The Dawn: April 26, 2015

Past present: Light and dark

Mubarak Ali 

Description: Illustration by Abro
The Greek colony of Ionia produced great thinkers and philosophers, whose ideas were discussed, analysed and interpreted generation after generation to understand the society and its problems.

Heraclitus (d.475 BCE), known as ‘the weeping philosopher’, was one of the thinkers whose philosophy is debated even today by politicians and historians.

His concepts were pluralistic. He believed that everything was in motion and changed according to time and environment as stated in his famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” According to him, this suited the interests of the society and he argued that the traditions and values altered their meanings according to the prevailing circumstances.

On the contrary, Parmenides (d.460 BCE) opposed his pluralistic views and presented monism, that there is one absolute truth and assertion on the changelessness and motionlessness of values and traditions.

In the 4th century BC, a group of thinkers known as the sophists emerged who educated and trained politicians and supported Heraclitus’ philosophy on the relativity of customs and traditions and his views on continuous change.

Pluralism is the only solution for the state of affairs in our country

These two ideas of pluralism and monism contradict each other and provide an insight to understanding the working of the political system.

We notice that generally in Imperial States, the followers of different religions chose to adopt the policy of pluralism to adjust to all people of faith, race and nationalities to create harmony and unity. In the case of the Roman Empire, whenever a ruler followed the policy of religious tolerance he maintained tranquillity and prosperity in the Empire, but when the ruler deviated from this policy and forced to convert his subjects to the Imperial religion, there was resentment and conflict in the society.

In the subcontinent, after the Mauryan emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism, he observed a policy of religious tolerance, declaring in a number of edicts that people should respect other religions.

In the modern period, after the emergence of democracy, the State has played an active role in politics. Thinkers and politicians debated whether the state should be granted absolute powers to control its citizens by adopting the policy of monism or should rights be granted to different groups of people in the society so that they realise their objectives within the framework of pluralism.

German thinkers highly valued the institution of the state, which was to them a shadow of divinity on earth. It was believed that individuals and groups of people could achieve their objectives only through the state without making allowances for moral issues. It was considered the responsibility of the bureaucrats and state officials to follow the law of the state. Hanna Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem quoted Eichmann who professed his innocence by declaring that by sending the Jews to concentration camps, he merely obeyed the command of the state which, as a state servant, he could not reject.

It is seen that whenever the state is controlled by ideological forces or extremists, they transform it to a totalitarian system as a weapon to terrorise and force people to follow state policies. The state then takes on the responsibility of nation building, defining it as patriotism and nationalism. Any deviation from state policies is regarded as treason. The coercive nature of the state ended the creativity of individuals and society plunged into intellectual stagnation. In the case of Nazi Germany, the state controlled its citizens and prevented any activity which was against the Nazi ideology.

History shows that states which followed a policy of pluralism and granted space for different social and political groups to realise their objectives by creating their own policies and ideas, were successful in providing basic rights and facilities to their citizens.

In Pakistan, the state has become an ideological one adopting the principal of monism and not allowing any space to plural values. As a result, society is decaying day by day while various groups in society have failed to play an active role to solve its problems and reform their own status.

Once a totalitarian and ideological state becomes corrupt and its institutions exploit their power to deprive people from taking initiatives independently, it pushes talented people away by not allowing them to display their creativity. The dissident groups and individuals in Pakistan are terrorised by fear of death and prefer to remain silent instead of raising their voices against injustice, misdeeds and corruption of the ruling classes.

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