The “Cling” Effect – A Study of Pakistani Society – By T. Ahmed
Various societies are at different levels of social development mainly because of the differences in their geography and history. Jared Diamond, in his remarkable study of the impact of geography on the development of societies Guns, Germs, and Steel, observes that “it is that our history has been moulded by our environment”. His thesis identifies the causes of differences in the development levels of various societies in “the availability of wild plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and the ease with which those species could spread without encountering unsuitable climates.” He observes that the initial environmental advantage enjoyed by the Eurasians as compared to Africans, for example, has determined the subsequent courses of their development because building on the initial advantage, the Eurasian societies developed guns, germs and steel with which they were able to retain their ascendancy. But Diamond”s conclusions, as he acknowledges, do not apply to the differences in the development levels of the Asian and the Western societies within the larger Eurasian group. Recounting residual areas in the line of his work, Diamond identifies “the problem of the differences between different parts of Eurasia, the role of cultural factors unrelated to environment, and the role of individuals.”
The purpose of my discourse is to focus on the underdevelopment of the Pakistani society that falls within the Eurasian group, with a view to identifying causes that have led to its stagnation. It was imperative for my discourse that I gave an overview of the factors that have influenced cultural evolution in various societies. I set myself the task of locating any underlying currents of thoughts and perceptions that may be at work to make stilted ideas, fruitless practices, outmoded structures, and defunct systems current in Pakistan with obvious alacrity. I find that more than other societies we are enmeshed in the contraptions of a mental proclivity that I call the Cling Effect.
The Cling Effect is a product of a mental state of a society where a large majority of its members tend to relish a fondness about their cultural past to such a degree that, at a subconscious level, they view their present with suspicion. They do so for a variety of reasons. Essentially, when a society cannot reconcile with the change of modern times, its members look back to their past for a feeling of comfort; it becomes possible due to a characteristic of human memory which allows for suppressing the repugnant and keeping alive the pleasant. In clinging to the past the greatest aid comes from mindsets that view man”s sojourn on earth as a departure from heavenliness and consider man”s journey into the future a further removal from the nature-god. A natural outcome of this effect is that its victims, in their affection for the bygone times, question even the positive features of their current existence. There are individuals in the developed societies of modern times who also seem to be the victims of the cling effect because they take the relative comfort and ease of modern life for granted and, in their dissatisfaction with some of the conditions of their present life, entertain a fond notion about the past. But the developed societies of our times on the whole appear to be more interested in their future as compared to their past.
In their everlasting crusade for reaching the Bethlehem of perfection mankind has toyed with such ideas as placing man at the centre of creation, of explaining the world as composed of perfect polyhedra, or atoms or electrons or quanta. In this struggle man has invented teleological models of the universe in which everything works according to a plan that anticipates the shape and the direction of the evolutionary process. Because these models remained scientifically unchallenged, for the better part of human history, mankind believed itself to be the end all and be all of creation, a belief that has not completely left mankind despite Galileo”s telescopic confirmation of the Copernican revolution and despite the conclusive evidence about the known universe expanding in all directions. In this groping to find the why and how of things man has concocted, rationalised, and implemented sociological and psychological models in which human behaviour is determined, at times, by the movement of stars, at others, by the spells cast by witches and spirits, and at yet other times, by the will of the programmer who has programmed our lives and the universe as such. In his efforts at reaching the finality of things, man has always been enchanted by the idea of having a complete theory of everything that explains the movement of stars and the behaviour of tiny particles with equal consistency. It has eluded man so far.
At one level all these models can be equated in terms of their inability to answer all questions, at another there are major qualitative differences between them. Continued existence demands that when there are two models equally unable to explain everything, there ought to be some other measure to choose between them. Human beings have always put a major premium on the quality of their lives and have rated the systems and procedures on the gauge of their ability to improve the overall quality of life. If we can establish that a thought system has been helpful in improving the overall quality of human life and has the potential for improving it further, a majority of human beings would opt for such a system irrespective of its ability to explain our surroundings.
