NOTES FROM A SOCIAL SCIENTIST
By Dr. Haider Mehdi
Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian and sociologist, wrote extensively on the concept of sociological development within a state apparatus and its intrinsic relationship with good governance. In essence, Khaldun’s thesis was that without the process of sociological progress at all levels of society, including the relationship of the ruling class towards the masses, the possibility of managing a state’s affairs at an optimal level was nonexistent. In simple words, good governance is not possible without sociological progress in a society, most specifically the appreciation and understanding of the importance of human relations by the ruling class.
My point is that the Pakistani ruling elite, which seem oblivious to the concept of equitable social relationships and the processes governing social phenomena, cannot be temperamentally and intellectually capable of good governance. Let’s consider an incident that happened in Lahore recently: In in the aftermath of the "Bakery Affair" involving important political personalities, the public discourse and the questions raised on every street corner deserve serious consideration. Had this kind of imprudent behavior resulted in an altercation between ordinary citizens, its social or political dimensions would obviously have been quite different. But in this episode, the immediate family of Punjab’s chief political manager is involved. That changes the entire nature of the incident and its political implications: Though only one socio-economically deprived person was assaulted and physically-emotionally violated, the public at large considers the said assault as a collective violation against of all of them. They maintain this incident is a symbolic reminder of their second-class citizenship status as if they are sub-humans. They feel that there exists an unbridgeable chasm between the ruling class and ordinary citizens, and our so-called democracy has failed to narrow the gap. These public sentiments need to be dealt with with utmost seriousness.
The questions raised in general public discourse on the said incident are not about legal issues, but concern the mindset of the ruling elite. Common citizens say they know how all of this is going to end: A compromise between the parties, withdrawal of the complaint and an out-of-court settlement. The assaulted lad will be compensated and the bakery will continue to do business as usual.
The public concern on this fundamental issue is: Who and what will guarantee a transformation of elitist
Let us examine some of the views of political actors in the game. The Realists, meaning those who understand actual ground realities in the Pakistani system of governance are pro-political establishment and support the political status quo and right wing ideology. They are the PML-N "Jialas," who proclaim that the Punjab CM has set an unprecedented example of "sound judgment" by taking legal action against a close member of the family. But the problem is that those "Jialas" are not addressing the fundamental issue: What prompted the entire incident and what political-sociological factors seem to be instrumental in the making of this episode? It seems that the "Jialas" continue to deal with symptoms rather than the political disease of elitist culture.
The Idealists, who support the fundamental transformation of contemporary political culture, are left-wing, have a progressive ideology, and demand the dismantling of the political status quo. They see the CM’s legal action against the family member as a political charade – meaningless, full of potholes and aimed at gaining political mileage.
Ibn Khaldun would have considered this event as a reflection of the absence of sociological development at the highest echelons of power and the failure of the ruling elite to come to grips with their inherent and fundamental drawbacks vis-à-vis public democratic aspirations.
Some1600 years before Ibn Khaldun, Socrates developed the dialectical method of discussion through inquiry using a series of simple questions leading to simple, logical answers. Did the Punjab CM ask himself the simple and easily-answered questions? What caused the incident? Did the CM carefully and critically watch the video clips shown on several TV talk shows? Did he analyze the body language and images on the TV screen? Did the CM diligently scrutinize the TV images to make a sound judgment on how the violence inflicted on the
A reference to the 1967 Paul Newman film Cool Hand Luke seems relevant here. At one stage in the movie, the prison warden says to the prisoner who has revolted against prison rules: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” What we have here in 21st century so-called democratic Pakistan is the failure of sociological development and the absence of dialectical processes and their essentially-needed understanding at the highest cadres of the country’s ruling elite. Hence, one factor stands out vividly: The ruling elite in this country still maintain a strong, inflexible, unyielding colonial mindset that greatly differentiates them as privileged rulers apart from the lowly commoners (meaning the majority of common citizens) – who have no right to question or ever doubt the unfettered superiority of the ruling elite.
This state of mind might be unconscious or a product of cognitive development (meaning habits and attitudes derived from upbringing). Hence, the thought process among such groups is so completely blocked that self-reflection and self-correction are not even considered as options in intellectual development. And with the advent of the age of amassing enormous wealth, designed projections in the media, and the availability of propaganda machines churning out personality cults, the wealthy-powerful ruling elite considers it beyond the realm of possibility that they could be challenged in their long-established mindsets by common people.
Without any bias or prejudice to the CM and his family’s political conduct in the “Bakery Affair,” I personally have no judgment to offer. However, it seems that the entire handling of the matter has been flawed from the start.
Some political analysts are of the opinion that the CM should have apologized right away about the said incident and would have thereby gained political mileage. That not being the case, the good news is that a nationwide debate focusing on examining what is wrong with our contemporary political culture and the mindset of the ruling elite has been initiated. This is a dynamic development that might fulfill a democratic norm of the dialectic process in the conduct of political affairs of the nation. Above all, it might offer a voice to common citizens and provide them relief in their day-to-day existence.
In civilized societies and nations, every conflict and issue need not always be resolved in a court of law. There is a phenomenon called sound judgment, based on honest and fair decisions, personal integrity, moral and ethical values, and the moral responsibility to admit mistakes or guilt.
On an altogether different level of political thought, I felt like putting the following on record: I have always wondered with utter amazement about Richard Nixon’s resignation from the US presidency – after all, it was not a small personal decision. How deeply it must have hurt; the personal pain and humility involved is beyond one’s imagination. And yet, Nixon realized he had violated the nation’s fundamental values. He took responsibility for his unlawful, unethical conduct and walked away asking his nation for forgiveness. There are lessons to be learned from Nixon’s exemplary political exit.
Perhaps, this is what Ibn Khaldun would have considered a ruling elite’s appropriate appreciation of sociological development.