Did Western Enlightenment, inherited subsequently by the rest of the world, finally unravel all the mysteries of life? Did belief in science and empiricism have an answer to all of mankind’s problems? Did it alone lead to an ultimate understanding of society and history? In short, is everything about life rational? The implied rhetorical answer to these questions is, isn’t there an element of irrationality, or what Freudians often refer to as “fantasy”, in the entirety of the human personality, and all human issues. The explosion of inexplicable and aggressive assertions of identities and ethnicities in the modern world, when they should have been tempered and regulated by the optimism of scientific knowledge, many scientists are led, and quite paradoxically ones who unmistakably bear the legacy of this same Enlightenment Age, to seek answers in the primordial. Not that these scientist are rejecting positivism altogether, but they seem to be saying that rationality cannot adequately explain everything.
In a commentary on the name-calling between Hindu nationalists and liberals in India especially in these times of the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which would belong to the former camp, and the waning of the Congress representing largely the latter ideology, we are familiar to abusive names like “pseudo-secularists”, “sickulars”, “libtards” used by the former to refer to their liberal rivals, and the latter calling the former “neo-fascists”, “bhakts”, etc. Well known Indian intellectual and psychoanalyst of world renown, Sudhir Kakkar in his book Colours of Violence anticipated some of this. As for instance, he argues after a study of administrative records and history of the Hindu-Muslim antagonism in India that the liberal position of treating the difference between the two religious communities as merely the product of manipulative British policy, as too simplistic. He explores quite interestingly, the irrational, and equally the primordial nature of this antagonism. His conclusion, although not explicitly stated is, human nature is not forged merely by the stimulus-response matrix, and that there are some factors much more fundamental, going beyond the rational explanation. In the Hindu-Muslim community relations for instance, he says the phenomenon does not strictly follow the principle of instrumentality, in which one event provokes the next and this in turn provokes the next and so on. He presumes there are more factors missed out and these include cultural memories, beliefs, worship, sense of the past and destiny etc. These observations however are not offered by way of debunking the liberal position altogether, but as an alert that the lacuna may hamper solutions. His recommendation is for a balance between the objective and the subjective explanations.
The issue is relevant to Manipur where there is a resurgence of the subjective. Indeed, this has become an engaging subject once again in these uncertain times in the state. All now want to rewrite their histories, but from the extreme position of giving primacy to their own private memories and cultural lenses alone, and at the cost of empiricism. This would have been tolerable if not for the fact that such histories lead to an explosion of many closed worlds. This too would have been okay if these communities existed in isolation and in no proximity of others. But since this not the case, the danger of every community returning to their subjective worlds to reconstruct their visions of the future without the moderation of recorded the empirical narrative of the same events is a return to anarchy. To a great extent, this seems precisely what is happening in Manipur today. Look at the number of “ethnic homeland” claims. Look at the radically different and mutually hostile notions of territory and identity which have even led to many murderous ethnic wars and still threaten to lead to more mayhem. All these should be evidences enough that the subjective is no replacement for the objective. A bridge will have to be built to link the two worlds. The subjective worlds must be objectified and then a common thread discovered in all of them so that they can form a coherent narrative. The art, or science, of psychoanalysis for instance is one such bridge. To attempt answering the original question then, the light shed by Western Enlightenment or the tradition of scientific enquires set by the Galileos and Newtons, are not reversible or replaceable, although it can be enriched by the incorporation of the subjective visions. Afghanistan and the Taliban are just two alibis of what attempting a total replacement of the objective by the subjective can look like.