Apathy is a symptom of social decline

January 16, 2022

An appalling tragedy unfolded in Murree last week. More than twenty people lost their lives. It was a blood-curdling event on several counts. The starkest of all was the apathy, an ailment that...

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An appalling tragedy unfolded in Murree last week. More than twenty people lost their lives. It was a blood-curdling event on several counts. The starkest of all was the apathy, an ailment that tends to rip apart the socio-cultural fabric of the society.

Of course, the administration demonstrated laxity; that is not at all surprising. Sheer indifference to human misery and incompetence are its defining features. When administration fails to respond in an exiguous situation, the society is supposed to exhibit moral responsibility by extending all possible help to fellow humans.

The response of the general public in 2005 when the earthquake struck vast areas of Azad Kashmir is a case in point. The outpouring of empathy in the form of both material and moral help seemed to be a saga of a distant glorious past.

While talking about the Murree incident, a heart-rending fact is the apathy of the local people towards their fellow humans (tourists) when the snowstorm hit the town. Greed overpowered the hotel owners as well as other service providers.

They tried to extract from the tourists as much as they could in utter disregard to any sense of morality. Such (mis)conduct calls for a dispassionate analysis of the social decadence that engulfs us. Why do we lack the quest for gratification that comes from helping others?

Another cause of concern is the impulsive mode that overtakes a majority of Pakistanis. They turn a blind eye to the perils that lie ahead. Despite warnings, many tourists were bent upon making their way to Murree. But in this piece, we will cast an analytical gaze on the apathy and insensitivity that have become common in the Pakistani society; the Murree incident was merely a symptom.

A close reading of human sciences instructs us about homo sapiens being constituted by four aspects (facets) that are intertwined in an acutely complex manner. The intricate mingling of these layers produces the evolution that culminates in a human, a culturally evolved form of homo sapiens.

These layers are physical/instinctual, intellectual, moral and aesthetic. Any evolved or, in simpler terms, cultured person is supposed to imbibe the attributes emanating from these aspects in at least some measure. That exactly is what distinguishes humans from other animate entities.

The socio-cultural ethos takes shape when all these facets intersect and end up in a social formation, whereby everyone inhabiting it establishes a bond with the rest. The foremost mutuality that homo sapiens share with animals is their physical/instinctual facet.

A social equilibrium is struck only when the physical/instinctual facet is reined in by the intellectual and moral facets. The dialectical relationship between the physical/instinctual and the moral has been a constant feature through human history.

Procreation, self-preservation, self-aggrandisement, like working solely for personal gain at the expense of other fellow humans, prioritising personal or at the most familial interests over societal, communal, or national interests are the salient features of this facet. When this facet dominates others, the society becomes atomised and individualistic.

Compassion and empathy vanish from such a society. There is scant respect for law, customs or social norms. What we saw in Murree the other day was an exhibition of that facet, which has become so dominant in our society that it hardly leaves any space for the other three.

Social equilibrium is struck only when physical/instinctual facet is reined in by the intellectual and the moral facets. The dialectical relationship between the physical/instinctual and the moral has been a constant feature through human history. Human societies decay when physical/instinctual dimension gains autonomy from the dictates of the moral. A straight forward analysis of the Pakistani society reveals that it suffers from a moral crisis.

Now, shift our analytical gaze to the intellectual aspect. Pakistanis, in general, are victims of utter confusion. The inability to distinguish between the sacred and the secular, pure and the profane and the question about culture, nationality and language pose a big impediment to the process of nation-making. This is evident in our education system.

Such questions need some unanimity for their amicable resolution. Higher education today is devoid of a theoretical underpinning. Therefore, the cleavage between the thought-process and the practice and the performative appears to be unbridgeable, at least in the foreseeable future. With this confusion, physical/instinctual aspect takes precedence over the intellectual pursuits.

Moral depravity is an even bigger malady afflicting the Pakistani society. There’s no gainsaying the fact that the main crisis plaguing us pertains to moral turpitude. That is the biggest factor preventing organic growth and flourish.

The yawning incongruity between the process of thought, the act of speech and the action itself has made us a people with a lopsided character. When thought and action don’t correspond, morality doesn’t strike root in the society.

In such a situation, the link between thought and action gets severed, so that both become absurd, signifying almost nothing. Thus, when we talk about religion, ritual is disconnected from the faith-based substance but the former tends to carry more weight and value than the mentality or substance that is the core of religion.

Another trend that requires deliberation is another dichotomy of sorts. It is quite ironic that the number of those who regularly pray has astronomically increased in the last 30 years. The same can be said about religious zealots proceeding to perform Haj. However, the level of corruption, social apathy and other malpractices has risen instead of going down.

The question, therefore, arises as to why these religious performances haven’t ameliorated the state of social depravity. I think one must differentiate between being a religious and a moral person. One can be morally conscientious and upright without being essentially religious. How to cultivate moral and ethical rectitude and integrity among our people is a very appropriate question to raise.

If we fail to accomplish this, responsible citizenry will cease to exist. Aesthetics are cultivated when a culture goes through various phases of its development. I will take up this theme of vital importance in my next column.



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