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April 14, 2019

The day of the clown

Opinion

April 14, 2019

If comic relief is not available, the grim business of governing can crush the souls of the king, his courtiers and his subjects. The PPP had its Rehman Malik and the PML-N its Abid Sher Ali – and we have always had our own Sheikh Rashid, Farzand-e-Rawalpindi, Farzand-e-Pakistan.

A great quantitative shift has happened in the post-revolution Naya Pakistan. The court is now brimful of clowns, with some serious persons here and there. The clowns, at times, appear more serious than the solemn courtiers; the serious ones often appear like their clownish peers, while making a desperate effort to gel with their colleagues.

This week belonged to Faisal Vawda, the honourable federal minister for water resources who stated that the government would announce one million jobs within next two weeks. A few days earlier, he had stated in a news show that there would be such a shower of jobs in the “next week, 10 days, 2 weeks or 4 weeks” that there would be more jobs than people needing employment.

In November, Vawda arrived at the scene of the attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, gun in hand, ready to terminate all terrorists. The terrorists, unfortunately, didn’t wait for the federal minister and preferred to die on the hands of the police. On February 27, Vawda uploaded his video standing on the wreckage of the Indian fighter jet, which was shot down by the PAF in AJK. Apparently, the prime minister was not amused this time and reportedly advised Vawda to exercise caution and focus on improving his ministry.

As Minister for Water Resources, Vawda holds an important portfolio in the cabinet. The World Bank has categorized Pakistan as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. The State Bank of Pakistan noted in its annual report, “In our view, the widening gap between water demand and supply has now become a major social and economic concern that requires a comprehensive national policy, formed with the consensus of all provinces and the federal government. The focus of reforms should be on improving efficiency in water consumption and management, and building the capacity of relevant regulatory institutions.”

This situation requires all federating units to join hands to deal with the challenge and ward off future conflicts between upper riparian and lower riparian provinces. However, the honourable minister is so busy that last month, the Senate Special Committee decided to summon Vawda to ask him the reason for not attending meetings of the Standing Committee on Water Resources. Vawda stated in the press that the Senate special committee was not empowered to summon him.

In some other cabinet, at another time, Vawda would be considered an eccentric desperately seeking attention. Not so in Naya Pakistan where every minister seeks attention like a teenager aspiring to a modelling career and addicted to Instagram.

Vawda has many colleagues who can easily beat him at his game. Murad Saeed, for example, can beat him anytime with one hand tied behind his back. Vawda needs a lot of hard work to outperform Murad’s iconic speech made days before the general elections: “The day Imran Khan takes oath, the very next day he will bring back the $200 billion of Pakistan’s money that is abroad”. Kaptaan was supposed to throw half of the money at the face of lenders, clearing all national debts, and spend half on the nation.

In December 2018, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi revealed that as many as 75 percent female students of the federal capital were addicted to stimulating drugs, including ice and crystal meth; whereas almost 45 percent of male students too were substance abusers. He made these revelations while addressing the launching ceremony of ‘Child Rights Training for Islamabad Police Officials’ held at the Police Lines.

How should we judge these statements: true or false? You are wrong if you said false. These statements are neither right nor wrong, they are simply bullshit. No, I am not using an unparliamentary word, not in the modern context. It is a term that has found a place to the very serious discipline of philosophy. One important contribution in this respect has come from Harry Gordon Frankfurt, an American philosopher who is professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University.

In his popular essay ‘On Bullshit’, he differentiates between the liar and the bullshitter. In his opinion, both the liar and the bullshitter try to get away with something. But ‘lying’ is perceived to be a conscious act of deception, whereas ‘bullshitting’ is unconnected to a concern for truth. Frankfurt regards this ‘indifference to how things really are’, as the essence of bullshit.

Furthermore, a lie is necessarily false, but bullshit is not – bullshit may happen to be correct or incorrect. The crux of the matter is that bullshitters hide their lack of commitment to truth. Since bullshitters ignore the truth instead of acknowledging and subverting it, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies.

Following the work of Frankfurt, Martin Caminada of the University of Luxembourg states in a paper: “The difference is that someone who tells a lie has access to the truth, whereas the concept of bullshit requires no knowledge of the truth at all. That is, the liar knows that what he says is not true, whereas the bullshitter has no proper knowledge to support the statements he or she is making.”

He points out that different situations in human society provide strong individual incentives for bullshit. While making his assertion, the bullshitter is indifferent to whether what he is says is true or false. His goal is not to report facts. It is, rather, to shape the beliefs and attitudes of his listeners in a certain way.

Commenting on Trump, Frankfurt notes, “It is disturbing to find an important political figure who indulges freely both in lies and in bullshit. What is perhaps even more deeply disturbing is to discover an important segment of our population responding to so incorrigibly dishonest a person with such pervasively enthusiastic acceptance.”

The world is a small place, isn’t it?

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

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