Happy new year, dear readers. Or whatever helps you sleep at night. If I were to look for a phrase to encapsulate my thoughts about this year changing business, I would have to borrow another phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five apart from the title of this piece that comes directly from the book. And that phrase is — unstuck in time. Let me elaborate.
It feels like only yesterday when as a child one would contravene the bedtime restrictions to experience the onset of the new year. What a time it was! Potential revolutions lurked in every nook and cranny. A world full of endless possibilities. From that to this. The revolution of the other kind. The one that the bullocks at the outdated waterwheel wells (rehat) experience as they go round and round in circles and believe it is progress. Unstuck in time.
As the first morning of the year, 2022 dawns and these lines reach you, you cannot possibly fail to appreciate the insanity of our times. The civilisation is ambushed by a deadly disease that refuses to go away. And the reason why Covid is still around is down to just one fact. Our sheer stupidity as a collective. Our best and brightest came up with a whole host of vaccines in record time. The rich and the powerful came together to make it free for most of us. These variants will not stop coming until we all are vaccinated. All we had to do was to receive the gift of life. And what did we do? We let certifiable idiots like Alex Jones and opportunists like Tucker Carlson lead us astray. The world’s richest man Elon Musk and most successful podcaster Joe Rogan helped because they are helpless before their man-child egos. And the leaders of the most powerful nations would rather fight wars than work in tandem, the minimum need of the hour. So it goes.
The collapse of a 20-year nation-building project in Afghanistan is recent news. But approval rating shock that it generated in the west, particularly in the US, makes it almost impossible for the administrations to pay attention to the hungry children sitting in tents in Afghanistan’s subzero temperatures. And why just blame them. Afghanistan is a Muslim nation. Last month representatives of 57 member nations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation met in Islamabad. Non-Muslim countries also sent their representatives. Speeches were made. At the start, Pakistan made a valiant effort to underscore the fact that apart from the humanitarian aid Afghanistan’s collapsing economy needed a way to revive its almost dead banking sector. Western nations had already made significant pledges. But there was no way to transfer that money except for the sake of basic subsistence. Never mind the collecting method what was needed was a delivery mechanism. In their infinite wisdom these 57 nations, some of them very wealthy, announced that they will open a trust fund (charity collection account) in Jeddah based Islamic Development Bank. This bank account will be made operational anytime between today (1st of January) and the end of the first quarter of 2022. Most likely exactly after winters. No news of any significant financial pledges reached this scribe. And what about the delivery mechanism? We will cross the bridge when we come to it. That is after a substantial amount has been collected. And before you cut the nose to spite the face pay attention to this disclaimer: these are my raw thoughts alone and have nothing to do with the thinking of the Pakistani state or its functionaries. What? Non-Muslim western nations look like angels already? And so it goes.
And this pesky little phrase ‘so it goes’ that has undoubtedly begun to annoy you, particularly if you have not read the aforementioned book, also needs some explaining before it drives you away. The expression comes from German “So geht’s” which when accompanied with a fatalistic shrug means ‘that’s life’. In the novel, it represents the alien Tralfamadorian philosophy. The Tralfamadorians are four-dimensional beings which means they can discern time like we can perceive the three dimensions known to us. So they can see all moments of our existence at once, from birth to death. Viewed in that context death is only one sad part of the epic adventure called life.
What captures the true essence of our times where humanity faces existential challenges daily, human ingenuity heroically offers astonishing solutions and yet mankind scoffs at these benefactors and walks into the embrace of certain death? A recent Netflix film called Don’t Look Up. This star-studded flick is a satire on the inanity of the human race and the human condition today. Two scientists detect a nine-kilometre large comet hurtling towards earth with the ninety-seven point something probability of an extinction-level event. And what is humanity’s response? Politicians act like politicians, businessmen like businessmen, media like media and we, the people, like whatever we have become. A total madhouse. You have to watch this movie to know what a delight it is.
This after all is a great time for the film and the television industry. Strange time too. When the usual mediums may stop to operate like we have known them, both television and cinemas as they have functioned so far. They may work more as a few conduits available but not as the main emblems of the underlying systems they once represented. Their whole industries supplanted by streaming mobile apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max and Disney Plus. And yet these businesses bring with them endless financing opportunities, next level cutting edge technology and no medium restrictions. A storyteller’s dream come true. But so it goes.
The above-mentioned movie does a great job of representing the problems we face today but what is the solution. I found one great book that lays bare the problem and then seeks to provide solutions. Our problem after all is that things are falling apart because people keep losing faith in established institutions. And that is because wrong people keep getting important jobs. Political scientist Brian Klaas has written a brilliant book titled Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us. This exceptionally well-resourced book tells you how people with what it calls dark triad traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) find their way to power and unhinge our world. The solution is simple. Sift them out and attract the right kind of people with empathy and the right motivations to these jobs. It might be too late but at least we are getting somewhere with this book. I highly recommend you read this book because it is the start of a new year and I don’t want you to get stranded with me, unstuck in time. Happy reading.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2022