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October 29, 2015

The death of reason

Opinion

October 29, 2015

The writer is a freelance columnist
and former newspaper editor.
We are good at killing reason, or indeed the faculty to think and argue, which essentially leads to the ability to put forward rational thoughts and ideas.
The process begins early – small children are told endless lies, rather than the truth suitably modified of course to fit their age. They grow up believing in ‘bogeymen’ – in doctors who will inject them as a punishment rather than keep them safe from disease, in teachers who will beat them for the same reason – and in all kinds of other distortions and myths that stay with them for life.
The same process continues into the classroom, with poorly trained teachers educating – or performing the task of what we call teaching – purely by rote. Few children question, those who do so are almost invariably prevented from continuing to act as ‘troublemakers’.
This environment expands onto the campuses of higher learning, where the real process of thinking should be occurring as young people prepare to enter the world and make their contributions to it. instead, within jam-packed halls at the most elite centres of higher learning in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, we have lectures being delivered by men, and quite possibly women too, who argue that the paranormal exists in the form of beings which take on different shapes, who negate arguments such as those by Einstein that stand at the very core of our scientific knowledge or provide details about the afterlife.
Students who throng the lecture halls appear to believe every word; certainly they do not question and in at least two cases students who have done so during the course of classes have been warned against the ‘evils’ inherent in ‘western’ science and the need to remain on constant guard against it.
Possibly there are other cases, but just as possibly they are not given our expertise in wiping away the power of thinking from minds. By the time

young people reach university, at the age of around 20, this power has generally been almost completely eradicated, making it far easier for robotic lecturers to teach and for the most bizarre theories to be heard out seriously in lecture halls.
Essentially, we have managed to create a nation of persons unable to reason for themselves and unable to distinguish fact from what is quite obviously pure myth. This is dangerous, and feeds many other phenomena in our society.
One of these is ignorance. We are remarkably ignorant about a whole range of things. Or else, we are willing to contort facts to meet our established beliefs, rather than use the facts to develop our ideas. For example, it is said that Malala’s ‘cruel’ father turned away children from his school because they were unable to pay; this pseudo fact is taken from Malala’s book and based on an incident in which she says there were so many children seeking education he was simply not able to take them all in. As anyone in Swat will say, many were admitted on very low fees or no fee at all.
There are other contortions. Conspiracy theories abound about the 9/11 bombings and about all kinds of other events from our history. We seem simply to be unwilling to face reality. In other words, we have plunged ourselves into a world of ignorance; a world in which supernatural beings exist and paranormal activities are not uncommon. It is astonishing, for example, just how many people believe in ‘black magic’.
As mentioned above, lectures about its existence have been delivered at top universities apparently to audiences that have generally nodded in agreement. The degree of gullibility has been created by a mixture of superstition which floats through society combined with very poor education that effectively disables minds and prevents them from being used.
As a result, highly educated people insist they have become victims of black magic, in other words some kind of voodoo, used against them by ‘enemies’ of various kinds. Some insist they have been plagued for years. There are tales about small dolls being created and pins stuck in them. We assume these have travelled across the continents from Africa or else were buried somewhere in our culture and refuse to go away even in this age of science. The beliefs are astonishingly widespread and need far more research and attention than we are giving them at the moment.
This is important for several reasons. The ignorance and belief in pirs, witch doctors and others who claim to perform magic damages all hope of developing scientific rationality amongst people. The unwillingness to read, something which again begins at an early age, is a further impediment and there can be little doubt that the talk shows put out on television channels simply dull minds further and feed a whole set of fake beliefs. Combined with these are game shows which are essentially nonsensical dull thought and simply act to turn people into passive viewers of the senseless material put out for them.
Perhaps this is, like the situation at our institutions of higher learning, yet another deliberate attempt to effectively remove all the grey matter from the brains of people. Perhaps it has not been thought out so carefully, but certainly the affects are real and we have a nation that has lost the basic faculty that divides humans from animals; the ability to reason, to think ahead and to separate logic from illogical material fed to them through various sources.
The people who do think are essentially an ostracised minority in our community. Many have been pushed aside from important positions. These individuals include bureaucrats, academics and also politicians. Those who still fill these posts generally fall in with the norm. The others move to lands more appreciative of their skills and of their abilities and knowledge in their specific fields.
One of the consequences of all this are the absurd conspiracy theories that fill social media and are tweeted out by individuals everywhere. These people include politicians, important men – and women – who should be making key decisions for us. But our system has perhaps reduced them to a point where they are unable to do so; blinded and driven forward like the lemmings who jump off cliffs for reasons science has not been able to fathom, committing mass suicide. As a nation, we are indeed engaging in just this.
When reason dies, a nation does not really live. It simply functions or makes gestures that indicate it is still moving on. We are not really moving. We appear to have reached a point of inertia, where nothing progresses and where we remain caught up in a sticky web of superstition and myth. Conspiracy adds its own threads to this complicated maze. How we can escape it is the problem we need to solve.
Like a complicated game of cat’s cradle, we must find the right strings to pull to free ourselves and reach a point where we are able to move more freely. The question is whether anyone knows, or still has the ability to think out, what these strings are and then to draw them up in the right direction so that minds can be freed and thoughts liberated. It may take a long time to achieve this.
Email: [email protected]

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