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Provocations that hurt

Theodor W Adorno (1903 — 1969) was a German philosopher who is known for his ‘critical theory of society’. He suggests that there are three ways that the consumer culture (entertainment machine) corrupts and destroys us.

The first is the way we spend our leisure time. He believed that the leisure time has fallen in the hands of ‘entertainment machine’ which keeps us distracted and builds a political reality around us that we, as prisoners living in an open prison, are unable to alter.

The real calamities of our world go unattended as the ‘entertainment machine’ keeps us distracted, confused, compliant and intimidated. The second way is how the ‘entertainment machine’ “carefully shields our real wants from us”, that we end up forgetting what we truly need and instead “fall for desires manufactured for us”.

Lastly, he believes there are proto-fascists everywhere because psychology comes ahead of politics and before we are corrupt, authoritarian, violent or racist, we are most likely to be suffering from psychological problems and immaturities. He believed that the primary obstacles to the social problems are ‘cultural and psychological’ rather than ‘political and economic’. Theodor Adorno’s work offers a continuous provocation: “The reason why we continue to suffer and hurt one another is not that we don’t have money, resources, time, skill — the foremost reason is that our minds are sick or are being made sick”.

The ten dismal (democratic) years from 2008-2018, presided over by politicians who (bewildered) energised by the task of bringing this country into the rank of the modern world gifted us a ‘heavily under debt Pakistan’.

The (sad) democratic decade was marked by the ascent of (criminal) profitable, patronised private businesses and a coterie of oligarchs who ‘vultured’ on the (democratic) government-assisted plans of turning the state resources and enterprises into private ones.

While the state became poor, their handlers, facilitators, political pushers and the businesses themselves became billionaires overnight. While the few politically-benefited enjoyed and celebrated, the majority of Pakistanis who were already suffering from the long-fought war against terrorism were gifted an inflated (false) economy the balloon of which burst the moment governance switched hands and a new government came to power.

Now that the current government will further reel under the heavy loan from the IMF, inflation will run wild, jobs will further disappear and many will go unemployed and those standing on the sidelines that Adorno calls as ‘the proto-fascists’ would have little but ‘broad corrupt smiles’ to offer. We are further being educated by some of these sideliners that (NAB) accountability and economy cannot go together. A ‘political reality’, like Adorno said, we the ‘inhabitants of the open prison’ can do little to change. The entertainment machine which is a link in the same chain of “political, cultural and psychological problems” continues to “manufacture our desires for us”, “affect our minds”, “brainwash and indoctrinate us”.

The PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) wants (protection) “Tahafuz’ from whom? From those who fought and died while fighting the war on terror or from the politically-patronised ‘wild bunch of oligarchs’ created and crafted by the (democrats) politicians who drained the state’s treasury, suffocated its economy and created their personal fortunes in the most dishonest way.

The PTM never asked for this tahaffuz (protection) while politics in the ‘democracy decade’ was ruling the roost. Under an environment of ‘policy of live and let live’, many unethical and undesirable practices nurtured. Right under the ‘blind eyes’ of the government of those days much was accomplished and accumulated within the formalities of law (wealth could buy influence) without the Adorno’s classified public feeling any deprivation or alienation while continuing to ‘live in the open prison’ that politics build for them.

The fault of the state (military being the most powerful of its organs) is that it wants to keep it together, to prevent its division, to sacrifice even their lives in safeguarding and protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. Is this not a noble cause? Ask our own colonisers — “building an empire is one thing; holding on to it is another project entirely”.

Even if the military has made mistakes, the politics has also done little to give solutions or handle the problems. Never pushed for better and greater democracy or honest elections, politics has more conveniently left problems to be dealt with at some other time and this procrastination has led to the problems mutating and mushrooming into troubles that ultimately could be dealt with nothing but force.

Did politics in the 10 dismal (democratic) years from 2008-2018 promote peace? Did it make attempts to harmonise the country? Politics left much of the country in dire need of political and social attention. While the topic of ‘social and public welfare’ remain both ‘business’ and ‘politics’, our politicians indulged more in business than they did in politics.

The process of accountability must proceed and must do that at a fast pace. Those promoting the narrative that ‘accountability and economy’ cannot function hand in hand must be proven wrong.

Theodor Adorno spoke about the ‘sickness of the minds’ or the ‘minds being made sick’ — this has got a lot to do with how we are utilising our leisure time. Compulsory television watching being most favourite of them. The oft-repeated and continued ‘political mediocrity’ being telecast by some of the TV channels sits heavy on the minds of the people. The military took a lead by allowing only the well-versed and accomplished persons to represent it. Will politics also consider limiting its representation to well-educated specialists in the subjects and not the usual political ‘brain drainers’?

Most of us get very frustrated by the difficulties being faced by our beloved country. It is not just the lack of opportunities that frustrates people but also the prolonged and unending process of accountability of the ‘big fish’ that despite being netted continues to take unending twists and turns without being really caught.

The state can live with difficult economic times, what it cannot live with is politics that doesn’t deliver or an accountability process that doesn’t end. That to me are the provocations (factors) that according to Theodor Adorno not only frustrate and hurt us but make us mentally sick as well.

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