One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Internet Shock

Before my first visit to USA, I was introduced (First Time) to term, “Cultural Shock” and then last summer when I went back home, I heard another term, “Reverse Cultural Shock”. I guess, before both of these shocks, I had experienced another shock and I had no term to describe it. Although, I was feeling the need for a term to be able to communicate the experience but at the same time, I was thinking that, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” is explaining the phenomenon. People like Huntington had long sensed that a “Global Village” in “Post Ideological Divide” will resurface the historical divides and the basis of so called, “Cultural Fault lines” would be historical boundaries of the cultural landscapes.

Parallel to physical world, now we have a digital world and today’s World Wide Web is no more, just a place to find information, publish information or exchange information. It has evolved into a socializing space and people have started calling it “Second Life”. With current growth rate, Facebook is expected to become the largest country of the world. If there are physical cultural fault lines then it is natural to expect that those fault lines will also find space in the digital space. Unlike the physical cultural landscape that has its own costs for the cultural activities that go beyond the means of lots of people; internet provides most of the services free of cost. If walking across cultural landscapes gives initial cultural shocks and retuning back gives initial reversal cultural shocks then it is logical to expect having both of these phenomena on internet.
Current estimate; Facebook population is 900 million people (Though, it is an old illustration but I like it because of the multi-level comparisons)
 Seeing the exchanges of debates on social networks and on comment sections of blogs and sites, on daily basis, I am realizing that, the divide is not just on “Cultural fault lines” but it is much deeper.  Subcultures, subgroups and even groups that do not fall into any category, encounter each other with the zeal of Orcs. Sometimes, these encounters are temporary on occasional events that are just good for a no purpose chatter (The street chatters are now on the pages of social networks).

In short, it is not just cultural fault lines or sub-cultural variations or even within small groups’ differences of opinions that keep the buzz of fuss going on but it is part of human nature to buzz around things necessarily or un-necessarily. So, if the “Cultural Shock” means to experience big cultural differences then it exist and show up with much details on internet and this might legitimize the term, “Internet Shock” as parallel to “Cultural Shock”.  

Edward O Wilson (Some consider him as Darwin of 20th Century) in a recent article, “Evolution and our Inner Conflicts” argues that conflicts are pre-determined by multi-level selection. Although, I may not agree with it as a whole however, two of his paragraphs are interesting and relevant to our topic…

……….“A second diagnostic hereditary peculiarity of human behavior is the overpowering instinctual urge to belong to groups in the first place. To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain, and put on the road to madness. A person’s membership in his group — his tribe — is a large part of his identity. It also confers upon him to some degree or other a sense of superiority. When psychologists selected teams at random from a population of volunteers to compete in simple games, members of each team soon came to think of members of other teams as less able and trustworthy, even when the participants knew they had been selected at random.”…….

What I take from this paragraph is that, if you come across a post, a comment, article and video that call you or what you recognize yourself with, as “Stupid” , it might shock you or even anger you but as it is part of human nature to see others inferior to relative to themselves so there is no escape from it. Better to accept it and learn to live with it. It is what Wilson is also recommending in its final paragraph,

…….”The eternal conflict is not God’s test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out. It might be the only way in the entire universe that human-level intelligence and social organization can evolve. We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as a primary source of our creativity.”………..

If there is a partial truth in those two paragraphs of Wilson then internet shock is a real phenomenon and it will remain no matter even if global village shrink to global home. 

I tried to keep it short but it just expanded (redundancy is another internet phenomenon :) 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Horace, Men of Faith and Gates

By turn of century, war on terror began and then reduced to drone attacks, green revolution sprout in the streets of Tehran and then shrank to pages of BBC Farsi, Wikileaks sprang out of nowhere to shake the capitals of world and reduced to few interviews, Arab Spring came to change the face of Middle East and ended up changing the faces of a few old men who were already needed rest for medical reasons. Although, most of the expected BIG events proved to be ephemeral but unlike the rest of world, Pakistan is unique in that, she doesn’t rest at all. Here, a Big event is forced into dormancy just by another Bigger event. Take the examples of Gates series; Just like Bill Gates Windows series, there are upgrades of gates in matter of weeks to months, memogate, family-gate and now media-gate. Are there more gates in the pipeline? Who knows?

Like every other Pakistani, I grew up hearing time and again about the Iqbal’s “Man of the Faith” in books, in newspapers, in TV talks and songs. To see, men of faith in actual was like expecting to see the spiderman in subways. May be, as some conceive, Iqbal’s words were so dense that the very men of the faith for whom they were written, weren’t able to decipher them.  People say that, “Great men think alike” so I turn to another great lyricist like Iqbal, Horace just to not offend those who take Iqabl’s words as sacred poems. As the media report, Malik Riaz had distributed Villas to remove his anxieties. Horace says,

“Reason and sense remove anxiety,
Not villas that look out upon the sea”


“Try to bend things to them, not them to things.”

