A Tale of Individualism

In a lecture in summer this year, our fine professor, Dr. Amani Moazzam, asked us whether we believe that Pakistan is still a collectivist society. Some said yes, however, there were many who contested this idea. There were strong opinions made across the lecture room in favor of the view that we are increasingly individualistic. The professor suggested that there is a need to study the sociocultural changes in our society that we can only subjectively feel and state as of yet.

I, for one, took the suggestion to heart. And my mind simply hates it when it has to clean up the mess left behind by my heart.

Interestingly, it was not just Dr. Amani’s suggestion that brought my heart to individualism-collectivism question. The year before that, during the Philosophy of Social Sciences course, we were asked to identify a sociocultural change in our society and write a brief assignment on it. I have always detested taking selfies, and my “obvious good looks” are not the only reason why. Therefore, I wrote about selfies and how they are making us more individualistic and, in certain cases, narcissist. Since that assignment, it has been my considered subjective opinion that Pakistan is increasingly an individualistic society.

And since that suggestion by Dr. Amani, my heart has this conviction to study changes to our society on more structured and scientific lines. I am not sure about my scientific credentials though, and doing a reliable and valid research in a society like ours is no less painstaking than a leisure trip to moon and back.

There is one question every postgraduate research student simply hates; how is your thesis coming along? I am sure you can all totally relate. I hear that question all the time, and I assure you my mind simply hates my heart every single day. So much, that I am now more inclined towards a causal study on this hate-hate relation between my mind and heart.

However, I am neither a sociologist nor a psychologist; my interest in the sociocultural changes is from a political standpoint. I am more interested in studying how this hypothetical growth in individualism might be affecting our people’s political ideologies, and consequently their political behavior. I have long argued that the common people in Pakistan may have been dominantly collectivist and conservative, however, our ruling elite is not only individualist and instrumentalist but also religiously and politically liberal across the political spectrum.

Obviously, as every normal person, I have certain inherent and acquired biases for and against individualism and, one of its political by-products, liberalism. However, my opinion about our ruling elite is largely based on their politics of utility and convenience, and their ignorance and insouciance to a common man’s problems. I strongly opine that our ruling class has absolutely no clue about how a common man suffers in Pakistan and what are his day-to-day life challenges. Our ruling class’ behavior and their Machiavellian management of public affairs are suggestive of their blind pursuance of their individual goals and ambitions; their intolerance of criticism and their projection of a self-carved persona of sainthood.

There are scientific evidences to believe that increased individualism is a function of mass urbanization, increased wealth and education, and better jobs. There are also reasons to believe that this increased individualism leads to politically liberal and secular values.

In this tricky terrain of individualism-collectivism question, come social media and the heated debate on the individualistic and narcissist tendencies they may be promoting. There are many among the scholarly and scientific community who regard the social media, including my little blogging space, as the epitome of individualism – there are simply too many “I” and “Me” on these blogs and self-indulgent tweets and statuses.

The rise of social media and its various usages and its good, bad and ugly effects from American presidential campaigns, to #OccupyWallStreet, down to the blood stained Middle East’s allegedly manufactured revolutions and civil wars, have constantly challenged imaginations of many political observers, writers and researchers.

I am so far unable to find any systematic or scientific study done in Pakistan about the effect social media might be having on the psychic of local users. I strongly believe though that certain analyses have already been done by the security apparatus of the country, and there are good reasons why YouTube has remained blocked in Pakistan for a long time. But as a postgraduate student I don’t have the access to the treasure trove of user data and information the security agencies might have in their possession.

The promulgation of the cyber crime law and the close monitoring by the security agencies of any potential crime linked activity online are also suggestive that the state is looking at the effects of social media with a watchful eye.

In my opinion, as a student of political science, there is also a need to study how deeply individualism has entrenched in Pakistan among the populace, and how much of this may or may not have been caused by the social media.

With my heart stuck with the idea, I started digging down the available scientific literature and data but then lightning struck and my mind said, “Wait a second”. A thought just occurred to me that this curiosity and my belief that I can find the local answer to these questions are itself manifestation of my growing individualism. A thought trail followed, I thought of writing about it for my blog and then sharing it on the social media so my friends could all comment on my mental gibberish and there it dawned upon me how deeply narcissist I have become.

Since this realization, I have decided I shouldn’t really bother and just tell my supervisor to relax and have a cup of coffee.