose the history of the the Guptas and Mauryas and the Vedas in the non-Hindu regions, for the West, everything is a periphery to the European central position. For instance, a few decades of Industrial Revolution is far more important than the thousands of years in civilisational development, invention and discovery of another thousand of daily needs and items that had brought into existence over centuries in the East.

Indigenous perspectives

In a typical Asian milieu, Juliet was seemingly lost in love when she blurted out the legendary what’s-in-a-name dialogue.

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

Now the tales of eternal love in Khamba–Thoibi or Panthoibi–Nongpokningthou are equally interesting and in fact, more identifiable to us. (Check ETERNAL LOVEBIRDS on this blog:

So much is at stake in a name. Even a simple term like West Asia can turn the world upside down. The choice of word is most inevitable in legalese, academics and diplomacy. In our case study, it presents a clear view on the East–West dichotomy. The most visible aspect of this dichotomy is that the world is separated into rich and poor, developed and backward, civilised and barbaric and so on. It was, for the sake of the repetition, all along a handiwork of the Western experts.

However, there has been a revolutionary change in looking at the situations. As exceptions, we can cite the case of Bertil Lintner, the Swedish journalist who has devoted full time to Burma. It is inessential but once in a documentary on the notorious Golden Triangle I saw him in a Burmese paso. In Hollywood too, no more is the US a saviour of the world like in those days of Harrison Fords and Bruce Willis—a sort of realisation that emerged especially after 9/11. All of these can be partially attributed to the events in the late Eighties and early Nineties such as the end of Cold War, the liberalisation of economy, deregulation of the aviation industry giving rise to low-cost flights and so on.

Locally, once upon a time, many natives were excited when they were featured obscurely in a nondescript national media. The situation is now not only national but global, as evident from folk artistes, filmmakers and cultural entertainers who are busy performing and presenting their art forms in global arena.

Also, the rise of terms such as eurocentrism is a relatively new phenomenon considering it is less than three decades old. It shows how the kind of awakening is a trend which has made its headway only recently but pretty well. In fact, there are also rising issues of feminism and LGBTQ pride, plus movements against phallagocentrism and modernisation theory of development that is a disguise for the West-develops-the-East mindset.

Life in this early part of the 21st century is, in a way, like reliving the Sixties when the entire world saw a profound cultural revolution. The hippies and the Beat Generation conquered the West while in the east there were the Hungryalists and the Ibopishak and Co.

Every time we assert, we need to take a step back because we are still under the very gamut of a Westernised world. But to take an example, there was no need for feminism when the Manipuri women launched two wars against the British in 1904 and 1939 respectively. Perhaps we need more deliberations than emphasising on foreign words and terms, depending on their thoughts to redefine ourselves and all.  

The last word

The native is an oppressed person whose permanent dream is to become the persecutor.
—Frantz Fannon, The Wretched of the World

The descriptions with the literal choicest of words, to describe things from the natives’ viewpoint, are a positive sign indicating a transformation in seeing things. However, in several topics relating to historiography there is no other way but to look up on the Western references. History was oral in many of these societies—though the methods of both written and oral are equally prone to the relativism of historical truth. Besides, the deficiency of records and documents makes it only pragmatic but to refer to the existing information. We have several ‘puya’ books and chronicles but these are too little and sometimes highly unreliable.

In the case of many underdeveloped provinces in Northeast India, the people are still facing an additional predicament, which first developed from the merger of their traditional economies to the modern economic system, thanks to the British Raj. In a word, we are complicatedly struck between several worlds differentiated by assorted factors such as medieval milieu, a distorted blend of modernism and postmodernism as well the lifestyle of 21st century. Further, observers maintain that a new world order is in the offing with the rise of China as a hegemonic power by 2050. A few groups are worried that a Sino-centric world will destroy the existing system.

For us, we will double-fault if we do not learn anything from history. Once peopled by egalitarian communities, nowadays, the sense of status and luxury has undergone a sea change even before the economy does in this region. On one hand, we do not have any postcolonial susceptibility but rely on neocolonial resistance; and on the other, the decline of nation state is also one of the major concepts dealt broadly in a postmodern world. To conclude, the more we study about the western adventure of conquests, the clearer we see the true colour of mainland India, which inadvertently lies to our west.

Hopefully, things will change for the best in the coming years and decades. Now mum’s not the word; it is just the right time to tell the stories and tell them ourselves.

keep refrigerated and serve chilled

be as cold as
an unclaimed body in the mortuary
out in the field
like an abandoned beaten-to-death body
and they would say,
keep refrigerated and serve chilled to the guests
and the other
they strike back soon:
la vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid
madness galore;
the reasonable men get ready for the guns
and bombs and foot soldiers and fighter planes and all

The Story of Laughter

A not-so-funny recollection of laughter and humour

When was the last time you laugh so hard that your gut hurts? That kind of ache is what Bob Marley would say about music—when it hits you, you feel no pain. Above all, who would not want to laugh like that, like an ass once in a while?

One of my friends, her brother told her if they open her head, they will see four asses standing in there; obviously because she is so smart. I got hiccups laughing over it.

If you believe in Darwin, imagine the first animal that had giggled and cackled for the first time: it could have been anyone, a Neanderthal boy who just saw a couple of asses having sex near his cave, making those piercing sexy-assy sounds; or it could have been a Peking girl who found out tickling is literally rib-tickling. It could have been anyone though evolutionary scientists believe Homo ergaster had arrived two million years earlier than Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthal boy’s relatives) but you get my point. 

