The slow but steady rise of mediocrity

Published: July 7, 2012
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anwer.mooraj@tribune.com.pk

anwer.mooraj@tribune.com.pk

A rather droll email surfaced on my computer screen which I must share with the readers. It said that the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth countries that have nuclear technology are thinking about how to advance in space and to make a permanent station on the moon. The seventh nuclear power, however, has more pressing issues to worry about.

It is debating on loadshedding, the creation of new provinces, the Ramazan moon, whether polio vaccinations are halal or haram, iodine mila namak aur Baanjh pan, whether to go in for a Nokia or an iPad, which are the cheapest telephone and SMS packages, Veena Malik, Rehman Malik and Riaz Malik, ‘Tuk Tuk’ Misbah and Zubaida Apa. There are at least 15 more burning issues. But what is the point of mentioning them in a country where a mob in Bahalwalpur can beat up a deranged man accused of committing blasphemy and set him on fire, while the police sits by whimsically as if it was watching a tableau enacting the burning of witches in medieval England?

Every analyst worth his salt would point to political instability and uncertainty, the absence of the rule of law, rampant unemployment, a high birth rate, uncontrollable inflation and corruption in the PPP leadership as the main causes of the malaise in which the country finds itself. In fact, parliament now has plans to spin off the judicial supernova and create a black hole which will suck up every legal meteor in its path, while el Supremo stands at the foot of some vertiginous summit that disappears into the clouds, as he churns out one controversial prime minister after another. Obviously, the lawyers are asleep.

However, on reflection, there is a much deeper basis for the current state of affairs — a root cause which, while it is not so obvious, nevertheless exists and has been there long before President Asif Ali Zardari ruled the roost. And this is the gradual ascent of mediocrity at all levels of Pakistani society — both in the public and private sector. There was a time when the civil service, in spite of its haughtiness, abrasiveness and inaccessibility, was the finest in the region. DCs could control a riot at the drop of a hat. They could also handle the rowdies in the political parties with their special forces hoodlums. And they knew how to impose the rule of law. We also had highly proficient engineers who could build barrages, bridges and dams and construct canal systems and section officers in ministries who could summarise a proposal reasonably well.

Pivotal positions both in the private and public sector were occupied by meritorious candidates and not because they were sycophants of people in power. There has been gradual deterioration in journalism, the legal profession, the judiciary and education. Remember the time when our universities had vice-chancellors and professors who were men of great learning, respected by both their peers and their students? Men who were specialists in their field and wrote learned tomes. Today, one can purchase a PhD from a shady British organisation without having been to a university. When we come to the political arena, the distance these Lotharios have travelled from any rational sense of reasonableness and decorum is shocking. Just listening to them spewing out their imaginary achievements, delivering lines of such vapidly portentous biliousness makes one wish they had morphed ages ago. Mediocrity has been on the rise for some time. And by the look of things, it is here to stay.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (32)

  • C. Nandkishore
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:25PM

    Mediocrity is a disease. In the middle ages Europe lost a thousand years due to mediocrity. The culprits are the same. Religious priests.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:53PM

    Sir writing the truth just causes one to feel sick in the stomach because one really does not see much hope and there are many prophets of doom and gloom, possibly not with you writing ability, but they do try.
    Kindly regale us with some of your experiences real or made up, something to put a smile or a smirk on our faces.

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  • Falcon
    Jul 7, 2012 - 11:57PM

    I think the reasons for mediocrity are structural such as lack of role models and movers / shakers in the society. Those who can or should make a difference have either left the country, are busy building air castles in the drawing rooms, or have simply given up on the society. As expected, when survival alone becomes the primary concern, excellence becomes a far-fetched goal.

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  • Riaz Khan
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:01AM

    We are a strange lot! It’s beyond me to understand them. You see this every where! We are surely headed towards destruction.

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  • Cautious
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:13AM

    The rise of mediocrity is directly related to corruption which cares more about loyalty/payoffs than merit. What I have never understood is how a country which holds itself out as an Islamic State could appear to condone and even encourage corruption — most Pakistani’s don’t even pay their utility bills nor taxes —Recommend

  • Ejaaz
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:56AM

    However we do excel in one thing that really matters. We have more Hafez e Quran than ever before and they are ever younger than before. That has to count for something.

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  • Mahmood Saeed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:04AM

    Mediocrity is the product of poor, jaundiced, biased and we know best type of education.

    We were not mediocres until Bhutto ruined our educational system by its wholesale nationalization.

    That one sin is unforgivable because we have since produced a vast majority of edcated illiterates.

    And, Zia cannot be forgiven for making bigotry apart of our society’s psyche.
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  • Mahmood Saeed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:11AM

    @Ejaaz:

    Simple, Mr Watson. Madressahs galore
    And, these count for producing unskilled, uneducated and deeply biased workfoce which essentially looks for opening another mosque or madressah. That vicious cycle counts for destruction of any society.

