Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

After Veena Malik: Thoughts on Morality

December 17, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Veena Malik has provided Indians and Pakistanis something to talk about – to, at, and across each other. There is much that can be ignored but a few strands strike me as promising and worth pursuing.

Most of the outpouring, at least on the blogs, is a voicing of individual personal opinions for and against Ms. Malik’s act. That, to me at least, is the least interesting aspect of the fallout. Why should my personal opinion carry significance for anyone besides myself? If the objective were to run an opinion poll, people could vote yes or no anonymously and be done with it.

It would be different if the person offering the opinion were a public figure. Take Imran Khan, for example: his opinion on the incident could provide a clue where he might lead the nation if given the opportunity. (more…)

On Religion as an Individual Code of Behavior

November 17, 2010

Reading a 1956 interview with the writer William Faulkner, I gained an insight into religion that I wish to share with readers. In order to set the context for Faulkner’s remarks, I will reproduce a section of the interview and then focus on the part that triggered the new thought in my mind.

INTERVIEWER: Are there any artistic advantages in casting the novel in the form of an allegory, as the Christian allegory you used in A Fable?

FAULKNER: Same advantage the carpenter finds in building square corners in order to build a square house. In A Fable, the Christian allegory was the right allegory to use in that particular story, like an oblong, square corner is the right corner with which to build an oblong, rectangular house. (more…)

9/11: Socrates, Machiavelli, Christ and Gandhi

September 14, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

A year ago, a post (September Eleven) on this blog used the story of Coalhouse Walker in E.L. Doctorow’s novel, Ragtime, to argue that humiliation and injustice were powerful motivators for vengeance that can border on insanity. The post triggered an extended conversation that extracted the following central observation for further discussion:

It is not enough to give historical/sociological/political explanations for vengeful responses to acts of humiliation. These are important but one also has to ask simple questions like: If A insults B, is the best course of action for B to insult A or simply to kill A? What leads B to make a choice? In other words, one has to be analytic and moral as well. (more…)

Governance and Morality

August 27, 2008

People are frustrated with continued poor governance in Pakistan. So frustrated that one often hears a strange claim – we are afflicted with poor governance because we are bad people; we deserve our fate.

This logic implies that good people get good governments while bad people get bad governments. Does this logic make any sense?

First of all, there is no country in the world where people are all good or all bad – however good and bad are defined. And no one has yet adequately demonstrated that some countries have a larger proportion of bad people than others.

(Of course, some countries have relatively more educated populations but education has little to do with the mix of goodness and badness. In any case, all countries have passed through the stage when education was much less common than it is today. It is difficult to make the case that the quality of governance has improved with the prevalence of education. The literacy rate in Pakistan has increased steadily over the years with little impact on the overall goodness of society while the quality of governance has continued to deteriorate.)

Second, even if one concedes for the sake of argument that good people get good governments, one cannot conclude that the good governments always do good things. One would need to specify who exactly are the governments good for?

There are governments that are good for their own citizens but absolutely disastrous for people of other countries whom they have no hesitation in hurting to promote their own national interests. Examples of such actions by “good” governments are so many and so well known that there is no point in recounting them here. Anyone with a sense of history should be able to come up with a long list.

This happens because even most good people hold their governments accountable only for what happens inside their own countries and care far less for what the governments do outside the national borders. Good governments routinely lie to their good citizens about what they are up to elsewhere and the good citizens attach little importance to distant affairs unless the repercussions begin to affect their personal welfare. The reality is that politics is still very local while national interests have long been global – think of the slave trade, colonialism, etc.

Third, it is said that in countries like Pakistan people elect “bad” representatives who are outright crooks and not even good for their own countries. But do people choose in this manner because they themselves are bad? Or could the choice be due to some peculiarity of circumstances that forces good people to elect bad representatives.

Consider one such circumstance. Pakistan is an example of a society that does not offer its people access to justice or jobs unless they have the right connections. All such societies gravitate towards a system of patronage and the most effective patrons are the local strongmen who wield the most power and influence in the system.

Voters are smart enough to realize this plain truth and their electoral choices reflect this reality. The choices have very little to with the goodness and badness of the voters and everything to do with their need for survival in an unfair and unjust society. Voters are fully aware of the moral credentials of the representatives they vote for and also of the reasons for their choices.

This social reality forms the basis of the argument that the rule of law and equal opportunity based on merit are pre-conditions for good governance. Only when people can do without patrons will they be able to choose competent representatives instead of local strongmen. There is not much point in advising people to elect “good” representatives if they continue to need powerful patrons to obtain jobs, justice and protection.

To attribute the actions of powerless, helpless and dependent voters to their intrinsic goodness or badness suggests a failure to understand the constraints of their social reality. It also detracts from understanding what needs to be done to ensure good governance in the future.

It is the system that needs to be changed. Changing the people is not an alternative.

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