Experts on humour—ironically in the most sober ways or rather taking the greatest pain—have been exploring this topic for some time now. Nobody would expect that a simple question as to why we laugh can be more complicated than a Burmese language. Somehow the specialists reached a common ground and agreed that the secret of this whole monkey business of humour lies in the concept of mock-aggressive play that we see among the apes. In ‘English’, mock-aggressive play refers to the kind of aggression, mostly done in jest sans the intention of causing harm; for example, tickling and wrestling for fun that are found in human beings too. Then they started making speculation, some of which are verifiable, some not.


If you are a fan of George Carlin, Oja Tolhan and Russell Peters, then you know their USP lies in their jape to make others laugh. By the way, their prehistoric ancestors would have been bad hunters: never taking things seriously and above all, being a nuisance with their tittle-tattle. Imagine their friends taking cover, or concealing themselves in a bush to catch a deer or a pig and these people started cutting a joke. From that day onwards, little was talked and discussed about laughing until a couple of centuries ago.  

So back in those days, the prehistoric ancestors were always discouraged, and to a certain extent, they would only rely on their mock-aggressive plays to wind up after a hard day’s work. We can see more of this kind of behaviour among boys and men though it is a sort of animal thing; a monkey thing found among many mammals to be precise. I usually do it to my cousin’s kids but sometimes they would beat me with their presence of mind. I can prove all the kids, especially the boys, are monkeys. I only wish their mothers do not hear what I’m saying about their supposedly precious chil...monkeys. 

gelatology     the study of humour and laughter, and their effects on our mind and the body

Every culture and society has its own ways of laughing but little was known about it until recently. Throughout history, the companies of Plato and Aristotle had written about Athens to Zeus. People led by their horny kings across the globe had constructed the buildings and monuments of wonder. Also, scientific-tempered people have been burning the proverbial midnight oil to make the high school students suffer, with rot learning their formulas and laws and theories. However, not many people have ever tried to know, or study what’s all behind the jokes and tales and funny stories that pain our gut and facial muscles blissfully. 

Yet, don’t you think it’s one of the best things we can see in other people? Besides, we like to be around our friends who have great sense of humour; it is enjoying, funny, worthwhile; and they seem to have this magic of getting rid of all our pain, at least for the moments when we are with them. However, to repeat again, all the areas of interest were the bland politics, how the people should conquer others with the Art of War, the one-sided histories and the scientific inventions that has enabled the human beings to call themselves as the most intelligent animal and what not—everything but the reasons behind laughter in particular and humour in general.

Truth be told, the experts were wary of people who considered that laughter is the best medicine. As a proof we can see it from ancient history and cite the example of Plato. He was a master of all but he looked down on this special human quality and some animals to laugh their hearts out. The philosopher viewed that such humour and laughter demeans our logical thinking as a human being. No wonder he professed that poetry only appeals to the most useless and pathetic part of our soul while making us a slave to reality. He even went to the extent of preaching that the ideas of communism necessitated everybody to live in a commune without private ownership of anything and to share their wives and their monkeys, oops, their children. Mao Tse-tung was not impressed with these ideas so he had to redefine it with a little help from Marx and Lenin.   

Laughing like a langur

Essentially what Plato was saying means that in general case, we laugh at others, which the Germans know it as ‘schadenfreude’. According to a dictionary definition it is the pleasure we derive from another person’s misfortune. In other instances, such an activity lessens our self-control or so was it considered. Plato was stuck in these ideas and he had a lot more other things to meditate on, as in penning the Republics, Phaedo, Statesmen, Symposium and Apology and so on. The great philosopher even justified that such a person who used humour and laughter should never be given citizenship. Citizenship, it meant a lot during those days when the Greeks had an epiphany about democracy.

On another level, consider the faiths of Islam and Christianity in this context. We do know Christianity was an old pain in the ass that diverted from Islam just like Sikhism and Buddhism are from Hinduism, but its core ideology is no different. Like what the American Christians are now, the Muslims were once a superpower. It’s, so to say, just a matter of time. However history is a witness to fact that some societies around the medieval period, regardless of their different divine creators and powers, would even go to the extent of banning comedies on the ground of ethics. But now, look how funny they sound when they speak so seriously.

All’s not lost though. Psychologists, philosophers, ethologists and evolutionary scientists are peeping when we are laughing. Such a common occurrence as laughing ought to have a set of similarities but the reality tells a different story. This gave rise to the formulation of several theories to explain the phenomenon. We can only study if these theories are relevant or not. However, with or without the scientific theories, I’d suggest that we keep laughing no matter what.

The theory of laughing like a langur

Taking cues from the Plato & Co, several Western thinkers came up with the idea of the Superiority Theory. It deals with the idea that we laugh mostly over another’s misfortune or weakness. If we take into account of the human nature, this kind of laughing response indicates our sense of superiority above the people to whom we laugh at.

If the side is changed and we are laughed at, we feel a sense of losing importance; well that’s human nature. But this is just one aspect because we do not always laugh, but rather become depressed like we feel when we consider the plight of a place like Imphal. Besides, this theory does not hold good in cases like a laughter riot created by George Carlin. Also, modern humorists claim that the ability to laugh at our own stupidity once in a while is the first step in developing a good sense of humour. So there is no question of superiority, inferiority or comparison at all.