    As a garden is only a garden if there all varieties of plants and flowers in it. A society similarly is a society when it has well balanced distribution of people of all kinds of education, trade and calling.

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  • Zafar
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:20AM

    @Ejaaz:
    Are you being sarcastic, or do you not get the point?

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:16AM

    How depressing, your candid article just sucked the energy out of me. Where has the good people gone?

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  • Ejaaz
    Jul 8, 2012 - 5:30AM

    @Zafar:

    Many would consider blasphemous to suggest that memorizing the Quran at a young age ( one out of every three pakistani is under the age of 14 ) is not the right education for our young. I would not want to be charged for blasphemy, and hence find it easier and safer to say that there can never be enough religious education for a young Muslim in this bastion of Islam. All the rote learning of the Quran in classical arabic has to be worth something, even though our pakistani kids do not understand a word of arabic.

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  • pmbm
    Jul 8, 2012 - 6:24AM

    Is mediocrity the problem? May be it is lack of code of ethics and morality which is the cause of mediocrity and many other ills of Society.
    @Ejaaz, what percentage of your Hafiz-e-Quran understand what they have Hifzed(memorized)? Few years ago 87% did not understand it at all. In that sense they are no different than ‘educated elite’ who also do not know what that “guide” book contains.

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  • Selvam
    Jul 8, 2012 - 7:02AM

    India suffers from mediocrity in all organizations influenced by corrupt politicians. All these half-competents get these jobs only by paying large sums of rupees under the table to get those positions or by party appointments. They have to get back this (loaned?) amount quickly so corruption is the only way out and their focus is therefore twisted of important matters. Only in a (big) private organization excellence has a good chance, like in an international MNC,

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  • Jul 8, 2012 - 9:42AM

    Populist governments are the mother of mediocrity.It is easier to lower standards than to ask people to work hard.It is the same in India,look at Sibal trying to make IIT exams into a lottery.
    skpande

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  • Tasneem Chowdhrey
    Jul 8, 2012 - 11:33AM

    Anwer Mooraj Saheb, I completely and totally agree – our values have deteriorated over time. Only measure of so called success is Money and Wealth. We have no regard for “ilm”, “sharafat”, “izzat”, anymore. In my lifetime I remember there used to be decency and civility among these very Pakistanis – people used to respect Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, even Religious scholors – and then Nobility of these Noble Professionals was sacrificed at the altar of Capitalism – they joined the race for accumulating wealth. The society got used to BUYING Education, Justice, Respect and everything under the sun with MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY (though ill gotten) “MONEY”.

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  • Toticalling
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:19PM

    @Ejaaz: I agree with your point. Once we had a household help in Lahore and the only thing he could read was Quran. Of course it was not his fault; his parents wanted that. And he did not understand the words in Urdu or Pashto. He read it in Arabic, without understanding a word. He was a god person though. Recommend

  • mateen
    Jul 8, 2012 - 3:01PM

    Mediocrity is and has been part and parcel of our society irrespective of social strata. There is and has never been any room for logic and reasoning. This is the reason topics like new provinces, Ramazan moon, religious justification of polio vaccinations, implication rather fears about iodine Salt, Nokia or iPad, Veena Malik, Rehman Malik and Riaz Malik, intelligent advises by Misbah and Zubaida Apa attract our attention more. We cant indulge ourselves in dark jokes like piety of Taliban, implications of NATO departure from Afghanistan, even we can never look for sincerity in Education.

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  • observer
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:19PM

    After having such geniuses as President Gen Yahya Khan,President Gen Zia ul Haq, President Leghari, President Tarar, President Gen Musharrf and PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali, at the helm of this great country, President Zardari must be a let down.

    Someone pinch me please!

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  • Hafeez Pasha
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:31PM

    With all due respect, Mr. Mooraj, if all the great men that you talk about presided over this decline, perhaps, they were not so great after all? Pakistan’s decline happened under their watch. Their greatest failure was that they were unable to create institutions. Your generation (and I say so with utmost respect) is responsible for the mess we’re in today. Also, the No. 1 reason for Pakistan’s decline is that illiterates have been given the right to vote and your generation can’t escape liability for the Pakistani nation’s illiteracy. The result is for all to see.

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  • Ahmed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:36PM

    I know a retired army officer. Very polished, refined manners, excellent english, intelligent conversation, humorous, enjoys a drink, secular, reads foreign books. Then you look at his grand children. The typical indoctrinated product of our society. You would not think they are of the same blood.

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  • Hafeez Pasha
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:43PM

    @Ahmed:
    Since when has enjoying a “drink” become a virtue?

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  • Cyma Khan
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:46PM

    @Ahmed:
    So “excellent English”, “reading foreign book” and “enjoying a drink” is the mark of a civilized man!? You just exposed your slave “brown sahib” mentality.