But, these bookish advices are of no use to hardheaded elites of Pakistan as they know well that, there are two parallel lines of logic in the world, reasoning and money. There is no one who doesn’t understand the logic of money while, there are  few people who are convinced by reasoning. So, if they had read the Horace by any chance, they must have read these lines,

“Let him show mastery over a fighting foe,
And clemency when he has brought him low”


“When riches fail, I praise
The safe and simple life, content with humble ways;
But then, when better, richer fortune smiles on me,
I say that only they live well and sensibly
Whose wealth in country manors glistens brilliantly”

But, wait a minute, Iqbal’s Man of faith was supposed to be like Eagle or in Horace words,

“Wise, and master of himself,
Fearing not death, or chains, or lack of wealth,
Disdaining honors, firm against desire,
Within himself well-rounded and entire,
Beyond the reach of all external pain,
Against whom even fortune strikes in vain?”

Perhaps, Iqbal had realized that his men of faith are much sharper than Eagles and are more practical than bookish wise men and that was why, he said, “Why should I ask wise men; whence is my beginning? I am busy with the thought; where will be my end?”

Still, each one of the more than 180 million citizen of the country are busy worrying, Where will be their end?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Real Middle Earth

It is natural for men to think of themselves at the center of everything. It appears arrogant but it is, how men make their perceptions and sense of the world around them. It is evident from religious expression of "God has created men on His image" to philosophical expression of "I think, therefore I am". Reading news and analyses in different languages, I feel like the centrality of the world shifts depending  on which newspapers, I am reading. The works of fantasy is no exception.

I feel like, there is a pattern in different works, divided wide both in terms of time and nationalities, ranging from Plato's "Republic" to Firdosi's "Shahnama" and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". Plato was living in a time, when the great ancient Greek city of Athens was in decline due to wars and greed of the Aristocrats. Firdosi was living in a time, when Persia was in decline and was losing territory and authority to Turks of Central Asia and Tolkien was living in previous century, the most deadliest century of all times so far. He participated in WWI and witnessed the rise of the Germany, WWII, decline of British Empire and rise of Soviet and American Empires. Republic, Shahnama and Lord of the Rings are works of fantasies but are so rich in imaginations that are more lively than real world. These masterpieces were intended to inspire, people of their times to stand upright in the face of declines caused by weaknesses of ruling men.

If you have watched or read the first of the Lord of the Ring series; "The Fellowship of the Ring", you might have noticed it all over the story but particularly in the dialogue between Boromir (The Captain of the White Tower; from Gandor) and Aragorn;

Aragorn; Take Some Rest. These borders are well

Boromir; I will find no rest here. I heard her voice
               (Lady of Light) inside my head. She spoke of my father and "fall of Gandor". She said to me; "Even now, there is hope left". But I cannot see it. It is long since we had hope. My father is a noble man but his rule is failing..... and our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right, and I would do it.
"I would see the glory of Gandor restored".
Have you seen it, Aragorn? The white tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver. Its banners caught high in the morning breeze. Have you ever been called the clear ringing of silver trumpets?

Aragorn; I have seen the white city long ago....

Boromir; One day, our paths will lead us there. And the tower guard shall take up the call; "The Lords of
               Gandor have returned"

Reading these lines of the Tolkien, I was feeling that he is speaking about fall of British Empire and is expressing hope for a come back of her glorious times. The reason is just the historical perspective behind this novel. Although there is an alliance of different races and creatures (Just like WWII scenario) against Sauron  (a common threat) but each one is concerned with the glory of their own cities. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cultural ‘Capital’ and Language of Empires

How it is that, modernization is almost synonymous with westernization and English has emerged as the representative language of globalization? What about rise of Persian with persianization, rise of Islam with Arabization?  rise of Turks with Turkization? What about Spanish speaking people in Latin America and French speaking class in North Africa? In fact, transnational languages are footprints of the past empires. Middle East and Central Asia are considered as graveyard of empires and although there are no more empires but the lingual divides and the continuing competition of languages over populations are still reminding us of the legacies of those majestic empires.  Pakistan is an interesting case study is this regard.

The national language of Pakistan is Urdu and Urdu speaking community is called Muhajir (Immigrants) because they emigrated from North India during partition of India-Pakistan. In fact, Urdu is a legacy of Mughal Empire and is very recent to be added to the family of languages and people of North India adapted it (created it during Mughal Empire). Likewise, English is the official language of Pakistan and it is the legacy of English Empire. Just as English Empire had replaced Mughal Empire, similarly, the English language had first replaced Persian as an official language and then slowly distorting/enriching Urdu by replacing Persian and Arabic words and expressions in it.

I think, the best explanation can be Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of “Cultural Capital”. He has borrowed the concept from Marx Capital and hence represents any cultural aspect (education, intellect, style of speech, dress, and even physical appearance, et cetera) that helps social mobility. Language stands at the core of cultural capital and it really explains why, with the rise of each empire, the language of empire was adapted by other people. It really explains why founders of Pakistan adapted Urdu as a national language and English as official language. Urdu was the heritage of Muslim (Mughal) empire (glorious past) but English was the coinage of current empire. 