Nobody laughs at the Superiority Theory, but some of the mortals did see the shortcomings in this hypothesis and came up with other propositions such as the Relief Theory and the Incongruity Theory. Both of them are slightly similar on the basis of getting respite that laughter offers us. Sigmund Freud suggested that, according to the Relief Theory, laughter breaks down the nervous energy inside us and produces a kind of psychic energy, which elevates our sense of pleasure. This is also the one of the bases on which today’s medical specialists say that laughter improves our immune system. 

In the Incongruity Theory, thinkers like Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer theorised that laughter and humour are a sudden result of the incongruity or absurdity of what we expect and what we get in reality—or what we expected and what we experienced. In Kant’s word, laughter arises ‘from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing’.

For Schopenhauer, it owes to the delight of seeing sudden relations between ideas. In our case, it is best exemplified in our desire to make our elected representatives speak directly to New Delhi while, despite being a Great Rambo and Rocky in the town, they metamorphose into deaf and dumb insects, except in those meetings where funds and grants are involved. We say, in our native expression, that we are confused whether we should laugh or cry.   

All of these theories, however, are not all-inclusive; in fact they explain only the parts of the whole. For instance, the Superiority Theory might well establish the concept of ‘schadenfreude’ but it is spineless when we consider the cases of incongruity. Likewise, the Relief Theory does not explain the ideas behind the delight of puns to take an example. Similarly, the Incongruity Theory also does not hold in those areas where the Superiority Theory stands good.

To overcome these inadequacies, psychologists, philosophers and other specialists have formulated the Benign Violation Theory and the Mechanical Theory. First introduced by a linguist, Tom Veatch, the Benign Violation Theory suggests that humour occurs when a situation is a violation however it is benign (kind and caring). Simultaneously there is an awareness of both the benign and violation element. Tickling which is intimidating yet harmless is the perfect example. On the other hand, the humour ceases if the violation does not appear to be benign or it is too benign to be considered as a violation.

The Mechanical Theory is based on the unbending nature/habit or rather the idiosyncrasy of an individual. This might explain why Kaboklei Inaocha with his rib-tickling ‘Dasanihey’ remark was so hilarious in Yaishkulgi Pakhang Angaoba or how the Suppandi tales never fail to amuse us even if we know what is coming from them. Yet, as mentioned earlier, not any of these theories explain everything behind the scene. Perhaps we can depend on the Theory of Everything; for only when we know exactly why we exist then we might comprehend all the funny, not-so-funny, ordinary, extraordinary and plain serious things per se. 

The ideas behind the theory of laughing like a langur

Let me begin with an example. Fake encounters are quite common in my hometown. Sometimes when we talk about the death, you can imagine the air of grave concern or anything severe. In that moment, suppose someone blurts out that the policemen had found a grenade in the wallet of the victim. Actually it happens—not that the victim really had the grenade in his wallet but that the police would report it that way, because in any case they had had an encounter and the awards for killing people are too simply too hard to resist.

Experts, who study human character, term the condition of inserting tales of grenade-in-the-wallet amidst the condolences and seriousness as a play signal. They consider that the oldest play signals in humans are in the form of grinning and laughing. These signals, again, imply the readiness of social play, which in turn is a phenomenon of animal cognition that we can observe in the communication process among various mammals. We have inherited it from the apes.

According to these experts, mock-aggression—mentioned in the beginning of this write-up—is also our oldest social play. This explains so well on one side, why one of my aunts, while laughing, she hits all the people around her; and on the other, that we evolve from the apes. Run behind a kid as if you are chasing him/her and just see how s/he soon explodes into laughing. Monkeys, mothers, monkeys!

To cut the long story short, human beings deeply believe in the fraternity of apes, primates, monkeys and the people. We belong to the same stock. The only difference between us and them is that all of them ‘never’ learn how to say ‘mock aggression’ but we had not only mastered it but we are as well accustomed to laugh back or simply ignore it as the situation demands. Evolutionary science tells us that our erect posture is also one of the factors how we began to laugh not like a langur but more like a human being. Earlier it was a sort of panting and breathing, which is still found among our modern monkey brothers. That’s why some specialists also maintain laughing is a primitive form of vocalisation.

One of the products of our modern world in this field is the rise of laughter clubs. The members would not even joke but simple laugh like Herodotus’ mad men or women. The rise of these clubs is credited to an Indian physician, Madan Kataria who started such a club for the first time in the mid Nineties. It is based on a couple of premises: firstly, that we cannot be happy for a reason, which can be taken away so we need to be happy and laugh for no particular reason. Secondly, the laughter club is riding on the benefits of laughing as in alleviating pain and feel-good factors plus the other physical and medical advantages that we get from laughter. Join a laughter club if you want to get a hands-on experience. 


When we learn to drive a vehicle, it is not mandatory to know how the machines and systems in the vehicle work. So is the case with laughter. We can simply laugh it off and it is inessential to know what Plato and Sigmund Freud had professed about the related topics. You lose nothing from the ignorance; however if you know at least how the radiators or the spark plugs work, you are somehow in control of the vehicle and the mechanic would not be able to fleece you. That’s the idea of this write-up. Knowledge is as important as laughter; still what is more important is not knowing but laughing like an ass once in a while. After all, we are not that rational that we claim to be but that’s no issue because nobody knows except human beings. Laugh and live a life to the fullest.

