There is no way to water down the bitter fact that we are a society at war with itself.
As 2022 falls asleep in its second week, there is no indication that this war is about to give way to a cure. Hatred, yes it still intensifies; polarization, yes it still widens; and the venom, yes it is still spreading. In doing so, we have witnessed the death of civility, the debasement of discourse and the dilution of values. This society is bleeding from a thousand self-inflicted cuts.
Self-harm was premeditated. Or at worst, it was the unintended consequence of premeditated plans. Those appalled by audio and video leaks shouldn’t be. It had to happen. When you climb the ladder, the laws are trampled on all the rungs. Decency too. And social mores. From there, it is a natural regression towards medievalism while clinging to the finery of modernity.
Pakistani society today is more divided than it has been in the past five decades. This division is not measured in intensity – we have had polarization as a continuum within our political evolution – but in the depth to which it has broken the fabric of society. The poison has seeped deep and will not go away even if those who inject it do. When leaders cannot work with leaders and followers cannot converse with followers, know that malignancy has infected the body politic into its tissues and muscles.
It also created superficial and superfluous binaries and hampered the flow of organic social, political and even cultural evolution. When your national discourse embraces blacks and whites and banishes grays; when he presents politics as an epic struggle between good and evil and leaders as heroes and villains; and when the logic of loathing begins to twist and bend the demands of due process – when all of this happens, know this: the system that rules us all creaks to the joints, and the norms that bind us all bleed through. pores.
We are weakened today because we have degraded the foundations of the art of government.
For a rule of law, this state of affairs is not natural. And unsustainable. Sooner or later the framework that holds everything together – deference and respect for the law and for the institutions that administer the law – will begin to sag under the growing weight of mutual loathing and disgust. Tribal instinct will dominate the constraints of jurisprudence and the art of governing and force people to submit to this frightening reality. In some ways, this has happened before. The rot is not only around us, but also inside of us.
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Ask yourself the following question: can you today analyze the state of things in the homeland with rationality and without the crutches of emotion? Are you losing the ability to tell right from wrong without resorting to dangerously convenient justifications? The answers may surprise you. And shock you.
How then can a society bruised and bruised by its own hands regain health?
The answer seems impossible to find in a political regime that has locked itself into a zero-sum game. This is a game in which destroying the rival, not just defeating him, is the priority. It is not possible. The last few years have illustrated this with a lot of evidence. Time gradually brings the grays back into the black and white framing of life. Pakistanis mesmerized by the falseness of their own hopes slowly rub their eyes as they realize that there are no heroes and villains but a long line of imperfect men and women doing their best to reach their level of mediocrity. The inadequacies of the system quickly make up for the inability of those who want to make it work. The gap between citizens’ expectations and the ability of leaders to meet them is widening day by day. The magic fades.
The meanness of intentions and rhetoric is difficult to conceal for long. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that there is no shortcut to good governance and good government. Frivolity in the exercise of power can often do more harm than abuse of it. If healing is to begin, it must do so recognizing that politics and governance must return to the framework of proper process, procedure and political planning; and that it must be conducted not as a zero-sum game but as a complex enterprise in which checks and balances are an essential ingredient, not a hindrance.
We are weakened today because we have degraded the foundations of the art of government. A low-trust society cannot afford to trade trust for political overbidding. The accountability process is in tatters because that is exactly what we traded. The same goes for the weakened criminal justice system due to its growing inability to investigate, prosecute and convict through a process that builds confidence, not cripples.
It doesn’t inspire confidence when you perform an experiment and detonate the lab. After flirting with glorious intentions and charismatic saviors, maybe it’s time to return to the monotony of politics that promise less and deliver more. We could do with the boredom of governance and the boredom of the art of governing. There is work to be done. Getting back to normal will not be easy. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no shortcut to healing a failing society and disinfecting poisonous speech.
We need a time out. All may have to put down their swords, put their shields back on, and retire to their tents for the night. Or two nights. The damage must be assessed, the wounded must be treated and the dead must be buried. It’s time to crouch down and rebuild our defenses; sharpen blades and repair ramparts; and look into the battle plans and develop a new strategy for victory.
There will be a time for swashbuckling heroes and heroines, but now is not the time; there will be a time for bombastic politics and soaring rhetoric, but now is not the time; and there will be a time for the saviors to take us to the land of our dreams, but this is not the time.
Now is the time to heal. Just heal.
The writer is the resident editor of Dawn in Islamabad.
Posted in Dawn, January 8, 2022