Missing Collective Conscience by Abdul Q Kundi

Popular American intellectual David Brooks recently published a book titled Road to Character. I had a chance to listen to him during a book launch ceremony. After his presentation I asked him one question is there a link between individual and collective values? I asked this question because individual attitudes does not necessarily translate into a better society. Consider our own experience where mosques are full and symbols of individual piety is on public display. But despite this poverty is rising; unemployment is rampant; streets are dirty; social injustice is prevalent; and corruption is uncontrolled. Some weeks later I had an email exchange with another intellectual Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I told him that I agree with his pronouncements of the ills of society but asked him what the remedy is? He responded that we have to become a normal society. Again I agreed with him but that raised two more questions how did we became abnormal and what is the roadmap to regain normalcy?

Since 1971 we are in a constant state of war first separation of East Pakistan through a military surrender and political failure; then Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; then Taliban invasion of Afghanistan to end the civil war there; and then US invasion of Afghanistan. In all this time we were the front line state and experienced a low intensity war waged by extremists, terrorists and organize crime. A nation that is in war experience certain psychological attitudes especially our animal instincts of survival is heightened. Every person wants to secure his own and his family’s future by hook or crook even if it is at the cost of his own neighbors. This results in breakdown of rules, laws and traditions replaced by individual greed, corruption, injustice, immorality and unethical behavior. In other words overtime collective conscience is completely destroyed resulting in an abnormal society. Europe is experiencing this slow breakdown of collective conscience as war rages on in their neighborhood. It is because of this war stress that their normal behavior of tolerance, universal freedom and accommodation are replaced by discrimination, intolerance and blocking people of a certain culture and faith. Right of the extreme right is a political response to slowly breaking down of collective conscience.

Pakistan has an absence of collective conscience. It is because of it politicians engage in election rigging and flattery of party chiefs to gain access to political power. Once they are elected instead of serving people they engage in misappropriation of development funds. In PTI we have demanded from our Chairman Imran Khan to respect party constitution, merit and ideology because when he fails to do so collective conscience of the party is damaged and its ability to change the country is snatched away. Lack of performance in KP is a result of this absence of collective party conscience. This also creates doubts in the mind of the nation whether Imran Khan is a true reformer or a political opportunist.

Our judges are insensitive to plight of people by ensuring justice at an affordable and timely fashion. A judge hearing a case can clearly see how long it has been in the court and despite this knowledge the cases are pending for decades as they fail to act. A bureaucrat controls people as a subject rather than a constituency to serve. Visit any Deputy Commissioner Office or government office and observe how clerks treat people. It is so pathetic that blood of a person boils just as an observer. Our generals act more as politicians rather than soldiers that are ready to give their life for a higher calling. They fail to act despite knowledge that DHAs and Bahria Towns are parking lots of corrupt money. Their public relations arm promote them as a political leader and it does not seem to bother them. Our journalists are causing chaos and cynicism by using fictional stories to develop a narrative. Our intellectuals find themselves helpless to inspire and educate people to form a collective resistance against these social injustices.

Our situation has become so helpless that individual performances are considered hope and solution for a better future. A general, politician, judge, journalist and intellectual may shine and raise a voice. But this individual activism is like a blimp on the time horizon and dies with the person without resulting in a viable institutional reform that perform for a longer period of time.

In this dire situation what is the solution that can convert us into a normal society? The solution is to build collective conscience and it cannot be erected without fixing our politics. After studying many nations that experience the decline akin to ours I have arrived at the conclusion that no country has evolved from a decline unless and until its politics was fixed. All prophets had not just spiritual message but also a political one too. Prophet Essa (AS) challenged money changers in the market place. Prophet Lut (AS) asked his people not to engage in unnatural relationships. Prophet Shoaib (AS) told his people not to cheat in measurement. Prophet Musa (AS) asked Pharaoh not to enslave people and seek bonded labor. Prophet Mohammad (AS) told his people there is no salvation without adhering to huqooq ul ibad (social justice). It is important that when a group of politicians rise up to reform this nation then generals, judges, intellectuals and journalists have to align with them to enable them to work on their agenda. But we have to keep in mind that reformer politicians have to seek mandate from people through a legitimate process rather than through an unconstitutional arrangement or a coup. In the absence of this nationwide alliance individuals will continue rising up without any significant impact on the society.

I firmly believe a bright future awaits for Pakistan. But it will not materialize by waiting for a divine intervention or a savior wearing a shining armor. God has already instructed us He does not change the condition of people until they change themselves. It has to be a collective effort to install a new social contract.

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