The Pakistan perspective
Pakistani society is visibly paralysed in that it cannot reconcile the gains of modern technology with the perceived losses of traditional values resulting from the cultural shift in the wake of scientific advancement. Our traditional values cannot sustain free inquiry, equality of sexes, freedom of the individual, democracy and the modern work culture, for they demand conscientious efforts to eliminate authoritarianism, unscientific world view, and the joint family system that are the bases of our intellectual and social paradigm. In my analysis I have tried to set apart factors that have materially directed the course of human cultural evolution and most probably underlie the paradoxical behaviour of societies that enjoy the benefits of scientific discoveries and inventions but do not subscribe to a scientific and rational approach to life and development. In my view, there are four major factors that contribute to these contrary valuations; a) human dependence on the DNA encoded instructions, b) linguistic development, c) mystico-religious interpretation of life and universe, and d) scientific advancement. I have tried to develop a thesis that the texture of a society and its intellectual mindset, to a very large extent, is determined by the interaction of these four factors. I have also tried to analyse the role of the developed societies in contributing to the continued underdevelopment of certain traditional societies. And finally, the conclusion focuses on our perceptions about the quality of life and gives an analysis of various packages of quality of life offered by different societies at various points of time.
In my analysis I have relied on current perceptions of modern biology, physics, and philosophy as given in the works of known modern scientists and thinkers. Their theses and discourses, within a discipline or when compared with the perceptions of other fields, do not always complement each other, but I believe that the overall direction of hardcore modern sciences is driven by a concern for a better human future that can be brought about by a pluralistic, rational, and scientific approach to solving today”s problems.
The conflict between DNA encoded instructions and human cultural intervention
Mankind like all other species was exclusively dependent on genetically transmitted instructions for survival till such time that they developed language that speeded up the process of transfer of information for future generations. Coupled with the invention of tools, awareness of the past experiences made possible by language tremendously increased human control over the conditions of existence. Modern biologists agree that the genetic make-up of the modern man is no different from that of the Cro-Magnon man, therefore, it can be argued that some of the genetically encoded instructions that kept our ancestors in good stead may not be required by us due to the phenomenal increase in our control over the conditions of existence. Processes once discovered in nature are repeated for millions of years till they are mutated by natural selection; but with the advent of language man was able to discard redundant practices much more rapidly. Driven by language, human culture is thus purported to modify the genetic instructions that were encoded in such conditions of existence where human control over the environment was no better than that of other species.
I have argued that our biological make-up is attuned to repetition and human resistance to change is a natural outcome of the slow process of evolution. Since cultural (linguistic) intervention speeds up the process of change it can be, and has been, viewed as unnatural by certain individuals, groups, and societies. Certain societies, which have shown a greater potential for innovation and rapid change, have demonstrated an ability to liberate themselves from the genetic past that dictates persistence with patterns that have outlived their utility. Whereas there are other societies that consider all human intervention in the natural process of slow change as disruptive and continue to regard natural what they find akin to animalistic survival. This liberation from the genetic animal past characterises the difference between development and underdevelopment.
From the hunter-gatherer stage to the twenty first century it was a long period of over thousands of years in which man, initially very slowly and later, steadily gained control over the forces of nature and increased chances of his survival by inventing agriculture, elementary labour saving tools, metallurgy, writing, scientific tools, information technology, and genetic engineering. Two aspects of this process of development should always be kept in view. One is that human control over natural conditions of existence was not sudden and it did not substantially remove deprivation in terms of scarcity of food or unavailability of cure against disease etc, till such time that modern scientific techniques were put to use extensively in the areas of food production, medicine, housing, and law and order. Secondly, the process of attaining control over the forces of nature was not uniform for all societies. The result of these two aspects of the human development was that the groups and societies, which achieved control over the forces of nature earlier than others, went on to exploit the ones lagging behind. Firstly, because there was such a long history of deprivation and genetic training of dominance and hostility towards others, and secondly, because the scarcity of resources had not been eradicated. Groups and societies with access to greater resources, in a bid to latch on to them and maximize them, did not rid themselves of the brutal messages of selfishness and aggression encoded in their biological make-up. In a way the tyranny of genetic codes continued even in human cultural evolution. To some extent this is true of today also, but the concepts of humanitarian aid, the World Food Programme, the ILO and the like would be practically unimaginable in early human history.