Reading list

•    Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic by Henri Bergson (via Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4352/4352-h/4352-h.htm)
•    The Essays Of Arthur Schopenhauer (via Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10739/pg10739.html)
•    The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde (via Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/844/844-h/844-h.htm)
•    PG Wodehouse’s works
•    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
•    Kege Makhongda Certificate (The Certificate Under the Castor Tree) by Elangbam Dinamani
•    Kanana Haijillibano (in two parts) A compilation of the Poknapham’s daily humorous and satirical column and published by the newspaper’s publishing branch (The newspaper has also a fantastic weekly column called Vox Populi, from which a long time ago I had created a blog with permission: voxxpopulee.blogspot.com)
•    Fraud: Essays by David Rakoff
•    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
•    Every Man in His Humour by Ben Johnson

‘Nungairol’: the Religion of Happiness

We’re all golden sunflowers inside.
―ALLEN GINSBERG Sunflower Sutra

What is your idea of happiness? Its notion is as many as the people defining it, but it is not a matter of quantity. Some folks would even say that vegetarianism makes us happier; others say it is free from the mundane activities of our life. In today’s world we are also seeing newer trends like the birth of Gross National Happiness and the conceptualisation of happiness hypothesis. None of these is, however, related to real happiness that is ultimate and has no predecessor or successor. It is neither left nor right, up nor down, east nor west—it exists independent of our existence.

What Makes a Rich Country Rich and a Poor Country Poor?

(Arranged according to the years of book publication)


Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu  & James Robinson  ② Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond ③ IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen ④ The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics by William Easterly ⑤ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David Landes

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty 


Economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson bank on ideas from development economics, economic history and institutional to explain the phenomenon of different nations amassing power and prosperity while others falling short, some of them terribly. The authors’ contention is that the contemporary accounts on factors such as religion, culture, geography and weather are insufficient to explain the differences. Then what is the reason?

It is the man-made political and economic institutions. Good institutions, according to a reviewer, are ‘laws and practices that motivate people to work hard, become economically productive, and thereby enrich both themselves and their countries’.

From case studies, the writers made some insightful observations. One of them is the conditions in North and South Korea. In the Human Development Index prepared by the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, North Korea is ranked at a lowly 174th, while South Korea is at 15th. In the summary of the book it is explained as:

The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The difference between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty elucidates rich countries are rich because they enjoy the privilege of a functioning democratic and pluralistic state that assures the rule of law, which further helps raise the initiatives and capacities amongst its subjects. In one of the chapters, the authors explain how a political revolution in 1688 changed the institutions in England and led to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, which for the first time in human history it lifted the standard of living exponentially in a relatively short period.

The authors also talk convincingly about other related issues such as (a) how the European imperialism impoverished so many countries across the globe, (b) why it is not possible for China to grow economically without end, (c) how the deprived institutions create a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, (d) what the incompetent leaders in poor countries do to damage the prospects for growing and (e) how politics and political conflicts shape the institutions and so on.

On the other hand, institution is the main premise in the book and this is also the same reason why some critics are not impressed with the book, though it has got so many literal buyers. The writers have apparently focussed too much on a single element and failed to cite more evidences to explain their hypotheses. For other critics, democracy as a foundation cannot be responsible for growth and development and it cannot be used as a template for all the nations.


1 Official website of the book: whynationsfail.com
2 What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?
Jared Diamond’s review of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty at the New York Review of Books

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed


The book has an alternative subtitle, How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Jared Diamond, a professor of Geography, looks at how the great historical civilisations have become desolate today while drawing our attention to the possible disastrous threats that we still have in the present world. The author says that the idea of the book was not influenced by the ‘curiosity about romantic mysteries’. Again, his motive is to understand the collapses and to see if those can help us find the ways to mitigate the issues.

So first thing first: why do societies collapse? In his own words, ‘Why did societies that were as powerful as the Khmer Empire and as brilliantly creative as the Maya, abandon the sites into which they had invested such enormous effort for so many centuries?’

Jared Diamond listed five main reasons causing the disintegration:

1. exogenous climate change (exogenous is natural while endogenous is self-inflicted)
2. hostile neighbours/enemies
3. collapse of essential trading partners
4. self-inflicted environmental problems
5. failure to adapt to environmental conditions

According to Diamond, we have been facing 12 environmental issues, out of which the first eight have been responsible at length for the collapse of past societies and the last four factors will result in the breakdown of present and future societies:

1. deforestation and habitat destruction
2. soil problems as in erosion, salinisation and soil fertility losses
3. water management problems
4. overhunting
5. overfishing
6. effects of introduced species on native species
7. overpopulation
8. increased per-capita impact of people

9. anthropogenic climate change (anthropogenic - of, relating to or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature)
10. build-up of toxins in the environment
11. energy shortages
12. full human use of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed has an inimitable blend of exhaustive scientific and historical researches. The author says that the idea of the book was not influenced by the ‘curiosity about romantic mysteries’. Again, his motive is to understand the past collapses and to see if those are still relevant today and how it can help us find the ways to mitigate the issues. He elaborates on the societies that had flourished for several millennia but which are reduced to rubble today. This is well supplemented by studies on major historical events in the modern world ranging from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to the environment disasters awaiting the present China’s economic growth.

