Aziz Ali Dad
Philosophical meditation is an endeavour to fill void of meaning in life and looking at the self, society and the universe anew by pushing the existing boundaries of knowledge. These boundaries are erected by the prevalent worldview which congeals into dogma and fails to keep pace with changing times. The essentialist worldview freezes thinking and never allows change to safeguard the essence of society and culture. Gradually the whole society develops a malaise that erodes its intellectual foundations that ultimately results in intellectual poverty.
Pakistan’s record in terms of intellectual contribution to existing knowledge of the world is very poor. Pakistan’s poverty of philosophy is evident from the fact that the world celebrated World Philosophy Day on Thursday, October 15, whereas it went unnoticed in our country. World Philosophy Day was introduced in 2002 by Unesco “to encourage the peoples of the world to share their philosophical heritage and to open their minds to new ideas, as well as to inspire a public debate between intellectuals and civil society on the challenges confronting our society.”
Today the major challenge faced by our society is violence. It is common mantra among the liberal intelligentsia that currently Pakistan is facing an existential threat. On the other hand, obscurantist forces feel there is a threat to Islam and are ready to commit atrocities against others to protect the divine. Given the gravity of threat faced by secular and religious segments of society, one should expect a philosophical discourse that can at least enable minds to understand the issue in its true colour. On the contrary, the liberal and fundamentalist discourses have hardened into monologues where no inter- or intra-dialogue is taking place. It is the absence of inter- and intra-dialogue within society that made our reflections and actions meaningless. A society becomes meaningless when it loses a sense of direction. Friedrich Nietzsche calls this moment nihilism in which a society perpetually degenerates, does not know: whither it is moving now. Whither people are moving now. It perpetually falls “backward, sideward, forward, in all directions” precisely because there is no up or down left.
Such a moment of aporia, or an insoluble problem encountered by society, pushes some dissident minds to diagnose the cultural and spiritual malaise within. There are various factors that preclude us from introspection and hamper philosophical discourse in Pakistan. Major among these is a cultural habit of seeking easy solutions for complex challenges, dominance of instrumental reason and habituation of thinking. The existential void and disenchanted world is filled and re-enchanted, respectively, by consumerism and other sorts of escapisms. According to Erich Fromm, the result of such culture is “shaky self-esteem,” a “constant need of confirmation by others” and feelings of “depersonalisation, emptiness and meaninglessness.”
A society driven by consumerist culture and advertisement cult sees vocations like philosophy as a hurdle to comfortable life. Hence, it is better to replace the ideal of maverick professors in university with celebrities, because unlike the former’s abstract meditation the glitz of the latter is more charming. Although, purchase of machinery has enabled us to escape from little hassles of life, we fill the spare time with user-friendly gadgets and software. Other problems of life will be resolved by hiring hands and minds available in market. Thus, our life itself has become depersonalised and treated like an instrument that can be fixed technically. This has developed a mentality that tends to outsource its existential problems to machines and “hiring hands.” As a corollary, our attitude towards problems of life becomes instrumental and managerial.
Other enemies of philosophical thinking are common sense and habit. No doubt common sense and habits enable us to tackle issues of everyday life. For that reason these are an indispensible part of life, but they do not shed light on unexplored dimensions of life. Philosophical thinking becomes possible when we willingly suspend common sense and get rid of habit. Leslie Paul Thiele in his book The Timely Meditation gives an exquisite analogy to differentiate common sense and thinking. He writes: “Despite its (common sense’s) indispensable utility, however, walking is not dancing, and a ballerina must continually struggle against its habituations. Likewise, thinking is not common sense, and the former must continually expose and overcome the plotting utility of the latter.”
Like individuals, societies also develop habits of thinking through received knowledge. Societies that love wisdom allow philosophical minds to radically question the very premises of knowledge. On the other hand, a society that remains content with habits and old certainties becomes intellectually poor. Living meaningful and examined life is art not science, but we prefer to turn the art of being into science by resorting to instrumental reason that provides a capsule of “seven habits” to become successful in the cutthroat competition of the consumer market. Once we adopt these habits we can steer the course of life amidst diversity of beings by mechanically applying a set of habits in given situations. That is why people know more about Stephen R Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People than the philosophical thinking of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre or Jurgen Hebarmas. It is up to us to decide and experiment whether life can be made worth living by adopting seven habits or by examining it ourselves – a la Socrates. Personally, life will be boring for me with only seven habits. Generally, seven habits are too limited a choice for seven billion people inhabiting the world.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published at: The NEWS