‘An Invitation to Awareness’

Ramin Jahanbegloo, the Iranian philosopher, writes that “imposed conformity and normalized complacency are the twin corruption of democracy.” He adds that the task of dissent, through its art of questioning, is to overcome this twin corruption. While making this assertion in his book The Disobedient Indian: Towards a Gandhian Philosophy of Dissent, Ramin points to the emergence of crowds as a decisive phenomenon in contemporary politics. 

The complacent and conformist crowds have given in to power and authoritarianism. Writing on the lessons of Tyranny, Timothy Snyder informs us the practice of giving obedience in advance is a political tragedy where citizens offer themselves without being asked to by those in power. Snyder emphasizes this anticipatory obedience is when citizens willingly compromise their values and principles by adapting instinctively, without reflecting, to a given situation.

The irony of the crowd is not lost. One assumes that the crowd is rudderless. But this is not the case. Infact, Ramin incisively writes, “strangely, the crowd is never ruled by itself, but it is guided and governed by a few.” He adds that the “crowds become habituated to modes of non-thinking and non-questioning” and “being diverted by bread and circus, they lose their autonomy and creativity and become incapable of looking beyond appearance.”

In the presence of complacent crowds that have extended anticipatory obedience to the powers, Ramin affirms that “dissent, more than just protesting, is an invitation to awareness.” To be disobedient, Ramin explains, is to “practice self-development and self-transformation, and to blend critical thinking and dissentful acting.” In other words, the disobedient mind question policies, ideas, actions, institutions and systems. It requires individuals to listen to what Socrates called the ‘inner voice.’ From this viewpoint, Ramin asserts that, “Far from being an invitation to chaos and violence, disobedience is a constructive and creative attitude in pursuit of a self-reflecting and non-conformist community.”

Ramin’s perspective touches a nerve in the Naga context. Over the many decades of conflict, militarization, economic dependency and a factionalized society, the Naga people have been living in an insular situation of imposed conformity and normalized complacency. This has led to the corruption of democratic practices and institutions in Nagaland State. The situation of conformity and complacency has created a herd mentality in the Naga content, which in turn means the lack of dissent. In essence, there is no real questioning or creative thinking. Consequently, in the absence of dissent, there is no new awareness and critical thinking. Eventually, under these conditions, where the State continues to rule, the status quo is sustained and the non-critical thinking is perpetuated.

Now, more than ever, Nagas need the art of critical thinking and acting to inform the social discourse free of any allegiance to any cultural grouping, party or faction. Rather the practice of critical thinking and acting needs to be guided by values and interplay of the interrelationship between freedom and everyday living experiences during which all human beings engage. The process invariably begins by listening to the ‘inner voice’ that calls for awareness.