Freewheeling thoughts —Munir Attaullah

We, as a nation love talking politics; and our media is a powerful reflection of that propensity. That said, I am far from impressed at the general level of maturity and sophistication usually on display

It had become insufferably hot and stiflingly muggy in Lahore. Even some of my more die-hard comrades refused to countenance playing more than nine holes, if that. The brief jaaman season was over, our melons were as tasteless as ever (why? why?) and, given my mildly diabetic condition, I had even had my full of our unbeatable mangoes. With Ramadan round the corner, thoughts of greener pastures (no; not Jannat) beckoned, more enticingly than normal.

Along came the clincher: the usual gracious invitation by the Godfather to spend, in Morocco, what is known as some extended ‘quality time’. Who, in his right senses, would turn down such an offer? I am off!

Besides, the holiday also presents an opportunity to impress the aforesaid gentleman by personally presenting him a copy of my newly published book of old columns. Of course, there is a good chance he will never deign read it (and why should he, given his more robust worldly interests? Come to think of it, why should anyone else either?), but so what? As long as I pick the right time for the ceremony (that is, in the presence of the maximum number of people) I will have made the point subliminally to all and sundry that, as a hanger-on, I am not such an idle, good-for-nothing ******* as I might otherwise seem. That should be good enough to lock-in at least a couple of future all-expenses-paid foreign jaunts.

For I understand and accept that all my spluttering efforts remain no more than piffling souffle when compared to Aitzaz Ahsan’s recently acquired awe inspiring status as a world ranking intellectual. But then I am a modest fellow, who lives in a circumscribed world of his own choosing, quite content with some limited and strictly private ambitions.

But, amid all the distractions that will be on offer on holiday, I know that a goodly proportion of my thoughts will, inevitably, drift towards happenings in Pakistan. The miracles of the media revolution are a godsend for the insatiably curious who want to know and understand what is going on.

And, I should add, that same revolution has also added a new dimension to the staid and traditional ways of conducting business. This last bit is meant for those media pundits who, with a knowing sneer, score cheap brownie points with the public by rhetorically asking how political leaders can possibly carry on with their work from abroad. I say to them, why don’t you ask Altaf Bhai? He manages pretty well, does he not? Or, at a more mundane level, ask my editor if he is ever even aware, when he receives this column, whether I am in the country or abroad.

In talking here about our media, let me again reiterate my admiration for its fundamental vibrancy and forthrightness: qualities that ensure I devour its contents for many hours a day, no matter where I am. That’s because we, as a nation (and I am no different) love talking politics; and our media is a powerful reflection of that propensity. That said, I am far from impressed at the general level of maturity and sophistication usually on display.

I can shrug off dismissively the easily deciphered banalities, silently challenge unstated and unwarranted assumptions, and tut-tut at the faulty and convoluted analysis, all without working up a head of steam. But what exasperates me no end is that all too frequent holier-than-though posturing, and the emotive language that accompanies it, whose sole purpose is to win public applause. Admit it: don’t you often feel how we all would be incomparably better off if the job of running the government was simply handed over to the media?

One example of this sort of a thing I have already quoted above. Here is another one: much was made of the PM taking a large entourage on an official trip to Malaysia, and the subsequent diversion of his homeward flight, to take in a Dubai stop, to confer with Mr Zardari. Such extravagance, by our couldn’t-care-less leaders, even as our poor are starving and being crushed by inflation!

Now I do not deny that, as with all those Umra trips, there is a valid point of principle to be made here: that of blatant misuse of government funds for non-official purposes. But where exactly do our starving masses fit into this argument, defeats me.

Yes, it is sound politics and good PR for a government to set an example of austerity in hard times, but there is no moral or legal principle requiring it to do so. And that same reasoning applies to the argument about absent leaders conducting business from afar: of course the resulting perceptions is not good PR, but does the nation suffer?

So, why do intelligent people deliberately inject a dose of extraneous emotionalism that is certainly not germane to the point of principle, into the argument? My short answer is that we are so hung-up on ‘morality’, and its offshoots, that we have largely lost the power to think and reason with any degree of clarity.

As for myself, I have little patience for that which is really little more than petty middle-class envy, even if it be all dressed up in the enticing finery of some specious moral principle.

The great clarifying principle of Einstein’s modern Theory of Gravitation was beautifully summed up by John Wheeler in a memorable phrase: spacetime grips mass, telling it how to move; and mass grips spacetime, telling it how to bend. To understand this mutual and indissoluble bond (for greater accuracy, I should have said momentum-energy instead of mass, but I did not want to get too technical) that automatically and instantaneously reflects even a minute change in one component, in the other, is to understand all the consequences that naturally follow from the theory.

I am no political theorist but, inspired by Wheeler, I diffidently propose a phrase of my own for understanding Politics: In politics, what works is usually acceptable; and what is acceptable usually works.

To understand this mutual grip is to understand politics. ‘Morality’ may have a part to play in the drama (in shaping what is ‘acceptable’), as may reason and common sense (helping decide what ‘works’), but neither, in itself, is either necessary or sufficient for the political action to proceed apace.

The next time you are a little confused, or bemused, by politics, I suggest you analyse the situation in terms of my aphorism. I am pretty confident it will add to your understanding, though I cannot guarantee that.

For, though Nature may be completely predictable, men are flesh and blood, and sometimes their actions defy all attempts at comprehension.

The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit munirattaullah.com

Source: Daily Times, 30/7/2008

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