The Cognitive Backyard

Why So Serious?

Someone I greatly respect has told me that I look at things quite pessimistically. It is not the first time I have been told this. In fact, people have told me that my worldview and, consequently, my writings are melancholic. Whenever I write something, I try to outpour on the paper how I actually feel about a particular issue unless I am trying to be objective. But, can we truly be only objective? I find that I cannot answer this question with a “yes”.

We can attempt to be objective, however, we cannot completely abstract from the object of our study. I believe no one obsessed with writing, both academic and non-academic types, actually believes in absolute and total objectivity. And those who think they can be completely objective in their assessment and analysis of social reality, in my opinion, are only feigning their biases to look impartial.

So, when you look at the world, what do you see? Do you see the world black and white, or in different shades of grey, or mixtures thereof? Do you see the world as it is or do you see it as you perceive it? When you look at the world, do you see prosperity and bliss around you, or misery and suffering? Do you hear happy giggles and ga-ga, or megalomaniac laughter of a Joker narrating you one of his ‘funny’ stories?

If we see the world as it is, so what does it really look like? How do we know that it is the way we see it, or is it our perception actually that tells us it really is that way? I see most things, objects and people, actions and attitudes, in various sorts of grey. I hear a psychopathic laughter behind every pain and suffering. I see children dying and women screaming. I see hunger, disease, wars and famine. I find vanity, malice, hatred and discrimination.

So, when I look at the world, I do not really find anything poetic about it – except, perhaps, the beautiful world that once was which we are destroying in the name of progress and perfection; self-serving interests in reality. There is little in this world that inspires happy thoughts in me, or even a sense of satisfaction. I now ask myself how do I find the happiness to perceive it and, someday, write about it? Is it really me or is the world really that way? People tell me that the world is not really as sad as I see it.

The way we see the world is a certain reflection of our own mind. We see things selectively, and we mostly select what we have experienced physically or emotionally or both. It is the acquired knowledge and experience of the world we live in which drives our perception of it.

Normalcy is not a straight line. “Normal” is an excessively used and commonly misunderstood term. It is an abnormal term we callously refer to in every other situation. What is normal for one person, may be entirely abnormal for another. It is quite a relative conception, and everyone has a different point of reference to normalcy.

When we judge people’s behaviours, almost always we have no idea of their points of reference. We do not know what has shaped their opinions and worldview. We do not know what they have been through. We judge them with adjectives such as sad, melancholic, anxious, shy, aggressive, angry and rude, without understanding what has made them that way.  For that very person we judge with such an adjective, that behaviour is completely normal.

It is quite convenient to ask the other person, why so serious?, but it is extremely difficult to understand the “why” behind being “so serious”. Our own selective perceptions are what lead to biases, which coupled with first-person views of normalcy trigger our lack of respect for others’ opinions and experiences.

We often forget a very wise saying, “no one is born sad, we are made that way”.

In my ideas, thoughts and writings, both academically and non-academically, I try to uncover and understand the social reality as it is. The areas of my study, the topics that I dig in, and the kind of data; knowledge and emotional relation, that I come back with is what drives my perception of the world I live in and I find that the world is neither beautiful nor ideal, and progress and perfection are just cosmetic jargons behind which we hide the horrors of humanity.

Science, social or natural, all forms of human knowledge, have not just failed to change the ugliness of the social reality for the better, in my view, it is one of the things that inadvertently has added to many horrors of human civilisation. Scientists of all kinds, all the fanfare of the scientific methodology, can claim that science is free of vice or virtue, it is only a fact and not a value, but they cannot sufficiently deny that Science leads to many vices consequentially notwithstanding if they are unintended.

But people do not agree with me always, they ask me, “why so serious?”, and I ask, “is it really me?” and then I hear a crazy laughter.


Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.
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