By:Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
In the anthropological doctrine, to understand Meitei national character is to study their “bellicose trait”; that is, how it affects public and private life and how it became a Meitei trait.
It is a combative doctrine on moderate provocations, which supersede any other character. This is an obsessive compulsive trait. It has its own virtues and vices, as all national characters have.
In 1953 when I had the madness to beat up a College Professor in Shillong, it was said by college authorities that Manipuri students who came to Shillong were pugnacious because they came from isolated Manipur and because of their inferiority complex they tried to over-predicate themselves. I did not quite believe it at that time. In later life, I had a feeling that might be true. Much later in life, I did some research on it to find out if it was indeed, a part of our culture or a trait we had inherited somehow.
Going back in our history, only as far as Raja Gambhir Singh, I decided to construct a Meitei national character in search of the truth.
Gambhir Singh was recognized as the Raja of Manipur and the Treaty of Yandabo was signed in1826, between the East India Company and the Burmese. That Treaty bound the Burmese to recognize the perpetual independence of Manipur.
This was the starting point of the emergence of Meitei national character as iron entered the soul of the Meitei. The newly released Meitei spirit joined the living and dead – the romantically lost and the living present.
They began to quantify their bull’s eye with daring and persistent energy; the trust in their physical prowess and the ability of their kings to keep their subjects under control.
The unity of the warring seven clans under the Meitei Kings was set off on a chain reaction due to costs and benefits of cooperation, underpinning their social life and providing the foundation of a unified Meitei national character.
The Meitei nation was firmly established because of the biological basis of trusting behaviour to each other clan and the combinatorial system of vocabulary and syntax that led to a common religion of Sanamahi laining.
The common religion and the ritualistic celebration of Lai Harouba (entertaining the gods) of the Umang lai (gods of the woods) bonded them together and catalysed them into a national cohesion.
Further, the Meitei conversion to Hinduism in the beginning of the 18th century offered a way in which all the seven clans could be imagined as shrinking and converging, and thus forming an idea of Meitei national character.
The Meitei national character supports the Darwinian concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’. To survive one must be fit and brave.
Indeed, natural selection promoting genes for courage has probably been more ruthless for the Meitei because of their small group than in more densely populated and politically complex societies.
Following this introduction, my thesis statement is to imply that Meitei aggressiveness links to a superiority rather than and inferiority complex merging with narcissism in the development of Meitei national character.
When I beat up the College Professor in Shillong in 1953 inferiority complex never entered my head. In fact, I felt I was one of the smartest young men in India.
There is the ‘Unicist ontology of human complexes’ (1985) led by Peter Belohlavec (IQ>180) based on the research of Alfred Adler. Human complexes can be classified into inferiority and superiority complexes. Although they always work together, they can be considered different concepts because of different functionality and their different origin.
Inferiority complexes are originated by a physical handicap of an individual. On the other hand superior complexes are compensation attitudes for inferiority complexes or complexes based on extreme talents of an individual that makes her/him superior.
Superiority complexes are based on superior functional intelligence implying a structural different attitude. While inferiority complexes drive towards inaction in order to deny the reality that affects self-esteem, superiority complexes drive towards aggressive active action to destroy the bothering object. That was exactly what I did when trying to destroy the Professor.
On newer research, psychologists found out that there was an indication that persons who have low or high esteem levels are more prone to aggressive behaviour if they have high levels of a trait known as narcissism (excessive interest in oneself).
Narcissism is the personality trait of conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism. Narcissus in Greek myth was a pathologically self-absorbed young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth.
Andrew Morrison claims that, in adults, a reasonable amount of healthy (not pathological) narcissism allows the individual perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others. Some experts believe a disproportionate number of pathological narcissists are at work in the most influential reaches of society, such as medicine, finance and politics.
The Meitei do have genes producing a narcissistic trait that correlates to their aggressive act.
Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-worth and self-love without a strong set of beliefs that support this sense of superiority (e.g., Kernberg, 1975; see also Freud, 1917/1966). Because narcissists have unstable self-esteem, they are extremely sensitive to personal slights, such as insults and criticism.
Narcissism is characterised by a vulnerability to threats to the self-concept. And thus, when ego-threatening situations occur, narcissistic individuals tend to behave aggressively (Baumeister, Bushman, Y & Campbell 2000).
The modern study of human psychology by brain scan shows that social rejection (negative complex) activates brain areas that generate physical pain. It also shows that when we feel or are made to feel socially inferior, two areas of the brain become activated.
One area makes you feel a sense of sinking at the bottom of the abyss; the other area motivates to stave off the pain of feeling second rate, and you are compelled to compensate as a reward.
Richard Dawkins would call this Meitei gene, a “selfish gene”. The ‘Selfish Gene’ is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1975, with a 30th-anniversary edition in 2006. Dawkins is famous for doing research on non-peer view described theories. He uses the “Selfish Gene” as a way of expressing his new ‘gene-centred view of evolution’ – an organism is expected to evolve to maximise its “inclusive fitness”.
In its long journey through generations, this particular selfish Meitei gene had been seeking something equivalent to an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). In behavioural ecology, an ESS is an equilibrium refinement of the Nash equilibrium – it is a Nash equilibrium which is “evolutionarily” stable, meaning that once it is fixed in a population, natural selection alone is sufficient to prevent alternative (mutant) strategies from successfully invading.
It seems that the Meitei have developed this notable narcissism because of a protective Meitei chromosome that constitutes a single long-lived genetic unit for survival of the fittest.
But how can a single gene determine the aggregate trait of the seven clans of the Meitei nation? The answer is that one gene cannot. But it is possible by the automatic editing achieved by ‘inversions’ and other accidental rearrangement of genetic material, a large cluster of formerly separate genes has come together in a tight linkage group on a chromosome.
Figuratively speaking, the whole is the sum of all its parts. And the character of the parts will determine the characteristics of the whole. The gene which is a piece of chromosome could live as copies for generations and generations as a Selfish Gene.
The genes are immortal. So, the narcissism as part of Meitei national character is determined by the aggregate linkage group of different genes of the seven warring clans, on a chromosome.
Genetics influences personality that accounts for 50% of the variations in many personality traits. Other 50% comes from nurture ie environment. Healthy narcissism and narcissistic responses to stress and trauma are likely to have genetic basis. Study of genetics and narcissism suggested that 64% of the variation was accounted for by genetics (Livesley WJ, Lange KL et al 1993).
The ecosystem and geographical factors of Manipur primarily influenced the genetic development of Meitei narcissism, while history, sociology, philosophy and ethnology gained significance later. Meitei narcissism is thus an adaptive behaviour that has evolved in the Meitei genome for living in today’s society.
In conclusion: My boning up of Meitei narcissism refers to a set of anthropological studies after World War II (ultimately ended) that arose from a variety of approaches with culture and personality studies within psychological anthropology.
Foot note: in an article of 1.500 words I normally avoid citations, but in this article I have inserted a few by way of reinforcement that my views are based on references.
The writer is based in the UK