During last week, ‘Breaking News’ caught my attention on a friend’s Facebook feed. The ‘news’ claimed that Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif (God Bless his soul) had been declared ‘The Best military commander General of 2015’ by the ‘American Broadcasting Company News (ABC)’. A bit sceptical about this claim, I checked the website of ABC news and found nothing of this sort. On double-checking, I found that the website mentioned in the story was actually ‘Abcnewspoint’, a ‘charba’ of the real thing. Probing further I found out that this website was a ‘plate form [sic]’ to deliver ‘complete and brief stories about latest all over the world’. I discovered that the website has ‘proved a best forum for breaking news’. Among the many ‘Top 10 lists’ that were displayed on the website, there were some gems such as ‘Top 10 best horrible histories books in the World’, ‘Top 10 body parts of men that women die to touch’, ‘Top 10 list of most corrupt politician leaders of Pakistan’ and ‘When the Make-up comes off: 10 Pakistani Actresses without Make-up’. In the ‘Write for Us’ section, one of the benefits of the job is ‘As our websites are being visited by million people, so credit will be gone to your favour’. I’d take that offer in a heartbeat.

There is nothing wrong in making aggregator websites that consist of nothing more than junk, since we don’t live in North Korea. The underlying issue for such ventures is what social scientists call ‘social validation’. As a nation, we want to be ‘validated’ by the rest of the world. We want to show the world how good we are, how our image has been ‘distorted’ by few ‘bad seeds’ and hey, we have some really beautiful mountains. So love us and cherish us, world. In this vain, we go over the top with fake and made-up claims and believe in them as gospel truth. There is no ranking of ‘best military commander generals’ available and even though General Sharif has done some admirable work, he is not the ‘best’ in the world. A national newspaper that made the ‘200 Billion dollars in Swiss banks’ story recently printed this story verbatim, quoting an ‘international source’.

Another claim that feeds into our validation thirst is the news that Pakistanis have been declared the ‘4th Most Intelligent Nation’ in the world. There is no data available to prove this ‘claim’. If we are that intelligent, where are our Zuckerbergs, Steve Jobs, and Alan Turings? A nation that shuns the only two Nobel Prize holders it has should not lay claim to heightened intelligence. A cursory look at our ‘actual indicators’ leads to the root of why we end up fabricating such baloney. In economic indicators such as GDP and GNP, Pakistan is among the least-developed countries in the world. In socio-economic indices such as Human Development Index and World Happiness Report, we fare no better. The Human Development Index was introduced by a Pakistani economist infamous in Pakistan because of his service to military dictators. For years, I thought of this index as a made-up measure, similar to the ‘Human Fund’ of George Costanza on Seinfeld.

Take a look at the ‘Soft Power 30’ ranking by the World Economic Forum or the list of ‘10 best cities to live in’ compiled by Economist Intelligence Unit and you won’t find Pakistan or any of our cities in these lists. Pakistan does figure in top 10 countries with largest population (despite being 33rd in the list of countries ranked by size), top 5 countries with nuclear weapons, top 10 countries with large armies and in the top 3 countries with Poliovirus. In the last two decades, we have probably exported more militants to Europe and the US than scientists with PhDs. How much actual research goes on at our Universities? How many undergraduates in our Universities are at par in their respective fields with their compatriots in say India or China? What about the creative and research output of our graduate students? It’s not that our land is barren and we are incapable of proving our mettle in the world. Many Pakistanis have prospered in every field imaginable, from Astro-physics to quantum mechanics and many more in social sciences. However, most of these ‘successes’ took place out of Pakistan because there is very little encouragement for talent in this country. The brain drain from the country is present due to reasons that go beyond mere economics.

In presence of stark reality, human beings tend to look for bright spots. In this search for ‘good news’ we have mastered the art of ‘creating’ such news rather than focussing on reality. Unless we realize the mess we are in, how are we ever going to climb out of it? We are not the ‘best’ in almost anything in the world but it doesn’t mean we can’t be. Our huge population can be both a boon as well as a bane. We have to realize that we are part of a global community and change our attitudes towards ourselves and others. We have to shed the thick sheath of ‘exceptionalism’ that blinds us to realities and maybe put an end to fabricating ‘Top 10’ lists.