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December 2, 2018

Mob rule and democracy


December 2, 2018

When society runs out of ideas, it enters into its decaying phase. But when ideas are suppressed, society starts to deteriorate into mob rule. The most important indicator of decay and mob rule is the shrinking space for reflection, critical debate and the exchange of knowledge.

Mob rule is not about the rule of the people. It is about the destruction of institutions that uphold democratic norms. The destruction of democratic institutions always leads to a rise of personality cults and fanatic, self-righteous and pompous leaders who offer fanciful shortcuts to longstanding problems.

They hate democracy, debate and critical reflection, and suppress reason by arousing the killing instinct of mob rule. The accumulated deficit of knowledge creates space for mediocrity, superstitions and hypocrisy. Those who adhere to reason and critical reflection are reduced to heretics. These heretics face persecution and marginalisation, and their social spaces are restricted to ceremonious speeches.

Asserting the significance of democracy implies the restoration of reason, critical debate, accountability and the exchange of knowledge without fear of being persecuted. Mob rule has two critical dimensions as an anti-democratic movement. First, it helps reduce human potential and the agency of transformation. Second, it ridicules people as inferiors, agitators, destroyers, looters and robbers. During mob rule, people are used to tarnish their own image.

Superstitions are blessings when there is no hope for any better and when all rational perspectives exhaust the validity of their interpretations about the world around us. In the eyes of those who suffer in the material world and are at the brink of being maimed forever, life becomes a pernicious reality and they often go till the last mile to find peace of mind. Superstitions are not only a product of a backward mindset, but can also penetrate deep into the mind of an ‘ultra-modern’ person with all worldly information, exposure and the best education money can buy.

The fragility of human rationality and the deep-rooted genetic composition of fear and repulsion make Homo Sapiens complex species. Apart from Adam Smith’s interpretation of rational choices, human beings can make irrational choices in a rational way.

For Adam Smith, people make rational choices not because of a natural propensity or tendency shaped by human consciousness but due to the necessity of protecting one’s interest. For Descartes, what makes human beings distinct from other animals is their ability to think, which makes them conscious of their existence. But all human beings neither think rationally nor act to preserve their self-interests all the time.

Love, fear, empathy, sympathy and a sense of togetherness are neither rational choices nor conscious actions to be aware of existence. Beneath the spirit of coexistence and cooperation, there is always something that transcends the rational interpretations of life. The complexity of human relationships is a product of complex living conditions, objective realities, practical knowledge and wisdom that shape human society.

Rational beings don’t operate in a world of their choosing. Even if they were to create a world of their own, it would have required more than some rational thinking to build a better world. What is the fuss then? Should we assume that all human beings are more driven by their genetic makeup and instincts rather than the sense of reason they have acquired in a given world of patterns.

Simply put, rationalism is an attempt to make sense of things and events as if they are governed by a chain of cause and effect. In other words, human beings strive to give a sequential order to happenings and events. What we generally mean today by modernity is an era of grand theories on universal human rights, scientific revolutions, humanism, citizenship and the emancipation of the people from authoritarianism, and so on and so forth.

We make plenty of references to Francis Beacon, Descartes, Kant, David Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Sartre, Hegel, Feuerbach, Max Weber, Karl Marx and many others ad nauseam, even without reading anything of their original works. We lump together the polemics of modernity as a singular narrative of critical thinking and a repudiation of whatever happened before the 17th century. We also reduce the diversity of perspectives into a monolithic worldview of a sudden departure from the past without any continuity of ideas, art and ideals.

There was, of course, a marked difference among the ideas propounded by Descartes, Hume and Kant, and Marx’s idea of revolution was diametrically opposed to Hegel’s idea of transformation. With all its universal principles, modernity has been an era of intellectual disputation and ideological strains till today, with Jurgen Habermas as its most ardent defender in our times. The continuity of ideas and their interconnectedness with the past cannot be ascribed to a single episode of human history, which, in reality, keeps evolving along with the development of social, economic and political institutions.

Mob rule in the modern world is one of the most effective tools of political control. It is used to suppress critical thinking and open debate on issues of national significance. In the recent past, we have seen the rise of right-wing movements across the world where mob rule has worked well to suppress progressive ideas.

In Pakistan, the most recent example is that of Khadim Hussain Rizvi who used mob rule as a political instrument to assert his influence. He was able to invent a new political vocabulary that was deliberately crafted to let loose an angry mob against everything that was sensible and reasonable. What Khadim Hussain Rizvi did has long-term implications for politics and democracy in Pakistan.

One would always pin hopes on some saviours against the wrath of mob rule. In a weak democracy, this can be anything other the rule of the people. While can condemn Khadim Hussain for what he did, we cannot shy away from the bitter reality that the age of reason has passed for Pakistan. Our spaces of free expression have been restricted and the hope for a democratic country cannot be restored without a long-term political struggle.

The writer is a senior social development and policy adviser, and a freelance

columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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