Feisal Naqvi has penned a beauty. I would happily byline it. The comments under his article, most though not all, however, made me think if, between Zohair Toru’s ahistorical innocence and our remarkable inability to understand subtleties, we are ready for anything that could break us free of our current dilemmas. Consider.
Feisal was making two points, simple but subtle. In Mr Toru we saw a young man whose entire conditioning would have belied the possibility of his being out on a street and protesting and that he genuinely, even if fantastically naively, felt that it was inappropriate for the police to push around nonviolent protestors.
These two points were the peg of Feisal’s piece but in them he thought, and I largely agree, lay exciting possibilities for our future. There can be no doubt that if those in this society who have no ostensible reason to take to the street — because their circumstances shield them from the daily grind that is the fate of millions — decide to do exactly that, take to the street and protest, it manifests a positive that has long been missing.
And if the same privileged realise, through an empirical test, what the police does to the millions and find that abominable, that too is a happy development even when, as Feisal noted, it may be “so beautifully innocent, so perfectly divorced from all prior history and past experiences that one feels much like the fabled Grinch in taking a contrary view”.
The article should have kicked off an informed debate; instead, we have ad hominem comments, some readers wanting to know why the writer would denigrate Mr Toru by making fun of his hairstyle or the manner in which he spoke or describe him as a burger-baby, etc. What these geniuses missed out on was that Feisal was making his two important points in sharp contrast to what the boy stood for, both in his conditioning and in his demeanour. That was what made the observations carry the weight they did.
Beyond this lies the issue of Feisal’s reasoning: Whether what he observed can lead to what he thinks it can or will. That is a different domain and one can raise other questions. Yet, raising those other questions does not take away from the nuances Feisal picked up in the entire Mr Toru episode. In any case, Feisal is quite clear that “any revolution is going to be a long time a coming if it is dependent on people like” Mr Toru.
But other questions are important too and that is the essence of the process that begins with some fine observations. For instance, one question can be whether it is Mr Toru’s remarkably ahistorical innocence that would lead to the police reconsidering its methods, and if so, how? One can even talk about it in terms of Einstein’s quote of simplicity and complexity — the difference between this side of the complexity for which someone wouldn’t give a nickel and the other for which someone would give his life.
So the simple can be, and usually is, complex.
Finally, dear reader, in terms of making observations and developing a thought or a theory, one often relies on parsimony, the use of the simplest method of explanation which rules that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”. In 700 words or less, the exercise of frugality becomes even more important. But the fact is that the method is used in multiple disciplines, ranging from pure sciences to social sciences and, quite often, as a heuristic device, what we call a rule of thumb.
Parsimony is not without its downside. The demand that one should accept the simplest possible theoretical explanation for existing data is tricky because new data becomes available which forces us to reconsider the original explanation; or, as also happens, people can arrive at different explanations even on the basis of the same set(s) of existing data.
But that is the challenge. That is what constitutes debate. That is what helps us untangle the equation between simplicity and complexity. What was required here was to carry the debate forward; challenge if you must what Feisal said but for the right reasons.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.
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