By Dr. Haider Mehdi
“In recent years, seemingly technical economic questions have crowded out questions of justice and the common good. I think there is a growing sense, in many societies, that GDP and market values do not by themselves produce happiness, or a good society.” Michael J. Sandel
Michael J Sandel, the Harvard University political philosopher, has recently raised moral and politically legitimate questions on humanity’s political correctness and existing social consciousness. Most specifically, Sandel has challenged the very fundamentals and the ideological premise of the way Western political establishments set goals and objectives to shape their own societies and the socio-economic milieu globally. The Harvard University professor’s conceptual perspective is gaining a worldwide receptive audience. In Sandel’s legendary Justice class at Harvard, he tosses out questions such as, “Is it fair that David Letterman (a famous American TV personality) makes 700 times more than a school teacher?” In a recent lecture in Tokyo where entrance tickets were free but sold on the black market for $500 (because of his popularity), Sandel started his lecture by asking: “Is ticket scalping fair or unfair?” Obviously, Sandel’s philosophical focus is on discussing “the big ethical questions we confront in our everyday life.”
It is amazing how inept at political correctness and moral congruity that the incumbent political managers in Pakistan are that they have no clue as to the questions of moral philosophy and ethical issues that affect common citizens’ lives on a daily basis. Nobody seems to be asking the appropriate questions and no one is ever getting correct answers. For example, why in heaven’s name does the Head of State in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan reside in an imperial palace while there are shanty towns and human ghettos all over the country? Isn’t it a moral question to be asked that while a school teacher languishes in poverty, a plastic surgeon in a fashionable area earns more in a year than the school teacher might make in his or her entire lifetime? Isn’t it an issue of moral philosophy that while the majority of common citizens lack basic amenities such as reasonable housing, adequate medical aid, elementary education (not to mention access to higher education) and affordable transportation, a select minority plies roads with automobiles priced at millions, seeks medical treatment outside the country costing hundreds of thousands in foreign exchange and lives in lush estates beyond the possible imagination of a common Pakistani? We have come to live in a time of massive inequality and injustice that is nothing less than a true moral catastrophe reminiscent of the Dark Ages in terms of political backwardness, moral bankruptcy, and socio-economic deprivation.
Whereas the country’s political leadership should be talking, discussing, deliberating, planning and publicly committing itself to “Zero Hunger” programs, “Zero Tolerance of Poverty” socio-economic agendas, emergency actions designed with structural measures for food security, nationwide access to education and healthcare and developmental schemes for rural development, ironically, the entire state apparatus is focused on giving military solutions to political problems in the country. Police patrol the streets in each city as if we live in an occupied nation. Drone attacks continue unabated killing innocent civilians and diametrically increasing domestic violence, hatred and divisions among people. In Balochistan, selective assassinations of political dissidents bring the nation to the verge of dismemberment. And yet, no one within the power corridors seems to be asking the appropriate questions: Why have we arrived at where we are today? Moral philosophy these days is being considered irrelevant in so-called democratic Pakistan.
In the post-Musharraf era of military dictatorship, it was a time for rebuilding, restructuring and redefining our national priorities, uniting the nation for agendas for national self-reliance, national resilience and national renaissance, investing in people’s political and economic power and preparing for challenges ahead to foster a democratic culture. Instead, the present political regime has orchestrated political chaos, economic instability, fear and terror and has continued to carry out Musharraf’s policies of destabilizing the nation, following an American-centric foreign policy and pursuing economic planning detrimental to the well-being of the common citizens.
At this stage of our political existence, we should have been a front-line state in the Third World and most specifically among the Muslim nations in fighting against neo-colonialism and political-military oppression of the US-led Western nations. We should have been speaking of unity, citizenship, equality and democracy, not only in our own country, but as a model state for other developing nations to follow. Instead, we have become a prime example of a subservient nation; we have rented out our military forces to fight a proxy war for Western interests and have pledged our national sovereignty and dignity to American aid dollars and borrowing from oppressive global financial institutions which are driving the nation to a future political-economic abyss. This is what happens when a nation is stuck with a political leadership knowingly and willingly irreconcilable with the fundamentals of moral-political philosophy. It is the result of the mindset of a well-entrenched political elite that has refused to ask basic ethical questions relevant to the well-being, daily life experiences and aspirations of the common citizens.
We need to redefine the entire concept of political leadership in this country. But, let me ask some basic ethical questions first: Isn’t it that social justice is a key objective of all democratic nations? Isn’t it obligatory on all democratically-elected governments to alter and transform economic structures to deliver inclusive growth that accelerates the alleviation of poverty? Isn’t it a legitimate obligation on a democratic government to seize control and overcome the hold of special interests on the public sector that has been detrimental to the national interests in the past? Isn’t it reasonable for a democratic government to resist the cult of personality that limits their political effectiveness? Isn’t it justifiable to demand personal safety and security from a democratic administration?
Is it unfair to ask a democratic dispensation to restore financial balances, produce budgeting priorities for national institutions and reduce income disparities and inequalities all across the board to help create a prosperous society? Is it demanding too much of a democratic set-up to empower civil society, energize the nation, and create processes to overcome fear, repression and engage the entire citizenship to deliver a better tomorrow?
Political engagement of the masses and a respect of their democratic aspirations are critical for the future of this country. But that will not happen until and unless there is a revolutionary change and a transformation of the political culture and political leadership in this nation. For example, will the PPP leaders endorse a revolutionary change in its top echelon? Not a chance. Will the PML(N) abandon its national leadership ambitions for the sake of this nation? Not in a million years. We are stuck at a dead-end. Aren’t we?
Imran Khan has been endlessly talking of a political revolution in Pakistan. Let me coin a national revolutionary slo of Imran Khan’s PTI: A revolution in Pakistan, by Pakistan, for Pakistan!
As for the rest of the leadership in the country, and lack of relevance of political moral philosophy, Professor Sandel might ask the following question:
Is it fair to have street beggars in a country where the Presidency and the Prime Minister House daily spend hundreds of thousands on protocol and entertainment alone?
Fair question. Isn’t it? Judge the enormity of our political catastrophe yourself!!