Mar 21, 2009

Slow learners

'Slow learner' is a term used by educationalists to describe students who have difficulty in learning and assimilating new material. A slow learner is characterised by having normal physical dexterity and an adequate memory; but the rate at which they learn is 4/5 to 9/10 that of the normal rate. Abstract thinking is difficult for a slow learner and their attention span is short. Their self-expression is awkward and self-esteem is low (often compensated for by an inflated sense of their own importance coupled with an almost complete lack of awareness of any deficit they may have.) The slow learner will typically repeat the same mistakes over and over again, no matter that they have said that they have learned and understood - and make earnest and apparently honest promises not to repeat the mistake again. When confronted with the failure to keep their promises or not to repeat whatever it was they had promised not to repeat, their default position is 'denial'. It is not difficult to lay this template across the PPP in its current incarnation and find an almost exact match. Indeed, it is not difficult to lay it across all of our political parties when one considers their history - but the PPP is currently leader of the pack in the slow-learning race. Denial is an interesting state, especially if it is understood in the context of the K├╝bler-Ross model which describes five discrete stages through which people go when they are preparing to deal with grief or tragedy, collectively known as the Five Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. There is an undeniable surfeit of grief lying about on the political landscape, most of it experienced by the common man. There is no shortage of denial either – principally denial by any practicing politician that the current shambles is in any way their fault; it is all the fault of that chap standing over there. Anger – yes, plenty of that as well. And now the Bargaining phase – understood in political terminology as 'horse-trading'. It is characterised by a mindset that says…"I'll do anything if (insert political goal of your choice)" – and is often used to hold uncomfortable realities at bay. The debacle of Section 144 and governor's rule in Punjab followed by the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry aggregate to a large unlearned lesson for the PPP, and very specifically for its co-chairman A.A Zardari and the sycophants who advise him. The lesson he has yet to internalise is that autocrats tend to have a short shelf-life and are almost always eventually overthrown by popular revolt; either through political process or by violent means. Violent revolution is just not our 'style' – we are not by nature a revolutionary nation and even our coups have been relatively bloodless. We are however a nation that has begun to find its popular voice, and have learned that peaceful protest can produce popular results. Woe-betide those who cling to power by horse-trading their way towards it, because the popular voice is above the popular legs on the end of which are the popular feet and as we saw last Sunday those doing the marching these days seem to be on a learning curve that far outstrips those that would govern them. Fast learners, in fact…fast walkers, too.

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