It has been 70 years since the Pakistani society has been making an effort to modernise, and this modernisation has nothing to do with the outlook that people have towards life. This modernation is mostly in terms of material gains, which does make sense because a developing nation aiming to join the powerful league of nations does so by establishing material gains. This means that we have amassed quite a few structures but the mental outlook of the people remains the same. Perhaps many would call it the classic fight between individualism and collectivism but let’s see if we can push a phenomenon under a singular definition.

The most prominent evidence of the fast pace of advancements, is the disconnect between this generation of parents and children. Hailing from a generation of closely knit families – where the idea of personal space, an individual identity, and difference of opinion was practically non-existent – parents have managed to absorb these qualities despite moving out of their familial setting.

One would think that a person who chose to move out of that setting would catch up with the fact that their move was an act of individualism and the kids born to them will question even more. This will expand to ideas, emotions, gestures, life choices, and who they choose to be as human beings. People who open up the doors to individualism cannot expect the next generation to not use their intellect, especially with so much data around them to help them learn and grow.

To them modernisation was tangible, an idea inculcated by a state that failed to push for any social change. While ideals of democracy, globalisation, and industrialisation were adopted; there was a severe lack of focus on paving out a way for social change which would not only integrate people but also make the adaptation of these foreign ideals very easy.

They say ideas have a trickle down effect and they did, but the result was very tangible. People moved out of joint family settings, carved a life for themselves, but what was going on inside was still the same. These were just individuals living in individual spaces with the same beliefs and thoughts, thinking that they have to be a part of the society, and perpetuating the same suffocating behaviour.

These individuals never learnt abstractions, never thought about intellectual and emotional modernity, and were more focused on material modernity. Relationships were built on the same framework and their evidences were more tangible than abstract.

This is why we also have an entire generation of young individuals here in the country aiming for material modernity and an individual space but when it comes to intellectual and emotional modernity, the concepts have not been introduced to them.

But there is a generation, which is also very different. They feel differently, believe differently and with so much exposure to all the information, they carve out a personality for themselves. They learn emotions, and the fluidity of them. They learn to become their own people and question the framework passed on to them. These people might not be great in numbers, but they are those who understand the basic idea of free will, they understand their actions and the triggers behind them, they have their own sets of right and wrong, and their own world view.

The dilemma is that the generation of parents along with their own peers view this as disrespect, often at times also point out their inability to catch up with these foreign ideas, deeming it more convenient to label them as insensitive or just plain dissidents.

This dilemma is not new in history. This idea is perfectly described by one of the greatest philosophers to have set foot on this planet – Emile Durkheim. He divided societies of the world into two categories. He labels the East as an example of mechanical solidarity. According to him, societies where there is no room for individualism want to perpetuate the same ideas and beliefs, and tend to work collectively where everyone is required to perform the same roles.

The West, he says, is an example of organic solidarity – where human intellect has found intellectual modernisation as well as material modernisation. Such societies find sustenance in the fact that each individual is a culmination of his own ideas and beliefs, and based on his own preference of work, they all keep the system running.

In both cases, societies are sustained but the difference is that one is very controlling whereas the other one is fluid, and the dilemma of human life is that no one has managed to find a balance between the two. Irrespective of individualism or collectivism, the most intrinsic need of any being is human interaction. This means that we all like forming bonds that we can cherish. If we just allow individuals the space to pursue these bonds in their own capacity, rather than the tangible markers set by the society, then this liberty will give rise to a new social reality - one that can be perpetuated by the state which is also responsible for building a cohesive social reality. As long as an individual’s decisions are not harming anyone, the person should be allowed the space to be. The state should ensure these basic human rights and push for the upheaval of a system whose concerns still remain very parochial.

The balance lies in learning to respect people for their choices in life – for whom they want to be, how they want to react, what is important for them and what is not. Things, which might affect us, may not affect the next person, but the answer does not lie in forcing the other person to feel the same way or asking the individual to not be affected at all, but learning to accept the differences and then being there for each other.

The reason why this dilemma requires our utmost attention is because Pakistan is in desperate need of a new social and political reality in order to get out of this cyclical material modernisation because it is only dividing people into pockets of orthodoxy.


The writer is a member of staff.