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July 6, 2018

Too many jacks and very few masters


July 6, 2018

Pakistan is in the throes of another political season, one that is laden with overtones of political confrontation and some promise as challenges beckon society and the state.

The disquiet in it emerges from a competitive urge to seek power, which is natural to the process. What it derives from is not genuine political debate on issues or philosophy, but a manifestation of the physical process to outdo the other.

Why is it that it isn’t the mental exercise that it should be, for all politics is meant to be for the choice of policy and political creed, and of the approach to the various solutions that may help resolve the issues facing society and the state? Why does a political exercise only convert itself into a numerical resort devoid of real substance around influence borne out of social and tribal power, giving relevance to thuggery and the nuisance emerging out of it?

This is a serious inadequacy – the absence of debate. But we seem to be making some headway, though it has begun to show up from highly unexpected quarters. The people, the electorate, is waking up to their sense of fundamental rights, like clean water – though frankly one hasn’t heard as much on it as should have been said since its non-availability demeans human existence to animalistic levels. Ditto for the need for roads, health facilities, jobs and education. A common man, which really means a man of very ordinary existence from the remote recesses of rural Pakistan, will judge his chosen representative by first a road that he thinks connects him to the more desired urban reaches and a lowly government job, which can assure him some sustained means of earning. Perhaps water and basic health provisions may come next.

Education is a sporadic mention and then merely by local chiefs as a physical marker of their contribution to the area not with any real intent to uplift the cause of the common voter. There are other more pressing social expectations such as easy access to the chosen representatives, which their voters can flout to indirectly signify their own eminence with added clout and implicit influence. But what really underlines delivery and return to the voters is in how many jobs – ‘government’ preferred – the representative can enable for his constituents. This keeps the wheels of their lives churning.

So, while the voter has begun to speak – as is evident from the various incidents of raw accountability that the political hopefuls have had to go through at the hands of their potentially constituent voters – these are early days and the voter isn’t yet refined to the point of correctly calibrating his needs or expectations other than the most subliminal and basic. The mere fact that the landed tribal chiefs of rural Pakistan, forever the power wielders, are being subjected to a scrutiny for the first time ever by the common man is refreshing, as are signs of an informed agitation of the mind in the common man.

This is no mean transition. As the electorate gets better at it they will soon begin to discern how they have been shortchanged over the decades and how a real social divide has been caused, in their name and under the pretext of their support, in creating two starkly different worlds of those who have all and those who have been dispossessed of their very basic humanity.

Give it to the media, as inadequate as it is and as incompetent as it mostly exhibits itself to be, for making the common man aware of how he is being robbed off his fundamental rights. For too long, the powerful have exploited the hapless of this country; the social structures may just be beginning to tumult. The media hasn’t always been honest with its viewers, yet it is predominantly the source of such positive turn in Pakistan’s rather arid social milieu. The talk-show culture on the electronic media is the key catalyst in this change – though it compares quite poorly to the more informed, educated and academically more competent analysis of the popular international media.

The lack of appropriate intellectual trust means that Pakistan’s media must depend upon the gradual mutation of a career journalist to the point where experience places him to be an analyst. A few, of course, begin with being more formally groomed along a wider knowledge base. The explosion of avenues in the media has seen an infusion of too many jacks and very few masters. That shows its quality. This inadequacy of the brain-trust, and a lack of sound political tradition in debate and in the evolution of political thought translate into debased exchanges with verbal brawls, some ending up in physical grapples. The intolerance for a parallel thought and an opposing view is manifest then in the unpleasant rancour that sounds on every channel, every evening. This is what is also being imbibed by the viewing public as a lesson in social transformation.

What then emerges in this discourse are intolerance and a lack of capacity to include others. The inability to articulate what is already a poor conception is a doubly consequential jeopardy. This gives way to uncalled-for emotion and belligerence, which manifest the popular media culture, close enough to be termed a virtual pantomime. This mimics the real-time political play in the country which for the absence of informed thought or developed debate over issues must then rely on personalised harangue and abuse. Any pretension of an educated participation is soon blown off its cover when the superficiality of the argument gets exposed. That is when the embarrassment tends to take over and the emotion dominates. This brings in revenue for more eyeballs, paving the way for better ratings.

Together the electorate, the viewing public and their principals – the political leaders – all nurture on this new staple of fabrication, superficial treatment of issues and sometime only abuse, denigration and vile personal attacks to cow down the opposition. The truth is not the currency in this exchange. Biases are instead only strengthened and entrenched. No harm in keeping biases though, that is the basis of any debate but a more adaptable mind with spare mental capacity has the ability to be inclusive. In our case, we only reinforce our divisions by polarised disposition. The ability to think beyond our held positions has fast eroded and so has the tradition of tolerance and courtesy in debate. Pygmies engender more pygmies, and that has become our newest bane.

Our inability to cross-read in other disciplines has left us bereft of wisdom. Books, now no one reads. The knowledge base is entirely weak and shallow. People flaunt without shame their personal renditions on almost anything. History and fact are most frequently mauled. The twists are imaginative and the argument suits a pre-determined end. With so much wrong, we live on assumed foundations as a society. No doubt we have no base and no direction. A sound political argument is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

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