Overpopulation is one of the root causes for the collapse of several societies but it cannot be the sole reason for the crisis. Diamond cites the case of the breakdown of the erstwhile USSR in 20th century and the downfall of Carthage in ancient history to show that military and economic factors are similarly responsible as the accidental or intentional introduction of non-native species to a region.

Critics are more worried about Diamond’s pessimism than the discrepancy in his information as in the number of starving people. The author illustrates with the example of Easter Island—a Chilean island in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean—to show a societal collapse in isolation as a consequence of environmental imbalances. However, several anthropologists and archaeologists argue that the real causes were the slavery system and the diseases introduced by European seafarers. Diamond did admit that ‘a purely environmental explanation would not be sufficient: one also has to understand the political, economic and social factors that prevented the society from solving its environmental problems.’


1 Jared Diamond’s official website with a section on Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

2 Man vs Nature
Jonathon Porritt's review of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed at the Guardian

3 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) published by the WW Norton & Company

IQ and the Wealth of Nations 


Written by psychologist Richard Lynn and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen, IQ and the Wealth of the Nations centres on the idea that the differences in the average national intelligence quotient (shortened simply as IQ) affect the differences in national income and wealth. Subsequently, the differences in IQ—affected by genetic and environmental factors—are directly proportional to the differences in national wealth and economic growth rate.

In short, the book presents the IQ scores and economic indicators from 185 nations, though the data not available from 181 countries were clubbed with the average IQs of their equivalent neighbours. The authors rely on peer-reviewed professional journals, adjustment of the information, fine-tuning the Flynn effect (the phenomenon of increasing intelligent test scores across the world since the Thirties to the present) and other approaches to estimate the figures. They have found that, during 1950–90, the national IQ correlates with GDP per capita at 0.82 and with the growth rate at 0.64. Interestingly, they find that low GDP results in low IQ and vice versa.

IQ and the Wealth of the Nations is loaded with tables and figures as solid evidences to the conclusions drawn by the authors but critics and reviewers are finding one common fault with this book: a ‘weak statistical proof, selective data manipulations and doubtful presumptions’. As one reader notes, this book and its findings are quite apt for homogeneous populations.

In the American Psychological Association’s journal, Susan Barnett and Wendy Williams write: ‘Among this book's strengths are that it argues for a point of view unpopular within the scientific community (and) it relies on hard data to make its points, its organisation and clarity. Also, the book is expansive in its thinking and argumentation. All of these strengths considered, however, we believe that the arguments advanced in the book are flawed by an omnipresent logical fallacy and confusion of correlation with causation that undermines the foundation of the book.’

Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen had published IQ and Global Inequality in 2006 as a follow-up to IQ and the Wealth of Nations. The authors have expanded their arguments as a response to the critics while claiming that the rate of economic growth does depend on the national IQ estimates.


1 Intelligence and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations co-written by the two authors and posted on Richard Lynn’s website

2 IQ and the Wealth of Nations
K Richardson's review of IQ and the Wealth of Nations at the Nature

The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics 


William Easterly is a professor of economics and a top ranking economist at the World Bank. His The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics has been one of the most influential works in economic development despite controversies. Amartya Sen calls him ‘the man without a plan’! (The Nobel laureate, though, was referring to Easterly’s another book The White Man’s Burden.)

Nevertheless this book focuses on the attempts to lift the Third World countries economically over the last five decades. Foreign aid agencies and international financial institutions pump in trillions of dollars to these countries but there has been no marked improvement in the lives of the people in these regions. Easterly believes that this is due to the fact that the donors are overlooking one key truth: people respond to incentives.

The situation is aggravated by the corrupt governments of the respective countries with their high inflation and budget deficits, unbridled black market premiums, restrictive trade policies and so on. In a way, the people are receiving only defective incentives.

Agencies and institutions are doing everything to invest in wide-ranging areas from birth control to education but the lack of infrastructure in the receiving tropical countries are proving to be counterproductive. In fact, Easterly believes these donors are misled with the assumption that aid increases investment and the growth in high investment ratios means higher growth—but there is ‘no statistical association between investment and growth’.

While referring to the economic underdevelopment in these countries, he further argues that it is not the failure of economics but the lack of applying economic principles in policy intervention that is the culprit. Efforts to lift the Third World countries, observes Easterly, began right after the WWII based on several models including:

the Harrod–Domar Model: an early post-Keynesian model of economic growth, which explains the growth rate in terms of the level of saving and productivity of capital
the Lewis Model or the dual-sector model that explains the growth of a developing economy in terms of a labour transition between two sectors, the capitalist sector and the subsistence sector
Rostow's stages of growth that postulates growth occurs in five basic stages, of varying length and which includes (i) Traditional society (ii) Preconditions for take-off (iii) Take-off (iv) Drive to maturity and (v) Age of high mass consumption

The first part of the books deals with the efforts and attempts while the second part deals with the truth about people—including individuals and businesses, government officials, even aid donors — responding to incentives. However, there is a caveat: for instance, a person in a Third World country sees no reason to invest in education when there is no return in that investment. Therefore, Easterly argues, the universal remedy is not incentive per se, but to use it piecemeal in the right manner.

Nowadays, Easterly has been labelled as anti-aid. You may want to read The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time written by his ‘opponent’, Jeffrey Sachs, who claims that development aid can eliminate extreme poverty across the globe by 2025.


