The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to make the world adapt to him; all progress in the world, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man’
When I was posted as faculty to the Command and Staff College, Quetta, in 1986, it was traditional for every new member of the faculty to address all other faculty members on a topic of choice and then respond to questions.
Each new faculty member offered three topics for his talk and the chief instructor and the commandant selected one of the three. Of the ones that I offered, they selected: ‘The unreasonable man’.
This was my first talk on the subject, but it is one that has fascinated me through the years.
In our everyday conversation, we appeal to logic and reason, expecting individuals to be reasonable; those that aren’t are usually avoided by other, more ‘reasonable’ people. Most law-breakers are also usually ‘unreasonable’ people; a conventional wisdom that most, including the author, are adherents of.
However, I came across a Bertrand Russell quote many years ago, that gave me cause to think many times over, and it was on this quote that I based my introductory talk to the faculty of the Staff College.
Russell said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to make the world adapt to him; all progress in the world, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man’!
The truth of this piece of wisdom dawned upon me the moment I read it, but it took considerable thought to view it in perspective. Throughout history there have been individuals who challenged established concepts, sometimes paying a heavy price for it, but always adding to the wisdom of the people of the world.
As a matter of fact, all prophets fall in this category of people; they attempted to swim against the tide and some paid for their beliefs and teachings with their life, but they all left a legacy.
Galileo’s insistence that the world was round and revolved around the sun was considered heresy by the Holy Church and he too paid with his life. As did Mansoor Al-Hallaj, a Muslim mystic and philosopher who was guilty of saying ‘Anal Haq’ (I am the Truth). While he was attempting to state a philosophical contention, it flew in the face of conventional Muslim wisdom, and he was condemned to be hanged by the neck.
For many years, including our childhood, when both fission and fusion were things of the past, our physics books continued to contend that ‘matter can neither be created nor destroyed’. If there were never people who pioneered new ideas, just as courageously as pioneers crossed new frontiers to face the unknown, mankind’s knowledge would have become stagnant.
Isaac Asimov, a science-fiction writer, also writes books explaining science in easy, layman’s terms. I never took to science fiction, but I am an avid reader of his non-fiction books on science. Having an extremely modest understanding of higher mathematics and physics, and much less of chemistry and other sciences, I find his books the only ones that make a modicum of sense to me.
One of his contentions is that science-fiction writers provide a guideline for the progress of science. While he quoted a number of examples, I can recall two: in the late 1920s, Ray Bradbury, another science fiction author wrote about a ‘ray gun’. All the characteristics of this fictional weapon are to be found in the LASER today. In the early 1930s, Asimov predicted that man would land on the moon in 1970; mankind beat his prediction by a year.
By all standards, I fall in the humdrum category of the most reasonable men. However, since I understood the wisdom of Russell’s words, I have hoped that if I come across an unreasonable man/woman, I will have the wisdom to recognise him/her.
Conscious of my own limitations, I am uncertain whether I have come across any that I did not recognise, but there are some individuals whose courage and defiance certainly place them close to Russell’s ‘unreasonable individuals’.
In my reckoning, in our times, Naom Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and our very own, Mukhtaran Mai, are very close to being unreasonable. They are all humanists and, though Mukhtaran Mai has undoubtedly suffered the most, on a personal level, the courage and defiance of authority and conventional wisdom that each one has repeatedly demonstrated, puts them in a category of their own; which we can only admire.
The reason why I chose to address this subject today is because I came across a placard in my desk with four quotations on it; one that I gave to each of my children as soon as they could begin to comprehend them, including the Russell quote discussed today.
As always, I sat, pondering and savouring each for a few moments. As I pondered this quote the names of the three individuals mentioned earlier came to mind as examples.
However, it suddenly dawned upon me that, ironically, we in Pakistan had another who might fit into this category, since he too continues to defy all conventional wisdom and expectations of him by persevering and retaining his office in defiance of all: President Pervez Musharraf.
The irony that Musharaf could be categorized with such all-time greats that cannot but evoke admiration, while he cannot but evoke the opposite, left me no choice but to share this ironical revelation with my readers.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).
Courtesy: Daily Times, 31/5/2008