It is interesting to note that, despite of very obvious influence of cultural capital on every segments of modern societies, Marxist movements  of last century and even recent 99% movement were largely based on economic class divide. And that is because cultural capital are the products of economic and social capitals. By increasing digitalization of the social institutions, the influence of the cultural capital are deepening. Seeing the people of previous generation, even those who weren't able to read and write properly are struggling to catch up with basic technologies are an indication of a social urgency and the role that cultural capital  is playing in it. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

"There is no such thing as a 'self-made' man. We are made up of thousands of others." George Matthew Adams ... Perhaps, that is the core concept behind the sense of social responsibility. Naturally, we tend to give back, what we have received from others. But what if someone tells us that, we need to rethink the ways that we give back as they are not doing the "good" that we intended to? Very few people invest thoughts in their actions, especially in actions that are appreciated by dominate culture. Aside from a bunch of flakes, who question the norms, people usually follow the norms and it makes the saying of Louis Althusser appear true, "Ideology has very little to do with 'consciousness' - it is profoundly unconscious."...

In his talk, "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce", Zizek criticizes the capitalist philanthropic practices based on the assumptions, that they are just addressing the symptoms, not causes. I agree with him on this, but I have a question here... 

Let's assume that, you go to Starbucks to buy your coffee and the ads says, part of the price goes to an extremist madrassah, what would be your reaction? What, if the ads explains that, your money is spent for a good cause of "educating" poor children in some remote place? Well, I assume, that doesn't require much thinking as by now, it is a common knowledge, that these madrassahs have become part of problem instead of solution. They produce people who lack skills to get them jobs (to become a useful part of society) and instead, they have the mindsets to  make them as readily available recruits of militants.

Even if for a while, we assume that the "education" in those madrassahs are harmless and are just for moral training and literacy, again read this description of the "education" in those schools to learn, how they produce just waste, "In this part of the world, writing as a category has not been recognized for centuries although the word used for Muslim school is Maktab which literally means the place where you write. But in Maktabs there has been no writing done at least after 12th century. These are, in the words of Dr Sarfaraz, ‘oral societies’ in that the method of teaching in their religious schools is mostly oral — individual to individual with no use of conventional teaching aids, such as the black boards, chalks, and markers."

Although it is plausible to question, the way capitalist philanthropists invest but I wonder, why after more than a decade of "war on terror" no one has questioned the donations of those Shaikhs who support these madrassah and still do business in billions with countries that have prioritized the war on terror as the prime objective of their foreign policy? Why they have remained immune of the smart sanctions? (May be, it is just asking a  wrong question as those Shaikhs are frenemies. Next joke please!!!)

If we just limit ourselves to questions of the intellectuals again, I understand that, it has a popular demand to question element of popular culture that everybody is familiar with. Skipping serious questions that have less public appeal is the characteristic of "cultural capitalism". The Socialist revolutionaries have reduced to public entertainers. I don't know, what to call it, "reverse revolution" or "reverse evolution"? whatever, it is really amusing in itself. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Culture is a Stronger Force than Religion

Seemingly, it might look a very strong statement but as a matter of fact, by each new evidence, I am becoming  more convinced that culture is much stronger force than religion and historical-global-process, such as modernity. I have stopped looking to people of regions based on their religious affiliations and modernization movements but instead got interested to look, how religion and modernization have reshaped by respective cultures.

In previous century, people might had high hopes for new movements both in secular and religious hemispheres. Communism's equality, Capitalism's liberty and Islamic movement's Justice had great promises  that appealed to  masses that a large chunk of people thought them, worth dying for, but in the age of internet, it is becoming evident, that humans are far from balanced by nature. The recorded brutalities, available on you tube is sufficient evidence (at least for me) that humans think, talk and like to appear as humane and civilized, but are too weak to their nature, when they have the power to make choices between evil and good.

Usually, we see the rationalizations of savage acts, either by name of social engineering or an act of religious devotion (a religious obligation) but what about the practices that have only an element of pleasure with them? How can we justify them other than human nature?

Middle East is thought as the birthplace of civilizations, graveyard of empires and the birthplace of Abrahamic Religions but watching the following video report, I felt as no empire, civilization and religion has touched this place. Dubai is seen as the symbol of modernization in the Middle East and yet the child slavery is an evidence that culture is much a strong force than religion and historical processes.  

So, Afghanistan was supposed to be on the ancient Silk road, cross-road of civilizations, the cultivating ground for Jihadists, the launching pad of communism and now melting pot of westernization and modernization. But apparently, none of these processes have been able to influence the cultures there. The culture of "dancing boys" have defied all these processes just to reassert, that culture is much a strong force than religion and global processes.


Just recently, four women and two men were sentenced to death in Kohistan area of Pakistan and reportedly, the four women were killed because the women had sung songs and men had danced in front of them (Kohistan video scandal: 4 women killed ). Even if the culture is beyond the common sense, against religion and Human Rights, again it is the culture that is going to reshape all those forces. 

To me, it is no more surprise why the violent sides of religions, sports and entertainment attract more certain regions and segment of societies, while the same are disgusted by others? It is quite understandable that cultures that promote and appreciate violent aspects of human nature have the tendency to look, appreciate and enjoy violent aspects of religion, sports and entertainments. 

The video that was used in sentencing to death, the four women and two men that appeared in it.