AN old adage says that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. If you’re reading what are being written these days and listening to what are being said, you know words are no less lethal than sticks and stones, if not more. So much misinformation are going around us, so many facts are being twisted everyday, and such false claims are being made that it’s hard to tell who is punching with words and who is wording the punches. The writers, speakers and thinkers forming the intellectual community in this country are flexing their brains like muscles.
Common between them is lack of considerations. One intellectual recently said on television that 10,000 people were killed on the night of March 25, 1971. On another channel another like-minded intellectual claimed that number to be 200,000. The same speaker worked out an absurd arithmetic, when he said that at the rate of one truck loading 100 dead bodies, it required 200 trucks to carry 2,000 dead bodies if that many died in police action against the Hefajat activists. Two other intellectuals sitting next to that man and the moderator of the show kept mum. They either didn’t notice the blooper or cared not to correct that the total number of trucks needed was only twenty.
A few months ago, a leading national daily conducted a survey and turned the fraction of a point difference in popularity between two politicians into a screaming headline on the front page. Error in judgment or function of poor knowledge, what should have been considered as statistically insignificant was splashed with hard-to-get exuberance. The daily subsequently tried to explain the mistake, but failed to convince readers why such a big deal was made out of such a narrow difference.
So why isn’t anybody checking their facts and figures anymore before spitting them out? It’s probably because the intellectuals are no longer bothered about accuracy in the same manner neighbourhood hooligans thumb noses at law enforcement. The brain squads in this country are operating like hit squads. They are busy doing hatchet jobs for the political parties.
That makes it scary. It tells us we aren’t even safe in the corridors of our knowledge and understanding. There can be tons of examples of how television talk shows, newspaper reports, columns, seminars and workshops regularly insult our intelligence as opportunists use the shadows of controversy to hijack our common sense. That should also tell us why after streams of deliberations and reams of writings, we are more confused now than ever before.
In Rajasthan of India, there are lower caste women, who are hired as professional mourners upon the death of upper-caste males. In the western countries there are funeral homes to organise burials. We have got organised groups talking and writing about national issues, the permutation and combination of the same faces dominating intellectual scenes.
German philosopher Hegel has compared “idealising the actual” with “actualising the ideal.” In plain words, “actualising the ideals” is the highest point of intellect, which, for example, is characteristic of prophethood. A prophet comes to earth to actualise all ideals. Amongst the non-prophets, the greatest man is the one who idealises the actuals: beliefs, commandments and morals.
By all means, people who wish to profess intellectualism must be moral people. They must practice what they preach because any gaps between the two breed contempt and misunderstanding. If one is notorious for corruption, if one is an unconscionable practitioner of double standards or has track record of abusing power or adopting unfair means, one should abstain from telling others what to do or how to live. Retired civil servants should also know that people can’t forget they had hunted with the hunters before running with the rabbits.
In one of the most recent examples, a permanent fixture on the talk show circuit made an erroneous claim that exposed the danger of armchair intellectualising. This man showed a picture that could have changed the context of history if it were not flawed by mistaken identity. The man he identified as Bangladesh’s Shah Azizur Rahman was, in fact, Pakistan’s Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry!
Which makes the matter even more poignant. If recognition of the apparent is difficult, the comprehension of the abstract mustn’t be easy. How can anybody expect to become an authority on any subject unless he or she has the professed knowledge? How can one become an intellectual simply because he has the gift of gab, big bank balance, good connections or a telegenic face?
It’s possible in the same way musclemen unleash their reigns of terror. Intellect today is intimidating because lack of knowledge and information are being consistently compensated with loud voice. Intellectuals at actuals are using their words like sticks and stones, and they’re seriously hurting.
The write is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.