THE OTHER COLUMN: Uniform thinking —Ejaz Haider
Take to the street and one is reminded of a jungle where animals are competing with each other and where there is no regard for a uniform code of civic conduct. Traverse the domain of ideas and one finds total uniformity and consistency with nary a doubt about anything
Razi Azmi, friend and fellow columnist, thinks clearly and argues logically, which is one reason he has had to migrate to Australia. Recently, he sent me an article by George Monbiot. Monbiot, of course, we are familiar with, at least from those of his writings that are critical of the United States, a topic very close to us. We love anyone who can give it to the Yanks. (Chomsky has probably sold more copies in Pakistan than he has in the US or even Europe, which, considering that even the best book in Pakistan doesn’t sell more than 500 copies, is no mean feat.)
But what struck me was the phrase on the masthead of Monbiot.com: “Tell people something they know already, and they will thank you for it. Tell them something new, and they will hate you for it.”
How true. Huxley it was, I think, who said that to learn one has first to unlearn. Since unlearning is too difficult and painful a process, most of us can’t do it and, inevitably, fail to learn anything new. The only way to do it is to constantly remain receptive to new ideas and formulations and, when one gets them, to reflect on, and appreciate, their newness rather than fitting them into existing data.
This is easier said than done, though. Perceptions are quick to form and resistant to change. Anyone who has dealt with, or knows about intelligence work is aware of this problem. One of the biggest drawbacks of expertise is that one’s senses tend to get dulled after one has formed his perceptions. It is difficult to identify and analyse new signals or information.
Ideologies, religions, nationalisms and other such creeds thrive on uniformity and consistency of thought, the two biggest impediments to new ideas. The communist bloc reflected it; theocracies manifest it; Milosevic’s Yugoslavia did it, indoctrinated as it was on a selective historical narrative going back to Prince Lazar’s last stand against the Ottomans; and yes, we have uniformity and consistency tied to us as to a dog’s tail. Yeats lamented “this caricature,/Decrepit age...”. We have become intellectually decrepit because the uniformity of our thinking is downright scary.
In the West, especially in Western Europe, going out in public one observes a uniformity of behaviour to the point where it almost seems like an invisible hand is guiding everyone in the performance of his civic duties. At the higher end of the spectrum, however — the domain where ideas are formulated and the frontier of knowledge is pushed beyond the known — the West manifests a diversity that is almost ferocious. In our part of the world, of which 7-Up Factory Road on which my office is situated is a symbol, the equation is reversed. Take to the street and one is reminded of a jungle where animals are competing with each other and where there is no regard for a uniform code of civic conduct. Traverse the domain of ideas and one finds total uniformity and consistency with nary a doubt about anything.
Whatever discipline one might care to look at, he would find one thing that stands more prominent on the visage of this nation than did the nose on Pinocchio’s face: consistency and uniformity of thought to the point where we have not had one original thought or thinker since the pious times of General Zia-ul Haq. This takes some doing and we have worked pretty hard at it. Who says being a loser is a joke.
Try this test. Start naming a dozen writers and thinkers in various disciplines while we were under the British raj. Now repeat the exercise since we became free. In most cases we will even find ourselves facing a quantitative deficit; as for quality of thought, the less said about it the better.
At the outset I wrote that Azmi lives in Australia because he thinks clearly. The sentence, as structured, may come across as tongue-in-cheek, but beneath lies the tragedy of a nation that has lost the desire and the capacity to think outside the box. This is why those who say what everyone already believes in are loved while those who invite us to rethink an issue are hated and dismissed.
Recently, my friend Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, who is currently writing a book on military in business gave an on-line interview to a US-based website. The remarks by the readers were instructive, some being abusive, others accusing her of being a US lackey or casting aspersions on her patriotism. One reader said that while what Dr Siddiqa says might be right, she should not have said this about the Pakistan army while being in the US. To which I can only say, up your nose with a hose. Incidentally, these very people love to read Chomsky and use his writings to attack America. I guess Chomsky is fine until we have him in our midst.
Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Contributing Editor of Daily Times