Alas, we condemn, not criticise

Why it is good to resist the temptation to condemn what we do not like

A condemnatory attitude is typical of an extremist mindset that is not attuned to moderation either in thought or in action. Determining as to why we Pakistanis are condemnatory instead of being critical seems to be an interesting proposition.

A premature finality and unilateralism in our decisions and verdicts is everyday observation. The imbalance in emotions and rationality while forming any narrative is yet another characteristic of Pakistani folks. The theme, I intend to take up today is a condemnatory attitude and sheer lack of critical orientation among most Pakistanis.

One may argue that socio-political immaturity is rife in our ranks, largely because we tend not to criticise but ‘to condemn’ outright. The tendency appears to come naturally and is a deep-seated trait most Pakistanis exhibit every now and then. Mostly to their own detriment. Apparently, most people cannot distinguish between condemnation and criticism and conflate the two to mean the same attitude.

Thoughtful scrutiny can, however, reveal the subtle difference in the meanings of the two without much difficulty. Condemnation is an impulse that has an absolutist ring to it. My own understanding about condemnation takes me to the medievalist interpretation of any religious text(s), in which an either/or situation is ubiquitous: e.g. either, one is a true follower or a renegade.

Thus, in various religious scriptures sinners are denounced in perpetual condemnation to hell, from where they will never be redeemed. On the other end of the pendulum swing is vindication for those who repose unequivocal faith in Almighty and follow the path prescribed by Him. Those so vindicated (or blessed), say several foundational texts of various (specifically Semitic) religions, have nothing to fear and the heavens would be their destiny.

Those who have embraced ‘criticism’ and not ‘condemnation’ don’t fit into the religiously laid out scheme because ‘to criticise’ is a modern scientific term with specific connotation and context.

A reading of the genealogy of the socio-cognitive tradition that has evolved over centuries may help us differentiate these two epistemic categories. Without delving into the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of this assertion, the human imagination conceived many gods with their individuated specificities and their mutual relationships, being the principal constituent of the knowledge system that homo sapiens came up with.

I wish to underscore the primacy of human imagination as the seminal, if not foundational, source of human knowledge. A reflection of such imagination was furnished in mythologies of various communities inhabiting different regions. That (first) stage was followed by another in which a mythological figure descended to people of a certain region with godly traits, Hercules is one example. The important transformation was that the gods now forged a relationship with man.

Such human characters with godly traits became a prototype of the concept whereby kings and emperors were accorded a sacrosanct status as the god’s shadow on earth. Thus, the personal god was conceived. Concomitantly, the nature of god-human relations became the quest for the humans to look for a satisfactory answer. The point that I want to make here is that condemnation emanated from the human striving to establish an asymmetric relationship with a god attributed to have personal traits.

The next stage in the socio-cognitive evolution of humans was characterised mostly by the emphasis on man-to-man relationship. It is important to qualify here that the onset of a later stage did mean that the beliefs and practices of an earlier stage had been terminated. Thus, man-to-man relationship coexisted with the earlier epistemic pattern in which god-man relationship had held centrality.

That coexistence has persisted in many societies, including Pakistan. When relationships between humans became the subject of study, it went through one stage of evolution to the next until critical thinking or criticism appeared.

With the development of science and technology as well as social sciences, criticism became extremely important. Differently put, condemnation is the preserve of God, criticism on the other hand is the right a human exercises in relation to a fellow human.

Social evolution is predicated largely on (constructive) criticism. In fact, criticism is always constructive; if a ‘critique’ is unleashed just to flag up negativity, it ceases to be criticism. Instead, it becomes condemnation, which is a medieval and unilateral attribute that cannot be associated with a modern man/woman.

Despite existing in a modern (postmodern, or post-postmodern) eramany Pakistanis have yet to come to terms with the peculiar mentality of the modern age. The national narrative of Pakistan has had a unilateralist framing right from the outset. This has impacted every resident of this country.

Those devoted to the ‘religious’ right are as condemnatory in their attitudes and pronouncements is the ‘progressives’. An avid example of this was the condemnatory barbs ruthlessly exchanged around Aurat March. The ‘religious right’ represents a typical brand of politics which employs condemnation with impunity. The country has suffered a great deal on account of this. It started with Majlis-i-Ahrar, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, and Jamaat-i-Islami but Khadim Rizvi has made condemnation a performing art.

A painful aspect of this is the condemnatory attacks unleashed by the educated and the enlightened, particularly since it is a contradiction in terms. Instead of seeking to influence the ‘religious right’ through the force of argument, many members of the ‘enlightened faction’ resort to a mimicry of the foul-mouthed maulvis.

In order to be a responsible body of people, we have to adopt civil ways of analysing our mistakes and trying to rectify them. Criticism always opens doors to healthy debate, instead of a diatribe. Similarly, listening to criticism in the spirit of improving one’s overall demeanor should not ruffle anyone. We must steer clear of condemnation because it will make us stagnant and not lead to a desirable future.

Alas, we condemn, not criticise