By Muhammad Jawad Tahir
July 19, 2014
With the rise of free media, several classic cases of pseudo-intellectualism have emerged in Pakistan, but only a few hold a special place in the ‘Pseudo-intellectualism Hall of Fame’.
So what is pseudo-intellectualism?
The Urban Dictionary offers a very concise description of a pseudo-intellectual:
“One who attempts to flex intellect that does not exist within his or her own mind”
The water kit scandal is one example.
The water kit scandal arose in 2012 when Pakistani ‘inventor’, Agha Waqar, claimed to have designed a perpetual motion machine that would utilise water as fuel for cars. Waqar’s claims were met with a mixture of scepticism and enthusiasm by the general public as well as the science community. In any other country this idea would have been tried in laboratories first but here, in Pakistan, we take it straight to national television.
As soon as this claim was made public, members of the media, including TV channel anchors and columnists, quickly passed judgment; some hailed the revolutionary effect it would have on our economy while others lamented that talent is oozing out of Pakistan. Those who denied the idea’s merit were said to be against Pakistan’s prosperity. Sanity eventually prevailed, but not before widespread humiliation. In any other country a public apology would have followed, but not in Pakistan. Here, we simply moved on to the next argument.
The water kit scandal, however, is not the only example. The situation is even worse on social media! Since the advent of free media in Pakistan the growing number of talk shows has had a profound, and in many cases negative, effect on people. The biased opinions of the talk shows plague the minds of our nation and what was intended to foster a culture of debate in Pakistan has instead hijacked the nation’s cognitive ability.
Mindless debate seems to have become an acceptable social norm in our country. If you don’t believe me when I say that people will argue about nearly anything, try it out. Ask a Pakistani a question about anything, and watch as he or she transforms into an expert almost instantly. This applies to any topic. I have never heard any of my fellow countrymen say,
“I don’t know about this.”
Neither do they almost ever diffuse the situation, knowing the conversation is going nowhere, with,
“Let’s agree to disagree.”
A discussion about interest rates will almost always become a discussion about how interest is not allowed in Islam. These arguments may be valid, but they are out of the scope of discussion. For the educated class, an argument is essentially a combination of difficult and witty English that is unleashed in an effort to outdo the opposing side. Ego triumphs over just about anything, especially when indulging in an argument.
The big question is: are these mindless debates going to bring about any positive change in Pakistan?
To bring about change you have to engage people, and how can one possibly engage others when the aim of the discussion is to show your authority on the subject?
Social media has also given us a false sense of satisfaction that we are bringing about change, when in fact real change requires action – not just keyboards. If ideas were enough every TED conference would spur a new revolution.
Taking action is the toughest part of social change. It is easier said than done. The little voice in your head gets louder, magnifying how insignificant you and your thoughts are. That is the time you have to summon your internal energy and courage to overcome that inner voice. Anyone who has ever brought about meaningful change has gone through this phase. If, and when, you overcome these negative thoughts, say goodbye to your comfort zone and commence the real struggle, you give yourself an opportunity to create something that actually impacts the lives of people.
As a National Executive at Engineers Without Borders -UK (EWB), I was approached by Santosh Poudel, former CEO of Creating SMILES, to become EWB-UK’s partner to mentor the organisation. They had no prior experience in the development sector, and rather than generating Facebook posts, they wanted to take small steps to bring about meaningful change.
Even as a mentor, I was sceptical of the organisation’s growth as lack of funding and skills often means no progress. Initially with the help of a Swedish nurse, they raised funds to build toilets and set up a computer lab. Sibjan Chaulagin (co-founder) led with remarkable resilience when the team had to go through a restructuring phase. What differentiates Chaulagin from others is his firm resolve of changing lives of his own people. Under his leadership, the organisation has now finally found its path as it spawned a new entity called ICT for agriculture that created mobile phone application designed to keep farmers updated on the latest prices being offered for their products in various markets.
Imagine if Chaulagin and Poudel had just posted pictures of an impoverished village, what would that have achieved?
Instead, they harnessed the power of technology and social media to create something that actually changes lives. As the founders of Creating SMILES know, taking the first step may be difficult but it is essential nonetheless. After all, action can begin with the smallest of steps.
As Gandhi said,
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
Muhammad Jawad Tahir is a commodity manager for Siemens-UK and holds an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Sheffield University.