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March 16, 2017

Our cognitive dissonance


March 16, 2017

Mark Twain’s wife Olivia abhorred his habit of swearing. One day, after he had voiced a barrage of his vulgar vocabulary, she repeated each word he had said. When she had finished, Mark Twain replied, “Livy, it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds like that. You got the words right, but you don’t know the tune.”

Assembly speakers inviting women members to their ‘chambers’ amid raucous laughter and the despicable words recently uttered by a ruling party member suggest that profanity in politics is the new low we have reached. Not knowing the tune might be the only wretched defence our politicos can muster.

The silence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can be seen as a pat on the back for such profanity. In an old westerner, ‘She wore a yellow ribbon’, John Wayne says: “Never apologize and never explain; it’s a sign of weakness”. Tough words suit the tough office. The ability to use these words, sometimes laced with profanity, has become the major criterion to stand out in the politics of today. Publilius Syrus was right up to the mark when he said: “Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks so he is”.

Words that communicate a message convey a meaning, feelings and thoughts. It has been said that if the tongue had not been framed for articulation, man would still be a beast in the forest. Having the power to soothe, educate, placate, love or torment, words can change the way people act, feel, think and view the world. They can bring hope and pleasure or ever-lasting pain. History is replete with instances where prophets, leaders and teachers galvanised people to do good whereas there are others who led people and countries to doom.

Unfortunately, most of us have become oblivious to our choice of words. In our daily lives we, knowingly or unknowingly, hurt many people. Our words remain confined to our limited spheres. The words of those who are in prominent positions are amplified through the media and spread further. The effect is more impactful, immediate and far-reaching than ever before. Devoid of providing comfort with their mandated deeds, their words – detached from our traditional values and virtues – bring further pain.

We see an endless cycle of politicians issuing statements that border on the profane. The ‘apology’ that follows is prefaced with the ‘if I offended’ phrase. Where and why does this ‘if’ come in when even a person of limited logic can understand that the uttered words were, to say the least, insulting and outrageous? Owning up to the offensive words in its entirety conveys the absence of regret or remorse in the (if tendered) heartless apology.

There is much more to nation-building than brick and mortar structures. The bulwarks of democracy are well-functioning institutions which underpin the electoral process, protect the citizen’s voice and ensure political accountability. Investing in civic and social structures is equally important as the integrity of state institutions.

Mired in the Panama controversy and staunchly defended by PML-N ministers and parliamentarians alike, the ruling family could not justify the means for their professed Midas touch.

Our ruling dispensations have become an aberration to what they should have been. They have fostered a system that allows only the unelectable to become ineluctable and corruption and cronyism are the conjoined twins that ensure its survival.

Politics is a form of warfare. At its best, it encourages innovation and improvement. At its worst, it produces and nurtures the tools of self-destruction with impunity. Election after election, we have repeatedly voted for those who have let the country down on our endless trek on the path to perdition. This ironic paradigm shall never change until we do away with our cognitive dissonance with the ineluctable.

The survival of any nation is contingent on its ability to remain the master of its destiny. History has repeatedly shown that great nations have perished not as the direct result of external enemies, but through the degradation of social and economic structures. This, inevitably, results in the failure to confront hostile external and internal forces.

In a bygone era, court jesters reminded kings of their mortality and imperfections. Today, all one hears from the ineluctable club is the incessant din of ‘all hail the king’.


The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]


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