معمارِ حرم باز بہ تعمیرِ جہاں خیز
از خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خیز
ادھر آ ستمگر ہنر آزمائیں
تو تیر آزما ہم جِگر آزمائیں

Friday, 25 September 2009

Education and Platonic Specialization

More often than not we come across someone propagating specialization in each and every sphere of human activity. Some people even go to the extent of condemning those who delve in field to which they have not been related up till now. This opposition brings forward the following argument in one way or other;

“This is an age of specialization, today everybody tries to specialize and master his field. The world of today is so advanced that nobody can and nor should try to be ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ rather you should try and be a master of your own. Therefore you should quit reading and especially writing on philosophy. I should rather concentrate on my own course and if interested in writing I should try and write on issues related to my degree.”

An initial look at study of philosophy and philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Al-Farabi all seem to support the notion of specialization. All of them were of the view that a man can do only one thing good and therefore should concentrate on that and not try to do anything else as he is not good enough in that trade.

In words of Plato in his book “The Republic”, Plato argues for specialization in following words;

The barest notion of a state must include four or five men. And how will they proceed? Will each bring the result of his labour in common stock? The individual husbandman, for example, producing for four, and labouring four times as long and as much as he need in the provision of food with which he supplies others as well as himself; or will he have nothing to do with others and not be at trouble of producing for them, but provide for himself alone a fourth of food in a fourth of time, and in the remaining three fourth of his time be employed in making a house or a coat or a pair of shoes, having no partnership with others, but supplying himself all his own wants?

I am myself reminded that we are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations. Will you have a work better done when the workman has many occupations, or when he has only one? When he has only one. (1)

In the above words of Plato, it is better for the society when everybody does what he is best at doing and let others do everything else or we should try and achieve specialization in something rather than trying and doing everything by ourselves.

These ideas echo through the writings of Aristotle as well. Aristotle was also of the view that people are better off doing what they are better at doing rather than doing anything else. This in essence means that a cobbler should not do the work of husbandman and nor should a husbandman try and do the work of a cobbler. The reason given by Aristotle is similar to that of his teacher, Plato. Aristotle argues that a person can only achieve near-perfection in one thing only; therefore they should rather stick to that as a profession and means of earning money. In this way when they would hire a cobbler to mend their shoes he because of being more skilled in the art of mending shoes would mend them better than the person himself would do it. In this way there would be a society with higher living standards.

During the medieval times, Arab philosophers followed suit with their Greek predecessors and agreed with them on the issue of specialization. The support for the idea of specialization is shown by Averroes in his book named “Averroes commentary on Plato’s republic”. In his commentary he supports the views held by Plato on the issue of specialization. The reason that Averroes associates to this view of his is same that is given by Plato himself. In the same way another medieval Arab philosopher Al-Farabi also hold the same views at that of Averroes and essentially those of Plato in his philosophical works. Although he does not address the issue of specialization in his famous work of “On the Perfect State” directly, but it is construed from the situation he builds for the ideal state. Al-Farabi writes:

The excellent city resembles the perfect and healthy body, all of whose limbs co-operate to make the life of the animal perfect and to preserve it in this state. Now the limbs and organs of the body are different and their natural endowments and faculties are unequal in excellence (2)

Many people use the quotations like those of above to support the issue of specialization. The same attitude is followed by Ibn Khaldun who is known for his great work called, “The Muqaddimah”. In this book he states in support of the idea of specialization:

Each particular king of craft needs persons to be in charge of it and skilled in it. The more numerous the various subdivisions of a craft are, the larger the number of the people who (have to) practice that craft. The particular group (practicing that craft) is coloured by it. As the days follow one upon the other, and one professional colouring comes after the other, the crafts colouring men become experienced in their various crafts and skilled in the knowledge of them. Long periods of time and the repetition of similar (experiences) add to establishing the crafts and to causing them to be firmly rooted”. (3)

In more recent times this ideas of Ibn Khaldun have reached us through the works of Adam Smith and Keynes, as their works are strikingly similar to what was achieved by Ibn Khaldun in late 1300s early 1400s. The above excerpt for the support of specialization echoes through the writings of Adam smith as well in his book called “The Wealth of Nations.”.

If a society is built on principles that all of the above philosophers agree upon, then in essence everybody would be made to focus totally on a chosen field and strictly discouraged to acquire any other non-relevant skills. I do not have any issues with this theory of specialization and nor do I stand against the Idea of specialization, for I do believe that It will make us to achieve better results in which ever field it is applied. But I do seriously think that this concept of specialization has been mis-used in areas where it should not have been applied as in the case given at the beginning of this article.

What needs to be understood and taken into consideration in all the above paragraphs is that they all talk about skills of a human being or craft in case of Ibn Khaldun. The skills and knowledge must be strictly differentiated. Knowledge is not and should not be restricted, while the skills of the respective group of practical fields can be different depending upon the different personalities of people and their different aptitudes. Here I would like to add that engineering, mathematics, medicine and jurisprudence might require aptitude and training to enhance the skills but social sciences must be considered as universal knowledge. The social sciences must be taught to everybody from every field of life.

