Quest for independent imagination

In Pakistan’s six decades, most of our problems have followed mindless and unimaginative steps of our ruling elite

Quest for independent imagination

Azadi Notes-3

In a recent and famous book Why Nations Fail (2012), authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that "it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie success or the lack of it". One thing that distinguishes the makers of institutions that help nations prosper from those whose enterprises lead to collective doom is formers’ ability to imagine rightly and timely. In Pakistan, our leaders have repeatedly failed on right and timely acts of imagination since 1947.

Imagination is different than thinking but cannot be without it. Not many people think, and all those who think do not attempt imagination. For more people to imagine, many more need to start thinking.

Dictionary definitions of ‘imagination’ range from calling it creative ability to thinking of new things to the power of envisioning something not present to the senses or never before perceived in reality. Psychologists have a deeper take on imagination and divide it between reproductive imagination that recombines former experiences in the creation of new things, and creative imagination that aides in the solution of problems. This piece alludes to our ability to think solutions to problems that impact many millions in Pakistan.

For us Pakistanis, I like to coin a category of ‘refractive imagination’. It is when our ability to imagine is influenced and restricted through distortions of memory, crafted language of institutional interests, and hyper emotionalism. Imagination at times becomes prisoner of language; the language we hear and the one we subscribe to. In Pakistan, both these languages are influenced and controlled.

A delightful example of the results of ‘refractive imagination’ and ensuing creativity is Coke Studio and its visually embellished music: it looks and sounds great but its neither original nor has identity of its own. Those of us who believe that our key political, justice, economic, and security institutions will bring us peace, justice, prosperity and safety are delving in ‘refractive imagination’.

To better understand imagination, or its absence, we ought to reckon thinking, perception and their two-way relation with imagination. The bridge to thinking and imagination is provided by contemplation. Deeper thinking followed by honest contemplation can help cleanse errors of perception that impede our ability to imagine independently. In elite politics, public thinking is induced by bending perceptions as part of institutional games. Our key institutions have quite perfected that art in the last 60 years.

Read Azadi Notes-1: The evasive Azaadi

For example, since 1956, we are repeatedly told our Constitutions can offer panacea to all challenges. Hitherto, the Constitutions and their distortions have only helped our self-serving elite to perpetuate and consolidate their power, privileges and entitlements at the cost of mass misery.

Many emotive patriots may ‘think’ that devising the divine notion of Muslim nation after partition, the forming of One Unit, Bhutto’s nationalisation, Zia’s Islamisation, military’s strategy of war by proxies, Musharraf’s enlightened moderation, his handpicked prime minister’s data fudging to bend poverty line and inflate prosperity were all acts of great imagination! There is a thin line between imagination and error of perception, and being thick skinned collectivity, we are not adept at thin lines.

Many may also ‘think’ that our making of the atom bomb is evidence of ‘imagination’. The bomb resulted from our determination, not imagination. The good news here is that a good dose of imagination and similar determination is what we need to move ahead and achieve prosperity and progress.

If we look around us we shall see that almost everything that facilitates us to live and do with ease has resulted from human imagination. And all of that which perturbs us is begging some imagination.

In Pakistan’s six decades, most of our problems have followed mindless and unimaginative steps of our ruling elite. Be it enmity with India, whimsical jumping in bed with the US, denial of rich socio-cultural diversity, over centralisation, dealing with dissent (50 years ago with Bengalis and for the last 40 years with the Baloch), using Constitution to create unequal citizenship and instituting discriminations, resorting to laws to inject, aide and promote religious hatred and fanaticism, being frontline foot-soldiers of global clashes, or creating proxies for external use that hit back to hurt us the most.

Read Azadi Notes-2: Distortions in design

Our major challenges in 2015 are poverty, ignorance, anger, suppression, exclusion and violence. They all need some creative imagination.

Poverty will end when we produce more grains, greens and gainful opportunities. We can produce more when many more are enabled to produce more. This will happen when we invest in peoples’ ability to learn and earn. A large number of those who can fight, kill, maim and hurt is not catalyst of progress, rather a large army of those who can think, imagine and create is. We must invest more in teachers, not in tanks. We fought our last war with an outside enemy 50 years ago (In 1971, we were fighting our own when outsiders joined them). Mostly, we have fought wars for others. Most of our wars are against our own people.

Most social ills will end with increased attention to one type of education that triggers critical thinking, helps imagination and adds to social cohesion, instead of consolidation of social divides. Generation of new resources will enhance gainful economic participation. Socially mediated conflict resolution that premises on compensation and rehabilitation will heal social fabric torn by thorny justice system. Active pursuit of pluralism and decentralised governance are the future that beg chance and some imagination.

Denials of diversity have led to intolerance. Our paradoxes of being and believing make us anxious. Our urge to accumulate more and control others make us unhealthy, unhappy and angry lot.

Noon Meem Rashid’s verse kon si uljhan ko suljhate hain hum (what riddle are we trying to solve!) can be a good starting point towards some reflective contemplation, and missing imagination.

Imagination is mother of all ideas. The more powerful you are in today’s Pakistan by virtue of office or wealth, the more you need to imagine. The more you imagine the more real power you will enjoy. If you are sentimental supporters of the powerful, beware of error of perception.

Active imagination is the real independence. It is not difficult to imagine. Just imagine! Azadi Mubarak.

Azadi Notes-4: The elusive destination

Quest for independent imagination