For the underdeveloped societies the dilemma is twofold. Firstly, since the language-transmitted information does not always complement the DNA based instructions, they consider it unnatural. Secondly, as most of today”s progress is attributable to the scientific advancement brought about by others, the culture and civilization developing in its wake are considered alien. But as they cannot escape the pervading impact of modernization in the form of inventions and discoveries, and as they struggle to retain their so called cultural identity, a contradictory behaviour results in which at the end of the day they can be seen using the benefits of the modern culture while continuing to criticise it as unnatural.
Religion and Science
At a different level, but quite intricately connected, is the interaction between the diverse influences of religion and scientific advancement that determines the behaviour of societies. It is maintained by a very large number of people that there are two basic approaches to human problems i.e. religious and scientific. The suggestion seems to be that both these approaches have the capacity to solve the problems faced by mankind. I have argued that the premise itself is incorrect. Because what science proposes to do is qualitatively different from what religion aims at achieving. According to my understanding, no religion in the world provides any guidelines on the effect of chemical processes taking place in nature, or of bacteria on physiology or of weak and strong forces on the movement of worldly or celestial bodies. Religions do not seem to be in the business of solving human problems resulting from the adverse physical conditions of existence. Therefore, so far, we have not seen any Padre or Imam or Rabbi inventing a vaccine or a machine from the pulpit. As a matter of fact it does not require any evidence to prove that science is the only discipline known to mankind for alleviating its problem resulting from disease, shortage of food, natural calamities and threat to human life. In all fairness religion cannot have claims competing with physical sciences because of the difference in their spheres.
Why is that that despite clearly established advantages and tangible results of the scientific method in every field of life, there is a persistence of the non-rational in the human belief system? I have tried to demonstrate that it may be essentially due to our habitual way of thinking. Before man gained consciousness and some kind of a control over conditions of existence, man”s dependence on genetic codes was absolute for millions of years. And we see that despite a considerable change in the human living environment, some of the genetically transmitted messages are very hard to dislodge for the simple reason of their being in use for such a long time. On the same analogy, when mankind first developed language and started communicating in a more structured manner, the ideas and thoughts of those times became imbedded in the use of language. For thousands of years man lived with non-rational, magical, and purely philosophical explanations of life, hence for the same period of time language was used for propagating these thoughts and ideas. These religious and philosophical ideas have such a long history of currency, as compared to scientific findings, that to the modern man it seems quite natural to take them seriously. Religion and philosophy may not be capable of explaining our reality today but the very fact that they have been around for so long makes them a formidable force to reckon with. In a way the battle between genetic encoding and linguistic development is exactly identical to the one between religious and scientific approaches; because biological coding and religion derive their authority from prolonged usage, whereas language and science establish their premises on rationally defendable empirical results.
We need to realize that more than the ability to impose order on this chaotic universe, it is the capability of the scientific models to modify our conditions of existence that has led to their universal acceptance.
