As a teenager, growing up in the US in the post-Hippie 70’s, I was unaware of the broad sweep of the social revolutions taking place around me that completely changed the structure of Western societies, and are now in their initial phases in Pakistan. It is therefore important to look at the outcomes of these, so as to be able to make informed choices.
In a college class, we read and discussed an essay entitled ‘The Virtue of Selfishness.’ The author, Ayn Rand, argued that contrary to traditional beliefs, selfishness was a good thing. At that time, the majority of the students in my class were against this idea, though there was a minority that was boldly and shockingly in favour.
This same sermon was preached from many pulpits. In our Economics classes, we learnt that man is basically selfish, and that ruthless competition leads to efficient economic outcomes. In Philosophy, we learnt that man is free to choose without constraints posed by society, tradition or religion. Those who are brave and intelligent seize the opportunities offered by life, and are not bound by morals, conventions and tradition. Freud’s message was widely understood to mean that society creates “inhibitions” against certain types of behaviour. The path to perfect happiness lies in removing these inhibitions, and learning to act according to our inner desires, even if society does not approve. These revolutionary philosophies were translated into a popular language by bestsellers like Looking out for Number 1, that argued it was our prime duty to look after our own selfish interests. Also. courses in ‘assertiveness training’ taught people how to go after what they wanted, without being polite and considerate as society demanded.
In a discussion in today’s classes in the US, there would be none to argue the case for generosity against selfishness. Stodgy, old-fashioned traditions have been completely routed by the modern ideas of ‘hedonism’ and ‘individualism.’ Hedonism is the idea that we do not acknowledge any obstacles to the pursuit of pleasure, power, and profits — aptly summarised as “All is fair in love and war.” Individualism encourages us to pursue personal goals even when they conflict with community and social interests.
It is impossible to cover the full effects of these social revolutions, which have impacted all dimensions of human lives. I will look briefly at just one dimension: the family unit. The nature of society depends crucially on whether children are taught to be caring, compassionate and social, or ruthless individualists. What is currently being taught is reflected in Josephson Institute survey showing rates well over 30% of theft, cheating, and lying among high school teenagers in 2008. Similarly, current statistics on alcohol, drugs and sex among youth in western societies are frightening.
Granted the license by society, while youngsters were busy pursuing pleasure, sober minds were aware of the tremendous damage being done. There were many efforts to ‘save the family’ by many different groups, using different strategies. However, the anti-family forces proved too strong. A recent report on fractured families states that “the fabric of family life has been stripped away” in the past few decades. There is an overwhelming evidence of the extremely adverse social consequences from this breakdown.
Statistics in the US show millions of unwanted teenage pregnancies, highest divorce rates in the world, more than a third of children living in broken families, and record-breaking rates of alcohol, drug abuse, depression and suicide. Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affair was acceptable in a society where infidelity rates are over 20per cent. Moving beyond statistics, how would it feel to live in a society where you cannot trust your spouse? Legal parents are responsible for children up to 18 years, and that has become the dominant social norm — there is no one you can trust on a permanent, lifetime basis.
These are the consequences of following lifestyles made to appear so attractive in Hollywood movies. The acids which dissolve communities and families are making progress in Pakistan too. It is time to take note notice, and take preventive measures before it is too late.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2010.
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