May 5, 2012

Our fake values

By Amin Jan Naim Social values in our country are undergoing a change from the traditional patterns. Such changes are causing major alterations and cleavages in our social fabric. In human history, changes in social values have often led to considerable upheavals and turmoil. Sometimes they have resulted in social stagnation; at other times to an intellectual and cultural flowering. For example, the Hellenistic period and the European Renaissance had led to an upsurge of the human spirit and attainments. In contrast, medievalism in Europe during the Dark Ages had led to dogmatism and stagnation. In transitional periods of history there is often a mixing and a blending of cultures. Sometimes this is accompanied by a big upsurge in intellectual activity. Such encounters between cultures have at times led to progress and development. At other times, traditional value systems have collapsed under the influence of alien influences, with negative consequences for society. Despite a confused amalgamation of cultures emanating from the commercial and technological advancement of the West, the world today, including the West itself, lacks a salutary authentic spirit. Although modern technology has spanned the globe, the world is largely chaotic. Large swathes of people still cling to the certainties of tribe, religion and ethnicity. Technology has essentially impinged on only the surface of many lives. According to the late Czech playwright and communist-era dissident (later president) Vaclav Havel, the abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the technical and the moral, and the universal and the unique, constantly grows deeper. In Pakistan, we need to generate thought processes which are conducive to progress and to inculcate ethics and aesthetics. Our real challenge is a sociological one. It is a challenge on the plane of social institutions and social ethics. We are faced with cultural perversion resulting from an ignoble and malignant milieu. A sense of crisis and polarisation is the dominant feature in our national life. In our country, a false sense of values and hypocrisy are common. The individual is conditioned from childhood to look for approval from constituted authority. People are expected to live up to the traditional autocratic social code, rather than to fulfil internal, personal standards. There is no premium on excellence or performance of a job done well for its own sake. Compromises are the norm in matters of personal behaviour, quality of work and sense of moral responsibility. Another unpleasant trait in our national character is the tendency to express opinions which are intended to please rather than the expression of an honest viewpoint. What type of society are we heading for? One in which beggars make more money than a responsible citizen; in which young children are kidnapped, then maimed and made to beg in order to fill the coffers of ruthless elements; in which the new generation is physically mauled, through malnutrition and first-cousin marriages-thus lowering the mental and physical standards of health and fitness; in which hypocrisy, vulgarity, the rat-race and brutality are at a premium; in which pollution of air and water make life far from being worthwhile. The utterly abhorrent acid attacks on women are bringing us shame around the world. So are the many widespread practices here of the subjugation of women. If this is the type of society in existence at present in our country, what kind of future lies ahead for our new generation. It is clear that urgent attention needs to be paid to these issues so that a decrepit and unhealthy generation does not grow up in misery and squalor. The ancient Greeks considered happiness, or eudaimonia, to be an activity of reason or activity in accordance with reason. Thus, the truly happy life is the ideal life of activity and thought in accordance with virtue. If we are to take our rightful place in the comity of nations, we need to imbibe this Hellenic spirit.

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