There seems to be some kind of a resurgence of human desire for a faithful explanation of life and universe. I suspect that it is primarily due to the phenomenal increase in human knowledge that has speeded up the pace of replacement of concepts and theories and the shelf life of scientific constructs has been dramatically reduced. Compare for instance the longevity of Copernican revolution and Newtonian physics with the time that mankind took in refining and modifying theories developed in the twentieth century. A common perception seems to be developing that since science has not been able to discover the entire truth and since its premises are frequently modified, there must be some other way to reach the truth. And faith, despite its past contributions in retarding human development and with its total lack of ability to provide verifiable basis for explaining reality, comes back as a contender for it is known to mankind since its infancy. But seemingly there is no harm with such a resurgence of faith in developed societies because, whatever be the spiritual leanings of their mystics and creationists and other philosophers of science, they have established all their systems on the findings of the scientific method and have firmly instituted all the benefits resulting from scientific discoveries in commerce, industry, education, sociology, law, politics and what have you. For them this indulgence is like an outing in an intellectual Riviera. One can evidence that this resurgence of faith in the developed societies does not affect the day to day living of the people, which is firmly established on secular premises, yet some of the writers, whose own life-styles are not very different from that of the mostpeople, continue agitating issues apparently settled for decades. At times one feels that in this imperfect world, where human dependence on the genetic code of aggression and selfishness has not been completely wiped out, there may still be subconscious racist motives against universal human development, and these efforts that discredit scientific development may be purported at helping the underdeveloped societies in remaining in their archaic mindsets. When it comes to a competition for scarce resources, comparison between the behaviour of early molecules and that of some of the modern societies becomes exceptionally revealing.
Institutional requirements for development
Scientific culture, as against the practices of the past, has necessitated institution of the following, in no particular order, in all modern societies:
- the scientific method
- freedom of the individual
- nucleus family
- equality of sexes
- rule of law
- primacy of work and work ethics
To be sure, all these values are not adopted by all modern societies to a uniform degree of compliance; in some all of them have been enacted in laws and are being practised, in others a few remain to become an integral part of the system. It has also been observed that some individuals and groups do raise voices against some of these values, but this can be said with a degree of certainty that all modern societies accept the validity of these values and make all possible efforts to institute them in their social fabric.
Why underdeveloped societies cannot institute modern institutions
Resistance to change coupled with a disregard for the scientific approach to development does not allow the underdeveloped societies to follow a structured path for development. But ” when it comes to change, one has to distinguish between facts and discourses on facts.” Real progress and advancement that actually have the potential for human development, find their ways in societies like flowing water. If their natural routes are obstructed, they sneak in mysterious and uncontrollable ways. This is what is precisely happening in the underdeveloped societies. Their theoretical discourses discredit scientific advancement, but the facts of progress and development compel their members to adapt to requirements of modernity and technology.
After the advent of empiricism and French and Industrial revolutions, it is no more possible to sustain social and intellectual systems, which may have served us well in the past, based on an earlier level of human awareness. It is still a condition of human existence that progress demands living on the cutting edge of human knowledge and technology and no society can really develop in modern times unless it removes the contradiction between the facts and its discourses about the facts.
Pakistani society like almost all Muslim societies has been incapacitated to institute rule of law, democracy, equality of sexes, and scientific approach to solving human problems. This is due to its inability to separate the secular and the religious spheres of life. Muslim perception of the supremacy of divine law cannot allow any legitimacy for the man made law; hence the modern secular law and democracy cannot take roots in Muslim societies. Similarly, the orthodox bearings of Muslim family law do not entertain the notion of a society where men and women are equal partners creatively engaged in productive endeavours. Most importantly, the scientific method to solving human social and developmental problems cannot be instituted in any religious society because no religion in the world can allow unbridled free inquiry.
Confusions about the quality of life
When all else fails to holds its own before the achievements of modern science, our traditional mindset questions the quality of life in modern societies and tries to establish that despite phenomenal technological advancement, the overall quality of life in modern societies cannot be favourably compared with the leisure, quietude, and freedom from systemic demands, in the traditional societies.
