“Those who suffer the most grievously from evildoers are relieved of the greater part of their anguish by the expectation that they will sometime be avenged by law and authority. Men who are confident of the future, can bear more easily and less painfully their present troubles; but when they are outraged even by the government, what befalls them is naturally all the more grievous, and by the failing of all hope of redress they are turned to utter despair”. Procopius – Secret History.
Romanian philosopher and essayist Emile Cioran has been dubbed the greatest pessimist of postmodern times. He suffered from insomnia for seven long years, a malady he described as ‘a dizzying lucidity which would turn even paradise into hell’. His given solution to escape the torments of life, as he saw it, was that everyone should kill oneself. To him, that was the only way to end the absurdity of life. So great was his despair that he even outdid Herodotus, who asserted in his ‘Histories’ to ‘call no man happy until he is dead’. Cioran’s lament was that birth itself was the primary human tragedy. He wrote: ‘we have lost, being born, as much as we shall lose, dying; everything’.
Morbid as they are, his written words have been described by many as self-pity and pessimistic diatribe. To the one who penned these words they epitomise his torment about meaninglessness, disease, poverty, suffering and death. For Cioran these were the absurdities’ of life itself. In his ‘Some Blind Alleys: A Letter’, Cioran advocated that we keep sins, grudges, sickness and enemies close to heart. To him they were the only means to define life and selfhood. He also described his times as: ‘Wisdom? Never was any period so free of it; in other words, never was man more himself; a being refractory to wisdom’.
Hope and despair are conjoined twins. In Eliot’s words, ‘what we call despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope’. These unfed hopes have led to an alarming increase in despair and depression making it a national health crisis. It has been fostered by an absolutely disconnected State and political elite totally oblivious to the same. They ape Cain’s attitude who justified Abel’s murder by saying ‘I am not my brother’s keeper’. What could be more insensitive than a President who when asked about all that ails Pakistan retorts ‘aap kee nazar main’, a prime minister wishing that those who want to leave Pakistan (rather than following Cioran’s convoluted way out) to escape their miseries should do so and an Interior Minister who callously dismisses more than 7000 murders in Karachi as the doing of jilted lovers? What governance could be more despicable, what beings more refractory to compassion and empathy?
In its recently released 2011 index, Legatum Prosperity Index ranks Pakistan the fourth saddest country on this planet. One wonders what more chould befall us to gain the top spot. On the other hand, The Global Innovation Index (GII) 2011, a research project conducted by INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration) places Pakistan at the fourth position (behind China at third among 125 countries) in terms of ‘innovation efficiency’. It also ranks us a telling 105th on ‘having an enabling environment.’ This manifests the resilience of the people of this country; lesser mortals would have ceased to exist long ago.
Historian Robert Caro’s 1162 page magnum opus titled ‘Power Broker’ was published in 1974. This seven year pain-staking research is an ingenious biography of Robert Moses. It won the Pulitzer and is ranked amongst the 100 greatest works of non-fiction in the 20th century. It is an incisive study in how power actually works. It also reads in detail how the powerful amass power and ill-gotten wealth, yet manage to evade law. It shows how Robert Moses ruled the roost in New York for more than four decades. For anybody who needed or wanted anything done in New York City, Moses was the magic talisman. He was also New York’s master builder.
Moses’s rise to power broker supremo status was meteoric. The image that he built for himself was of an above the politics self-made man contributing to the well-being of New Yorkers. In fact Moses created conditions catering to the needs of the ultra-rich and powerful few but trampled those of the poor. Caro writes, ‘He threw out of their homes 250,000 persons. He tore out the hearts of scores of neighborhoods, communities that had been lively places to live, the vital parts of the city that made New York a home to its people’.
The billionaire that he had become, Moses went about securing his position. He oversaw land grabs and brokered some of the largest and shadiest political and business deals in New York City. He had dossiers on anyone that mattered. He used them with ruthless efficiency against anyone who dare question his doings. He doled out millions of dollars’ in payoffs to those helpful in building his image and power which ultimately transcended the public, political and bureaucratic domain.
With Moses poring money into the media, what he wanted was printed and spoken. It was only after four decades of unchallenged power that a slip-up paved the way for his fall from grace. Some of the uncompromised in the media challenged him. Initially Moses tried to stave off this threat with his usual candor but other voices followed, building up to a crescendo. His reputation was destroyed by a repentant media; his power by Nelson Rockefeller, an adversary that matched Moses in terms of ego and power. Rockefeller controlled the Chase Manhattan Bank and he used it to put the financial screws on Moses, ultimately stripping him of his much vaunted power.
‘Mafia States: When Organized Crime Takes Office’ is the work of Moises Naim, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International peace. Naim encapsulates the working of countries where corruption and organized crime is State controlled. It is also used blatantly to advance the personal interests and agendas of the governing and political elite. In these countries it is the State that controls the criminals rather than the latter using their skills to find a footing within the folds of the former. Such a country uses these vaporous players to benefit the rulers, their cronies and kith and kin.
Shady characters and power brokers form parasitic relationships in countries where corruption is rampant and institutional over-sight and rule of law is absent. The power brokers mint billions whereas, through them, the political elite advance its political and personal agendas. Ironically, the State acts as an enabler of crime rather than an enforcer of law.
Atanas Atanasov, a Bulgarian member of parliament and former head of counter-intelligence famously said that ‘other countries have the mafia; in Bulgaria the mafia has the country’. Would one be deemed an enemy of this farcical democracy in assuming that we have regressed to being such a state; ruled and abetted by untouchables bent upon enforcing on us the Cioranion code of life?
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: email@example.com