1 The Elusive Quest for Growth:
Dennis Whittle’s review of The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics at the Global Policy Forums

2 A Modest Proposal
William Easterly’s review of Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time at the Washington Post

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor


David Landes is a former professor of economics and history. He mixes both the disciplines to present a compelling case on how some countries have been going through phenomenal economic growth while others have been struggling and often failing. Through a neoclassical, neoliberal perspective, Landes concentrates on the economic histories of countries and regions such as the United States, Japan, China plus Europe, Latin America and the Arab world. Then he compares them with other elements of culture and enterprise to examine the varying economic conditions.

Landes’ contention is that the wealthier nations have adopted organised market economies while the poorer nations are lagging behind in this aspect. In such a successful system, the state has little role in the economic activities, except in the protection of property rights.

The book title is inspired by Adam Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations (originally An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776).

The author draws his ideas from several economic theories. Some of these include (a) the 'cultural thesis' or the Protestant (Puritan) work ethic: a term coined by Max Weber, it describes how the Protestants excelled with hard work, punctuality, enterprise and free thinking—some qualities that their Catholic counterparts lack; (b) the 'hydraulic thesis' or the 'Oriental Despotism thesis': a term coined by Karl Wittfogel, it explains how authoritarian rulers control the use of water to further be in command of the population; and (c) 'Climate thesis', a hypothesis that reasons the inability of the tropical countries to make progress.

Referring to the Islamic empires of Moghuls and Ottomans in India and Turkey respectively, Landes argues that just their faith was sufficient for salvation and they needed no further progress as in economic growth. He writes: ‘Islam's greatest mistake (...) was the refusal of the printing press, which was seen as a potential instrument of sacrilege and heresy. Nothing did more to cut Muslims off from the mainstream of knowledge.’  

One of the most interesting observations made by the professor is on the role of gender in economic development. Landes also believes that the Industrial Revolution happened because of some typical European qualities and that European imperialism is responsible for the rise of the Four Asian Tigers. He had apparently referred to the 1993 report by the World Bank and did not mention about the 1997 crisis, which occurred just a year before the publication of this book. The western prejudice or the Eurocentrism are palpable in his interpretations but Landes counter-charges, citing a Eurocentric approach was actually more appropriate in his study.


1 The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor full book PDF on Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University’s website https://tsu.ge/data/file_db/faculty_humanities/Landes%20-%20The%20Wealth%20and%20the%20Poverty%20of%20Nations.pdf

2 The Gap
Andrew Porter's review of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor at the New York Times

What Is the Perfect Age to Die?


I Wish to Leave the World

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun
(Text source: All Poetry, http://allpoetry.com)

Rock ‘n’ roll fans would scream 27 it is, but methinks the number is too less for ordinary mortals like us. Perhaps, Janis Joplin ((1943–1970) wanted to live as long as the French lady, Jeanne Louise Calment (1875–1997), who died at the ripe age of 122 years and 164 days. From archive records on life expectancy, Calment is also ‘the oldest person in history whose age is verified by modern documentation’. She was already 95 when Janis passed away soaring on a cocktail of heroin and alcohol. Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970), who knows, he might have dreamt about teaching tongue-licking-riffing the guitar to his kids after getting married and having a dozen of babies.

Live to tell the tale

These two rock stars belong to the 27 Club, an exclusive group of western rock musicians who died at the age of 27. Some of the other members include Jim Morrison (1943–1971), Ron McKernan (1945–1973), Mia Zapata (1965–1993), Kurt Cobain (1967–1994) and Amy Winehouse (1983–2011).

And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do,
I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying?
There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime.
—From Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky 

The Guinness World Records (GWR) ‘beholders’ are ever excited about the details on the oldest and the longest and the shortest and what not. As of November 2015, Susannah Mushatt Jones from the United States and Emma Morano-Martinuzzi from Italy—both of them born in 1899—are the oldest living human beings. In a report prepared by the US-based Gerontology Research Group (www.grg.org), the top 10 oldest human beings are all grand-ladies. For the male-super-ego community, Yasutaro Koide—a Japanese grand-gentleman who was born in 1903 is the oldest living man.

Incorrigible optimists would surely want to rephrase the question. It is about, for them, the number of years to live rather than the age to die. Some researchers who belong to their ilk have found the relation between longevity and positive thinking/outlook too. A news report mentions that ‘many of the near-centenarians are optimistic, easygoing, like to laugh and are outgoing than introverted. They are also more likely to express their emotions, rather than keeping it all inside’. (Source: Researchers discover optimism may lead to longevity, CBS News www.cbsnews.com)

However, if you are a fan of the Big Lebowski, a lazybones who carries a paunch that would shame Boddhachandra or a couch potato that Garfield would feel jealous of, then it is an entirely different story. You will surely die of diabetes or some cardiac diseases—yes, it is the best possible outcome as you might as well have believed it. If I may add, pessimism is more about understanding the meaninglessness of our existence than believing in the bad prevailing over the good.    

Facts and figures in a time frame

Back in my town, Manipur has a well-documented history from 33AD. Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the first king according to the Chaitharol Kumba chronicle, is believed to have ruled for 120 years. One hundred and twenty, it is the Manipuri GWR fans’ pride and others’ envy! Older folks tell us the early Manipuris were taller and lived longer in the bygone centuries. This is a contradiction to the western ideas that longevity has increased with the advancement of science and technology. (Sidenote: Several ‘puya’ or scriptures mention the earliest known king is Taangja Leelaa Paakhangba who ruled during 1445–1405BC and he was followed by Ningthou Kangba from 1405–1359BC.)