What constitutes quality of life? Apparently this simple question can have multiple answers depending on whom do you ask the question. If one looks at people”s aspirations in terms of how do they wish to organize their daily lives, there cannot be a great disagreement as to what constitutes quality of life. But there are perceived notions about the quality of life that people entertain in their private moments which determine the articulation of their discourses on the quality of life and which may not necessarily be in consonance with their real-life aspirations and practices. It is very easy to criticize the Darwinian perception of improvement with evolution on the basis of the examples of some earlier lower animals who ostensibly posses greater abilities to survive as compared to humans. But it is not that easy to dissociate the notion of improvement from human social development, for human beings have acquired language that has enabled them to record their past and subsequently learn from history things which other species have not been able to learn. There cannot be very many doubts about the improved conditions of existence and qualitatively improved human life since the stage when man developed language, but in my view there are some uses (misuses) of the newly acquired powers by man that at times cloud our view of real quality of human life in modern times. Continued exploitation of the deprived and continuation of clashes for selfish interests, supported by hitherto unimagined powers for annihilating enemies, are some of the major aberrations that make the modern package of living a mixed bag. Our main concern should be to find whether these aberrations are the unique outcomes of the modern civilization or are merely a continuation from the human past primarily determined by the genetically transmitted codes of behaviour. The real question as of now, as put by Stephen Hawking, is “Whether the language-transmitted sense of responsibility is sufficient to control the DNA-transmitted instinct of aggression”
Future human evolution may take place with the help of a kind of replicator, meme, which may replace the evolutionary importance of genes. A meme can be an idea or a thought or a design or a pattern that replicates itself in human social environment. In my view an effective meme is capable of increasing the survival advantage of the society in which it replicates or conversely it has the potential to reduce the competing abilities of a rival society. Memes may also be described as distinctly identifiable pieces of thoughts or expressions or systems that have the capability of finding space in human brains. Memes may not exactly behave like genes because they may not necessarily compete with their alleles only. For our purposes though if we call the nine concepts, identified above as hallmarks of developed societies, effective memes, they do behave quite similar to genes and their alleles. Because for any one of these memes to be effective, it is essential that our minds afford space for them by shutting of their competitors. Unless a society makes the mutually exclusive choice between authoritarianism and democracy, none of them can play any effective role in social deliverance. Same is true of the competition between secularism and theocracy, between equality of sexes and confinement of women and so on.
Past human experience shows that no quantum of empirical evidence and rational reasoning is helpful in convincing the religious and mystical mind-sets of the value of science as the discipline that has explained life and universe better than any other human or divine endeavour. But if it can be demonstrated that there is such a thing like a desired quality of life, to which even the blind folded creationists and delinquent naturalists also aspire, and that science has created an environment in which human life is really better as compared to earlier times, the discussion can be closed and the choice made.
We have seen that in recent history only those societies have been able to alleviate the suffering of their masses that have been successful in giving currency to modern technology and devising ways and means through which the twinges of development can be reduced. These societies have been successful in bridging and jumping the stages of traditional development and have managed quantum leaps to institute the nine memes, referred to above.
Some of us may entertain a feeling that the April of scientific advancement is the “cruellest month” of the season of existence, but it does not reduce the rejuvenating power of the spring of development.
It is an irony of our existence that most of the efforts undertaken for softening the effects of our biological past ended up in glorifying its dictates. For centuries, poets and artists have struggled to refine the coarseness of human emotions by portraying the follies decreed by greed, jealousy, revenge, power, conceit, and suspicion. But it seems that our genetic training was more attuned to deifying the embodiments of these very emotions in Agamemnon, Othello, Macbeth, Henchard, and the likes.
In the wake of man”s acquired mastery over the conditions of existence, there is a big time chance for the persuasive powers of arts and literature to up root from the human system, once and for all, all the instructions of dominance, aggression, and antagonism by supplementing the heroic struggle of science in understanding our reality. It can, probably, happen only when our poets and artists divorce the myths and archetypes jumping out of our collective unconscious, and start weaving their magic around the unflinching human struggle against the gods and daemons of superstition, possession, authority, rivalry, xenophobia and ultimate meaninglessness.
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