The Idiot and the Tribal, where are the Citizens…?

The recently concluded state assembly election held on February 27, 2023, to elect all 60 members of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly has been a learning lesson. Many commentators and analysts have written adequately on how money power, muscle power and proxy power dominated the electoral process, and, indeed, its outcome. Yet, we can get a deeper perspective of what was clearly revealed about Naga society during the election process by revisiting and reflecting on the ancient Greek perspective of the three kinds of people that make up a community.

The ancient Greeks classified people into three broad categories: the idiot, the tribal and the citizen. The idiot only cares for the individual – for himself or herself and has no concern for society or the common good. The idiot is about self-interest and self-preservation, and assumes positions of power and leadership for selfish benefits without taking any responsibility. This means the idiot is self-serving and driven by an egocentric mentality which can be very self-righteous, while condemning and blaming everyone else. According to Uchenna Okonkwo, “Idiots are the people who just don’t care, if they write an exam, they’d cheat, if they’re in government, they’d steal. An idiot just doesn’t care at all.” 

The tribal, on the other hand, is one in reference to a type of a mentality that only cares for the group that he, she, or they belong to. The tribal is not concerned about the common good of all, but only for the wellbeing of the group he, she, or they belong to and are willing to defend and fight for it. The tribal is very suspicious and distrustful, even intolerant of the others, and can be violent. The tribal mentality is very exclusive and is quick to see the fault of others without realizing their own mistakes. The tribal mentality is blinded from seeing beyond their narrow boundaries and their selective perception of truth is subjective and biased.    

The citizen is a person who is concerned for the common good and works for the welfare of everyone. To the Greeks, a citizen in this context is not in relation to a political or legal status of nationality, but in reference to an individual with a citizen’s mentality that is open-minded, inclusive and respects values of rights, justice and equality of all. A citizen is driven by ideals and values and is willing to reason and dialogue to build understanding. A citizen recognizes that rights and freedoms come with responsibilities with an awareness that while exercising his, her or their rights should not infringe upon the rights of others in any way. This sense of mutual respect enables the citizen to cooperate and collaborate with others. To the Greeks, an ideal and progressive society is mostly comprised of citizens. 

Without getting into specifics, an honest reflection on the lessons emerging from the 2023 Nagaland state elections clearly informs us that the behaviors and attitudes demonstrated, unfortunately, makes most of us either the idiot or the tribal. 

If it is true that the majority of the population are either idiots or tribals, what kind of society are we building! The election process is just a case in point. For a moment let us try to fully appreciate how our idiot and tribal mentality is impacting the present and future. While it is reasonable to be frustrated and angry with the present state of Naga affairs, and to protest against policy makers and the powers that be for this unending charade, we also need to examine our own individual and collective lives to learn how we too are contributing to our own suffering.  

Nagas need to shed our idiot and tribal mentality in order to embrace the consciousness of the citizen! For Nagas to evolve as a people it is pertinent that majority of the population embrace the citizen mentality and live by commitments to its values of inclusivity, equity and rights for all.