The Dawn: Aug 15, 2014

PUNJAB NOTES: Shortcut: ‘This world is in haste’

Mushtaq Soofi 

What is a shortcut? A shortcut is a shortcut, any ragamuffin would answer. But is it that simple? The concept of shortcut is an outcome of biohistorical conditions of human society where individuals and groups with a short span of life at their disposal feel compelled to do things they have to do in a shortest possible time with the expenditure of as little energy as possible.

A shortcut is neither right nor wrong. It’s the context that may determine its being what it actually is. Take the example of language. The speakers of a language, any language, universally tend to shorten the words and simplify the pronunciation driven by an urge to have both economy and expressiveness which save them effort. Guy Deutscher, in his book ‘The Unfolding of Language,’ enlightens us on the issue: “Imagine two buildings with an overgrowing field lying directly between them. The only road connecting the buildings winds its way lengthily around the field, so people who have to walk from one building to the other start crossing the field as a shortcut. The first person to do so tries to make his way through the long grass, and the people who come afterwards find the track which the first person has made the most inviting way through, because some grass and bracken have already been trodden down”.

As is the case with language, so is with social life. But generally a shortcut in social life may not be as acceptable as in language. The hazard of unintended consequences is an essential component of taking a shortcut in society supposedly based on the writ of institutions evolved with the objective of regulating it. A shortcut taken implies circumvention of the laws/norms evolved by institutions as well as the institutions’ dysfunction. The act of circumvention signifies the deficiency of institutions with its very occurrence. In a society like ours that is neither primitive nor modern, where laws are modern but their enforcement primitive, in the sense of being obnoxiously selective, the practice of taking a shortcut becomes so rampant that it comes to be accepted as a norm; murky and devious.

Recourse to shortcut, though usually the prerogative of the privileged, has had its trickle-down effect to the extent that now it’s a malaise that, in its contagious sweep, has affected our collective life with its benighted touch.

The shortcut approach defines our political, economic and social life with the consequences foretold and unforeseen. A shortcut for our ambitious military men to retain their existing privileges and gain further power is to impose martial law whenever there is a national crisis; real or manufactured. The moment they are ensconced in the seat of power, a shortcut for a sizeable number of politicians, driven by an allure of the pie on offer, is to join the junta with a promise of lending legitimacy to the illegitimate regime. When a civil government is in power, a shortcut for the contenders of power beaten at the hustings, is to cry foul and appeal to the top-brass to wrap up the democratic dispensation to save the nation from ‘the democratic swindlers’. A shortcut for a bureaucrat or a police officer is to curry favour with his bosses, civil or military, to get a ‘good posting’ that ensures an unbridled use of his authority, enabling him to make a fast buck for himself and his patrons. A shortcut for a businessman or an industrialist would be to woo the power-brokers with the sweet lure of money to get ‘concessions’ on setting up a new enterprise or shelving a case of tax evasion or malpractice related with the existing one. Stoking the fires of sectarianism is a shortcut for a cleric who, with his venomous thundering, forces the administration to take him seriously, claiming that if he throws his pious weight around, he can help bring about religious harmony in the community. An ordinary man’s shortcut is seen in his violating one way road not caring how deadly it may prove, just to save a few drops of liquid fuel to drive his motorbike an extra mile.

Elders in Punjab, now an almost extinct breed, used to say to the young: take the straight path however long it may be as shortcuts have pitfalls; pitfalls being the metaphor for the societal suicide. Under the inescapable influence of the globalised capital, the guiding principle now is haste; the haste to produce and consume, the haste to achieve and gratify oneself whatever the cost. Haste makes the shortcuts compellingly alluring. The achievers are thought to be the ones who do things unnatural at a pace unnatural which obfuscates the reality that as yet humans are animals though with a difference, inexorably bound to nature and its rhythm. It seems that global capital and its local cronies are hell-bent in their lust-driven haste to prove Wulfstan, Archbishop of York (died AD 1023), right who said: ‘--this world is in haste, and it approaches its end, and therefore -- the longer it is, the worse it gets—’. Sadly nobody knows how worse the worse is for man. —

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