The reason for the exception of social sciences is that social sciences concern the whole society and people have to live in a society. In order to ensure that everybody abides by his social responsibilities and knows his social rights, it is important that everybody knows how the society operates and what are the reasons behind certain social behaviours? This will enable everybody to play a positive and constructive role in the progress of the society. The lack of education on social sciences and eroding interest of people in wake of rigorous specialization will lead a society into degrading social behaviours. This includes degrading moral and ethical values.

This group of social sciences should include sociology, ethics, morality and basic economics. First three of stated social sciences should be included so that to educate masses about social behaviours, to educate them on how to behave socially. This will help in making a stable and well mannered society, where people are caring about one another and are not treated unjustly by anybody who can treat them unjustly. This will not only minimize cheating in a society rather will also reduce crime rates of the society.

The masses should also be educated on at least basic economics because this is what governs most of people’s lives. If you consider a democratic society for the sake of argument, there people are the authority and have a say in every matter of the state. In this situation if people are not capable enough to judge economic policies and effects they will have on themselves as people and on the society as a whole. When a normal person is uneducated himself on these issues, he will have to depend on ‘other’ people to form any opinion on these issues. If such ‘illiteracy’ prevails at mass level, this means masses are dependent upon few ‘educated’ ones. In today’s world this job will be done by media, which is owned by corporations. ‘Experts’ appearing on this media will try and corroborate and propagate the views that are supported by owner of that channel. In this way opinion about any policy matters will be formed by this media, which can choose to support any policy or criticise and policy at its own behest. This effectively gives power to rich of the society as they are the ones who would own these media channels. This will make democracy into an oligarchy where rich will rule from behind the curtain while people will be made to believe using the same corporate media that they live in a democracy. This will therefore make a society very vulnerable to any adventurism and make a democratic society to crumble or be hijacked, as media would control thought process of people using intellectuals who conform to their interests or using pseudo-intellectuals who propagate interests of the channel.

What should be strictly differentiated is difference between skills and social sciences which educate people about societal knowledge. While making very advanced levels of any subject compulsory would be cruel to pupil, devoiding them of even basic education on these fields would be tantamount to enslaving them and leaving them at the behest of corporations, plus would degrade the moral value and thus social strata of the society.


1. Plato. The Republic. Athens : The Liberty Fund Inc., 387 BC. Vol. 2.

2. AlFarabi. On the Perfect State. [trans.] Richard Walzer. s.l. : Great Books of Islamic World. The original was in Arabic and then translated into English. 1-871031-76-1.

3. Khaldun, Ibn. “the Muqaddimah”: An Introduction to History. [trans.] Franz Rosenthal. s.l. : Princeton University Press, 1967. The original is in Arabic and then translated to english. 0-691-12054-4.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Further on Fault lines of Democracy

Democracy. Democracy is one of many different forms of government. Like every other form of government, democracy has its own social setup and its own culture. In words of Aristotle, democracy is the form of government that strives for the interest of majority of population (1). Generally, the majority of population consists of poor people, it would not be wrong to categories democracy as government of the poor. Although democracy seems to be a very popular form of government in today’s world, rather it seems to be the only acceptable form of government. It has become something for which people give up their lives and for which they fight very enthusiastically. It order to avoid giving it a “yes”, without thinking about it, it would be important to look at what all of the great political philosophers of past have said about it. In words of Aristotle, from his famous work “Politics”:

Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all

Another one of very famous philosopher of medieval time, Al Farabi says in his book “On the Perfect State”:

The aim of its (democratic city) people is to be free, each of them doing that he wishes without restraining his passions to the least.” (2)

From the statement of Al Farabi it may seem to be a very positive stance. In fact all it says is that there is freedom, while this freedom could be positive or negative. This may differ from society to society as discussed earlier in, “Menaces of Democracy and Problems of it”.

Today a democracy is popularly defined in words of Abraham Lincoln that he used in his Gettysburg address, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” (3).

As clearly indicated from above mentioned references democracy is government of majority of people. Therefore I deem it necessary to study people, their behaviour and role they play in the society and its political standing to be able to understand democracy better.

Every society can be divided into three broad categories in terms of their political and moral attitudes. These three segments of society operate differently in the political arena of any democratic setup. The first segment is of those people who are sincerely and honestly interested in doing something good. These people are educated enough to understand the problems and strive hard in order to achieve their goals of collective good for the whole society. These people generally tend to remain within the legal and moral limits of the society and therefore try and bring positive change while using means available in those limits.

Second segment of society consists of those people who are corrupt. These people would serve their own purposes alone. They would struggle in every way possible to achieve that they desire. These desires sometimes might corroborate with the desires of the society and sometimes they might be antagonistic towards popular demands. These people because of being corrupt would have more resources and would be able to achieve more because they are not bound by any legal or moral restrictions but only by their own intelligence and desires.

