The fallacy of collective wisdom

We are ostriches who follow blindly, with our heads buried in the sand while marching towards our singular goal.

Ibrahim Khan June 18, 2012

As a nation, we are prone to indulging in blind faith. Without delving too far into the past, the last decade provides a variety of examples that illustrate this tendency. When General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was still around, we believed that dispatching the dictator would instantly mend all that ailed our society. Before the judges were restored, we were adamant that their restoration would fix our crumbling justice system. Now, as America is leaving this region, we are sure that its geopolitics will sort itself out when the hegemon retreats. Similarly, many now believe that as soon as Imran Khan takes oath as prime minister, a series of magical events will be set in motion and change will arrive. If our past record in blind faith is anything to go by, our current indulgence does not bode well for the future.

Our tendency to entrust blind faith is representative of the fallacy of collective wisdom. Most significantly, it represents our reluctance to take responsibility of the inherent problems our society faces. We are ostriches who follow blindly, with our heads buried in the sand while marching towards our singular goal. We hang on to bits of hope, without recognising the need to stand up to — and eventually surmount — our challenges. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that change does not arrive by hanging on to bits of hope. Hope is an undeniable prerequisite for change, but blindly following, hoping for the best without acting, is not the avenue through which change arrives.

The path to progress requires an awareness of the need to struggle. Pakistan is beset with serious challenges. In order to overcome these challenges, the country will need to work towards a set of common goals. What will such an effort entail? For example, to overcome the energy crisis, we will need to find the right balance between providing residential sufficiency and industrial growth, while focusing on achieving national consensus on the construction of the Kalabagh Dam and the pursuit of alternative sources of energy (including wind and nuclear). Similarly, in the aftermath of the US departure from Afghanistan, it may be necessary to give Fata additional attention and resources. This will require the entire country — from Karachi to Chitral — to make sacrifices. Neither of these goals will be achieved by entrusting blind, singular faith in one event. Change is a multidimensional process.

With that said, it is a single event that sets change in motion. While the departure of a dictator and the restoration of judges were both praiseworthy events, what we failed to realise was that these events were merely the beginning of the process of change. Unfortunately, we began both these processes, but left them unfinished. The ascent of democracy that accompanied the departure of a dictator was meant to lead to a growing economy, better governance and less corruption. Unfortunately, it led to the opposite. Our economy is in shambles, governance is unheard of and corruption is omnipresent. Similarly, the restoration of judges has not prevented injustice from taking place in the lower courts. Neither has it improved the rule of law in our country.

As with all processes, unfinished change is useless. Collective blind faith towards a singular goal can be helpful for Pakistan, but only if the achievement of one goal propels us towards the next goal required in the process of change. Pakistanis are capable of bringing change, but we cannot afford to be shortsighted. We must learn to march on following our first step. We cannot forget that change is a series of steps in the right direction and not just the first such step.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.


usman | 9 years ago | Reply

How does one walk blindly while head buried in sand? We have ourselves a metaphor overload emergency.

Sohail | 9 years ago | Reply

Since problems are multidimentional and complex, one dimentional solutions give birth to fallacies.

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