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  • Ahmed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 5:20PM

    @Cyma Khan
    A- Whether you are Japanese, Russian, Korean, German or Swedish you need to know English. English is the bridge language in the modern world. I have met many Scandinavians who speak faultless English.
    B- Reading books by foreign authors is the mark of an open mind. You learn from other points of view. Pakistan is not exactly the literary capital of the world. Would you truly want your doctor to have imparted his knowledge from a Pakistani medical textbook. Be honest at the state of our education system.
    C- There is nothing better than enjoying a good conversation and drink with friends. This is not new to our part of the world. Omar Khayyam’s poetry alludes to drinking, and he wrote nearly a thousand years ago. There is a huge difference between a man who has self-control and enjoys a light drink and needs to be forced by law not to drink.

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  • andleeb
    Jul 8, 2012 - 8:25PM

    @Ahmed: “…you need to know English.” Show me one copuntry that has advanced or come up with original ideas in a foreign language. France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan are advanced because they do not have to “think” in a foreign language.

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  • Ahmed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 8:58PM

    @ andleeb
    Singapore and Hong Kong are two countries that use English. Singapore especially is strong in the use of the English language. I am sure you will agree both are very advanced.

    Furthermore, many major European multinationals use English as the company language.

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  • Ahmed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 9:08PM

    @ andleeb

    Another point yes we should develop the local languages. But what we have done to develop our language ? It is the conservatives who have do the most to butcher our languages. I don’t want ET to censor me but just look where we have been looking for inspiration for our languages. Is Saudi Arabia the intellectual center of the world ?

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  • A Rehman
    Jul 9, 2012 - 1:32AM

    An elderly, respected, retired doctor shared this view: ”In our zamana, everybody had large families, regardless of social class. Now the educated folk are restricting their family size to 2 children while the masses are still having an average of 6 children per family. Population growth is exponential, so the resulting demographics mean the tone/fabric/values/balance of society has changed to reflect this. Add to this the mass exodus of educated families to the west, and you have a situation where the vast majority is unskilled, uneducated, without role models, yet they end up filling the vacuum created by the shortage of qualified people. And by qualified I don’t mean the ‘on paper’ Matric/Inter pass.”

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  • SJ
    Jul 9, 2012 - 3:27AM

    Mediocrity or the general decline is the natural effect when people stop trying to elevate and be the best themselves. When they look towards “leaders” and point fingers at others and how “if there was no corruption, then we’d be out of this mess.. ” mentality exists, then the game is already lost. Yes, if you have an issue with corruption then refrain from it yourself, at the cost of discomfort, rather than, “yeh Pakistan hai, yahan tu aisay hee kaam chalta hai”. Yet that hardly EVER happens. Everyone perpetuates this malaise.

    The ONLY thing anyone can do is to ensure the self is restrained, or transcends itself and aims to do the right thing and the better thing each time. That may require too much effort…so it is easier to point fingers at others, and so the spiral continues

    There can be no hope. This “hope” is deluding the nation anyway. About time the voice of gloom and doom be taken seriously – IF you want change.

    However the of corruption (of ALL kinds) in the society can only be addressed by an implosion. Survival of races depends on characteristics that can weather the storm. There is no redeeming quality now. The way to improve things is to let these current times continues until the catastrophic implosion and when all is dead and gone to start anew. This current population is already outlived its evolutionary value.

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  • pmbm
    Jul 9, 2012 - 6:43AM

    @Ahmed
    Inspiration for that language is not because of Sauds but because it is the language of Quran, book that many Muslims consider very important. Children can learn it and english. If one could understand that arabic book it can be very useful in life. In fact a german person was so impressed by the book that he translated it in english for intelligent Anglicized muslims like you.For those interested it is “The Message of The Quran” By Muhammad Asad (born Leopolde Wiess).
    Regards

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  • Roti, kapra aur...
    Jul 9, 2012 - 6:01PM

    I knew you people would bring religion into it… but the fact remains.. there has been no religious , religio-political party at the helm of the affairs since the birth of Pakistan. The mediocrity that we witness and experience all started in the ZAB era when political affiliation became the sole qualification of having a job and quota system was strengthened into the governance.

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  • andleeb
    Jul 9, 2012 - 8:10PM

    @Ahmed: Malaysia/ Hong Kong – Well off and maybe advanced in the level of living. But inventions and innovations come from people who think and are taught in in the language of their birth. (or formative years of their life). Zubeida Mustafa’s article in The Dawn http://dawn.com/2011/04/20/english-as-a-barrier/ makes interesting reading in this regard.

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  • Ahmed
    Jul 10, 2012 - 6:59PM

    Good article andleeb. I do not disagree with you. But given realities for advanced scientific and technical knowledge we need English. However, I want to work with Indians to develop our languages. The languages of Pakistan belong to the Indo-Aryan family not the Semitic family. Somehow I don’t see us organising joint Indo-Pak workshops and conferences to develop dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks and so forth

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