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April 21, 2019

Madness and the ‘great mind’

Opinion

April 21, 2019

Many people among us tend to think that there is always a method to the madness of great minds. By great minds we generally mean those whose ideas are complex, incomprehensible and hard to grapple with for an ordinary person.

Such people are glorified as great thinkers because it is believed that whatever they say has a deeper meaning beyond the cognitive reach of common people. If this yardstick of gauging a great mind is true, then one wonders why should not a great mind be the most useless, futile and dysfunctional part of human anatomy?

Grace does not lie in complexity but in simplicity. Our language has evolved to communicate complex symbols in simple ways. But when a language is used to obfuscate the plain meaning of something, the very objective of speaking a language is defeated. If human intellect is measured in terms of its ability to complicate a simple communication loop, the meaning is lost to snobbery. The so-called great mind then becomes an impediment rather than a source of knowledge production. If all authentic knowledge is experiential by nature, it must be expressed in the simplest narration rather than in convoluted poetics. The expression of an experience does not need fiction or poetry as long as it is meant to articulate experience in words. Those great minds obsessed with producing complexity in simplicity do not contribute to enhancing the authentic knowledge of life. Having said that, though, not all literature hitherto produced is futile but its consumption is purely recreational and for reasons other than simple narrations of human experience.

Self-styled great minds are parasites, who cannot produce relevant knowledge for the advancement of human society. They may assume the title of Platonic Philosopher King but their ideas get buried with them without contributing an iota of functional knowledge towards transforming societies. It becomes a psychological and material need for these great minds to create an aura around themselves of being symbols of wisdom and sanity. They play around with a preordained style of image management, as if they were genetically predisposed to be unique.

Image management is the most vital thing for them and in that they are pretty calculated. They make friends with those who exalt their intellect without questioning the incomprehensible ideas. Thus these great minds hate people of genuine intellect and wisdom lest they should lose their carefully-crafted image. There is indeed a pattern and method to this madness because it earns them fame and fortune without questioning their ideas even if they are not grounded in the realities of life. In reality, these self-styled intellectuals become hostage to their own ego, which inhibits them from being authentic earthly beings. The more they claim to transcend mundane life, the less their ideas become relevant to society. Ultimately, they become reduced to a bunch of narrow-minded, self-centred characters fighting over petty matters of daily life.

With all their claims of having knowledge of the unknown, they hate to be challenged intellectually. However, in some ways they are smarter than genuine thinkers in positioning themselves as the best brains of a society. Every other social and political crisis throws up a chance for these great minds to flourish as public thinkers, for they know the art of singing the chorus of pessimism. Amidst the hovering clouds of crisis and wretchedness in a declining society, they produce some complex vibes to capture the public mood of disarray and dispossession.

In a state of perpetual political, economic and cultural crises, Pakistan has produced a few of these great minds who have now become media celebrities for their ability to bash and malign anyone at will. Our TV channels profusely devote air time to the orchestration of a virtual revolution by a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals who have perfected the art of painting grey in grey. They can whip up public sentiments in a situation of crisis. They suggest fanciful shortcuts to longstanding and intractable political problems. With an inflated view of their own wisdom and intellect, they behave like prima-donnas of the world of sanity.

They quote great thinkers of the world as references in their daily discussion to impress their carefully chosen clueless friends. The only thing they are good at is in memorizing some catchy phrases of great thinkers and quoting them out of context to justify their unfathomable complex utterances. It is of course a big disservice to people when works of great thinkers of the world are misquoted, misrepresented and distorted by our great minds to kosher their own inconsistent worldviews. For every genre of art they have a quotation, for every mundane public discussion they have a set of phrases to obfuscate the discussion. They are the maestros of concocted mysteries and complexities and it well saves their face from being exposed to the real world of common people.

In a declining society like Pakistan they thrive because they enjoy chaos and they spread it, but they also lament the ‘good old days’. At times they can beat Schopenhauer in their sense of pessimism as a true reflection of the gloomy days of crisis – without offering a way out. They relish on others’ ideas without producing their own and they imitate phrase-mongering without understating meaning and essence. They are introverted, reactionary, aggressive and they usually blame others for their failures.

Never ever in the history of the world have such pseudo-intellectuals made any difference in the lives of people. These ‘tin-pot intellectuals’ can only survive in an illiterate, uneducated and backward society. That is why they propagate reversion to a glorified past – which in reality never existed. During times of extreme crisis of the legitimacy of their ideas, these so-called great minds have no qualms in defending cultural chauvinists, fascists and extremists.

Despite all the above characteristics, our pseudo-intellectuals exploit every material opportunity to capitalize on their image to secure a high place in society. Their social recognition stems from the ability to propagate obfuscation, confusion and uncertainty.

It is true that great minds have an inherent quality of methodical, articulated and sophisticated expression of their ideas. But this very tendency of translating simplicity into complexity is an outcome of their enduring search for larger truth than authentic knowledge. Great minds are usually ahead of their time and the forerunners of the genesis of a new world – and hence their ideas are not relevant to our present. Great minds are acceptable to all as they do not pose a threat to a given political, economic and cultural order. Authentic minds on the contrary have been persecuted as wizards, witches, demons and infidels because of the simple fact that they were able to think beyond the given patterns of control. The madness of great minds is an outcome of a personality split between the experiential being and an egoistic prima-donna.

However, this madness is entirely different from the prevalent concepts of psychiatry or clinical pathologies of mental disorders. Historically, all human societies have defined madness as a mental state of socially and morally incongruent behaviour to the established norms of a society. It goes without much thinking that those who behave differently get public attention and most of those differently behaving individuals succumb to social pressure. Only authentic thinkers can rise above social pressure. Not all differently-thinking people are genuine thinkers – but let us defend their right to think the way they do.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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