At 176 cm, I consider myself to be average-ish; and talking about life’s longevity, now and then, the nihilist thoughts overwhelm me, nudging me that I had already reached my mid-life at 25! I have no idea about the stereotypical crisis. By the way, the old timers quip that we can die anytime at any age nowadays. We have guns, drugs and murderers in abundance. If we do not die young, we need not worry as the millions of fear-, stress- and tension-building elements in our conflict-ridden society ascertain that we will die sooner than what is elaborated in surveys and records.  

The Population Foundation of India (http://populationfoundation.in) and the Population Reference Bureau (www.prb.org) has found in India that life expectancy at birth is going to be 66.8, 69.8 and 72.7 years during the phases of 2011–2016, 2021–2026 and 2031-2036 respectively. In the same duration, life expectancy in Manipur is pegged at 74.0, 75.9 and 77.6 years in that order. Kerala at 77.0 occupies the first position for 2011–2016. When I turn 100 during 2081–2086 India’s longevity will reached 82.0 years, while that of Manipur will be 82.7, which is the same as Nagaland. A 100-watt bulb appears here. Suppose the Isaak–Muivah’s successors appear with diadems and hornbill-feathered headwears after achieving the Great Lim sovereignty demand of the Nagas, would the forecast remain the same?  

What would all these figures mean to a fitness freak? Usually we prefer quality to quantity. Only such a ‘freak’ would know it but it will not be a surprise if the answer varies from one person to another. Such is the relativity of our universe. The lack of Absolute allows the rock fans and the GWR enthusiasts to sit on the same boat and nobody would talk about their dates of birth. Even if they do, it is certainly lesser important than the ride to their destinations.

Live for the moment

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
—from the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death

A sage once slept for 100 years and when he woke up, he realised that our life is like a story. It is not the length but the ‘interesting’ factor of the story. Many of us took it literally and started smoking in our teenage days. Smoking makes our lives interesting. Hence, the great moronic thinking of our lives saw the light of the day and it has culminated into another great wisdom of 2015: Stupid people die fast.

Now, how about my father who died at 46? Was he stupid or just too lazy to look after his family? If we go by his age, I can tag him—just for the sake of tagging—along with Albert Camus, JFK, George Orwell and Oscar Wilde in the yet-to-be-formed 46 Club. Even his father lived one year ahead of him. Edhou, our grandpa, was then mostly confined to his bed but did take regular short walks around our veranda. He was a nice and wise old man but it was annoying when he would yell from his bedroom, set one mile away from mine, to stop playing the flute. I was playing my guitar. He was 98 when he breathed his last. I was 17 and eight years short of hitting mid-life. You know I’m kidding.

On a serious note, it was tragic when the NSCN-IM in cahoots with the establishment murdered Thingnam Kishan (1972–2009), a young and upright government officer who used to excel equally as a scholar. He was abducted and killed for standing in between the militants and government’s plan to insert proxy names in the electoral roll and creating job cards against such names. Their motive was to siphon off money from a government employment project under the Indian Ministry of Rural Development. The murderers had also admitted openly that Kishan was interfering in their effort to launder money looted from the public exchequer. He went away young but he left us with some original, critical and insightful works on literature and humanities.

That’s the condition of our society and those sycophantic assholes in public spheres, academics and all the institutions are well and alive. I take back my word that stupid people die fast; it was just a passing comment. In Manipur, you have to be a sycophant if you want to live long. The more you kiss the police and insurgents’ asses the longer you live. Experiences also confirm that this kind of ass-kissing can make you rich quick. The number of such people in every neighbourhood in the town is just too high. We stand to gain so much if they die younger and faster.

If we talk of practicality and life expectancy, 80–90 years of age appear to be ideal. In a traditional society like ours, the sons usually look after their parents; though in reality, the daughters-in-law are more involved. We believe in community living and the concepts of geriatrics and an old-age home are almost non-existent. Times have somehow changed and as in ‘developed’ societies, the sons and daughters have started kicking out their parents, to put it bluntly. Alternatively, it is quite an individualistic view but till we are 80–90, I believe that we can take care of ourselves, not be a burden to the family members around and thus this age range. However, it would be wonderful if I can live up to 180!

How to live forever with a bit of science and religion

Immortality is such a bitch. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as ‘the ability to live forever; or an eternal life’. We would be lying if we say we do not want to be immortal. Immortality, fame, power and money, to be precise. Amongst these aspects, there is some unknown charm in the idea to live forever; though the only problem lies in its ethic, which is no different from those in abortion, surrogacy, artificial intelligence, euthanasia and all. Sometimes, though, the fear of death is more crushing than the desire to be immortal.

In the animal world, there are organisms that live on forever, which in science-speak is referred to as biologically immortal. A species of jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii undergoes a process known by a Martian-like term called transdifferentiation that enables them to stock up their cells after sexual reproduction and it goes on ceaselessly. That makes the Turritopsis dohrnii ‘jelly well’ and deathless.  

Great men and women in history have left behind their legacies that the posterity will always remember them by/from. The only exception is Woody Allen, who said he do not want to achieve immortality through his work but rather through not dying. What do the lesser mortals like you and me do? Three years ago, some legislators started pro-immortality political parties in Russia, the United States, Israel and the Netherlands. They are not utilising their ubiquitous muscle and money power nor spreading propaganda. Their motive is to concentrate on research and study anti-ageing to develop life-extension technology and solution, which will further accentuate the process of immortality.

This life-extension technology is broadly studied in disciplines such as geriatrics, cryonics, experimental gerontology and biomedical gerontology and so on. Apparently just like India’s eternal militarisation will solve insurgency in our region, science is going to help us become immortal. Does it mean we will have to do with one nationality forever? What if the technology becomes feasible and there arises the likes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Okram Ibobi? On introspection, it will not be a problem with these asses, because a longer time implies more possibilities and in such a hypothetical situation, the possibilities will be boundless. (Sidenote: Google ‘2045 Initiative’. It yields about 804,000 results in 0.30 seconds. See the objective of its movement below.)

Sample this news report:

Scientists take a step closer to an elixir of youth

A naturally occurring substance that can create ‘immortal cells’ could be the key to finding a real elixir of youth, scientists claim

Researchers believe boosting the amount of a naturally forming enzyme in the body could prevent cells dying and so lead to an extended, healthier lifespan. The protein telomerase helps maintain the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes which act like the ends of shoelaces and stop them unravelling.
By RICHARD ALLEYNE, the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/3489881/Scientists-take-a-step-closer-to-an-elixir-of-youth.html   

The scientific views on longevity are based on an idea that the rate of ageing can be reduced if our cells and tissues are repaired or replaced continually. This might take care of old age and diseases, the two causes of death. For the other two causes, environmental change and trauma as in accidents and calamities, mortals have to rely on the working of the Universe. And now if science arrives, can religion be far behind?

The Meitei people—who are scattered over Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Burma and Bangladesh and followers of Sanamahism—worship Atiya Sidaba Mapu as the creator of the Universe. He got a punk middle name! ‘Sidaba’ means ‘never dying’ or ‘eternally living’; ‘siba’ is to die. Now the people have also given him a title like ‘Guru’ to him, or HIM, because the Meiteis act like a donkey while naming things. For the Hindus, they have the concepts of immortal soul, reincarnation, ‘samsara’ and karma. For them, all the people, cows and everything go through a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth until their karma is purified and finally the soul rests in eternal bliss. Karma is a bitch, they say, just like what I feel about immortality.

For those who love Jesus, the world is just a temporary abode after Adam and Eve played around an apple tree like Shahrukh Khan and Sunny Leone would do in a Bollywood movie—while the man cannot think of anything but eat, the woman, she was lost in how she was going to make a skirt out of the apple tree leaves and figs. And long story short, they lost immortality forever and thus the mortals were born, waiting for the doomsday. On the other side of the world, Buddha came and left in one part a long time ago but there are two sects that are devoted to him. The first group, Hinayana believes in attaining Nirvana, while the second, Mahayana cares about reaching Buddhahood. Back again on the other side, for the Zoroastrians, the soul hesitates for four days after death—like our regional elected representatives do when they go to Delhi for freebies—and then it becomes an everlasting empty shell. To sum up, death is inevitable and we only rationalise our living with relative to death. Significantly, technology has also replaced gods and goddesses in the last century or so.

A foregone conclusion

Qin Shi Huang or Ying Zheng (260–210 BC) is considered to be the first king of China when he united the country in 221BC. During his reign, he would send men and women aplenty to mythological islands and non-existent mountains to find the elixir of life that would make him immortal. He was so desperate for immortality that he died of mercury overdose from a medicine that his court physicians had prepared to aid his eternal living. Legend has it that it was also a group of people he had sent for the elixir that colonised and built Japan.

The moral of the story is to live like a rock star regardless of your age. Be forever young or maybe try some Botox if you are helpless. If nothing works, take inspiration from Qin Shi Huang and start your journey to the Fountain of Youth. I saw it once in the Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides.

In real life, even the mightiest kings are a mortal. Remember Shelley’s Ozymandias that we read in high school literature? If you are a prose-person, picture Peter Pan playing the pipes. He is, in Latin, a puer aeternus, or the ‘eternal boy’. Or imagine about the Picture of Dorian Gray. However, no matter how much the ages of the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drews never change as if those are stuck in the prints on paperbacks and hardbacks, the grave is waiting for us by the riverside. It’s just the matter of making the walk interesting.

On an altogether different level, technology is aiding human evolution. Sci-fi writers forecast that in the next couple of centuries, cyborgs will be a reality, distinguishing the rich and the poor. In another word, the rich will survive and the poor will die out in the same way as we can see in dystopian Hollywood films these days. (Sidenote: I’d recommend you to watch In Time, an average film on eternal youth in a country which is separated on the basis of a unique Time Zone, which is again divided according to the wealth of the residents.)

Finally, the perfect age to die, the number of years to live and the world record for living the longest have little significance, comparatively to what is to become of our lives five years down the line. Ironically, only death is immortal.

Haiyum sidaba!

Eternally yours,
K. A.

PS: This is another western product that often makes us wonder how in the world they keep coming up with such ideas; but you may want to try DeadSocial (www.deadsocial.org). It offers you to be immortal in your digital avatar. This online service is available at free of cost, on which you can upload texts and images or schedule to post them for the next 999 years. The posts will be auto-updated on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites including the DeadSocial website. Consider the online/social media trends in the last decade and half: we had Yahoo Messenger, mIRC, Gmail, Orkut and now we got Facebook—there is something wrong with the math if it says that we can maintain the posts for 999 years.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...