Third segment of the society consists of those people, who are indifferent to the political direction of the society. They are indifferent about what laws are made and how the country in governed, as long as they get what they want. These are the people who struggle in their life to make their ends meet. They do not necessarily have to be poor, they can be rich people as well, but they are not bothered about the government policies as long as they do not negatively affect them. In today’s world this only refers to financial affects, therefore as long as it does not pinch the pocket of these people they are not concerned about anything.

The behaviour and the eventual political outlook of a society will depend on proportion of each of these segments. Lets us assume the first case, where heavy majority of population is of the category of people who wish to do something good, who honestly want to contribute in a positive way. In such a situation the minority would be divided among other two categories. If it is like this then democracy should perform very efficiently and can end up being one of the best forms of government.

Second case would be if corrupt are in majority and thus they hold the power. This would be one of the worst forms of government because the worst people from the whole society would be rulers. Here minority would be consisting of other two categories of people. These other segments of society would be crushed and persecuted by the corrupt elite to the benefit of rulers. This kind of situation is fairly obvious in almost all of today’s third world countries, though not exactly the phenomenon of majority being corrupt rather that of corrupt being in power. While this situation is present in rest of the world as well but not visible due to reasons discussed later.

Another case would be when majority of population belongs to those people who only concerned with their day to day lives. As long as they are enjoying life and living comfortably it does not matter to them who are in power. These people are mostly not very politically ambitious rather they do not desire any political power or office for themselves. Therefore in such a case it is upon other two minority groups to try and influence this majority and get them on their own side. In my opinion this is the situation in most of the western world including US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, etc. For obvious reason of coming to power, both minority groups will try and influence the indifferent majority to their utmost. It may seem like a fair competition, but unfortunately the corrupt do not know anything about being fair unless it is for their advantage. Corrupt would use all methods legal and illegal including cheating, conspiring, lies, deceit, calumny, defamation and everything that they can use, in order to win the majority consent. While because of the very nature of those who are honest, they will try and gain majority support using all the available legal and morally correct means. Thus, there seems to be higher probability of honest group losing the consent of majority. Now people may argue as to why the honest people not use the same methods to achieve power? The simple reason of this is that you cannot use the same ways as of those you and ideologically fighting against. You can not commit injustice in order to fight against injustice for it will kill your own cause while giving opponents an opportunity to tell the masses of hypocrisy for they propagate one thing while they themselves do the polar opposite.

Secondly, the corrupt because of their inherent nature are going to be rich people of the society. This does also give them the ability of buy the loyalties of those from among the majority by using their wealth. This does not only mean to give money to people and ask them to vote for you. But rather by showing false kindnesses or for example, buy a tractor to farmer’s family. In this way they will buy the votes from not only the family of the farmer rather from many other people surrounding and their relatives. In the beginning it might look like a really nice thing to do and the person may be able to portray himself as messiah to people, but the problem would emerge when he would gain power. That is when he would not only take the money he “invested” in the election process but would also look for interest on that money, although not asking the same family for returning the whole thing which would be disastrous, rather making the coffers of public money to pay. This does not only include taking out the money directly from treasury but also bribery on government projects or giving of public tenders to personally or family owned corporations.

If corrupt people take government in a democratic society, they would also try and make more and more people from the segment of the society which is their opponents to those who are indifferent for they are easier to control and manipulate. This would further weaken their opposition and make their rule more lasting.

In today’s world media is one of the important instrument of conveying news and events and more so for the perception management of population. It has changed into propaganda machinery, which would propagate and strive for the interests of certain groups who own these media outlets or provide financial support to them. Media through its various means of television, radio, newspapers, movies and internet rules the hearts and minds of population (4).

The introduction of media makes the above given argument even messier. If we look around, most of the international media or even domestic media is owned by rich conglomerates who in the hands of its rich owners manage the perception of virtually everything around. Let us then re-examine our above analysis including this new factor.

The first case where the majority of people are honest, in this situation there is a high probability that honest people would be the ones running media outlets as well. But at the same time the corrupt cannot be stopped in a democratic society to have media outlets for them as well. Corrupt while being rich might be able to have more media outlets than their competitors. In these circumstances the corrupt although being a minority would be able to slowly and gradually creep into the base of the society and make more following for them until they form a majority.

In the second case corrupt people already form a majority therefore they would keep media firmly under their grip. This would allow them to further plunder wealth of people and get away with it. While media will either not report it or just give a vague account and keep the population distract to non-essentials.

In the third case where indifferent people form a majority, this time around corrupt people find it much easier to convince the population to their own cause. By the use of mass media corrupt elements of a society will be in a much better position to attract more and more people first to their cause and then to make honest people to defect from their cause and join the indifferent segment of the society. In this way they will be in a better position to prolong their own rule and amass their own wealth at the expense of public money.

Let us now consider an example case that I believe is closer to reality. Let us assume a nation of 10 persons. Out of these 10 let us say that 5 are the ones who are honest, 3 are indifferent while 2 are corrupt. Now because corrupt would inherently also be rich, they would provide the indifferent with what they want and thus buy their loyalties for themselves. Because these indifferent people are the kinds who live Friday to Friday, the rich people can easily influence them thus turning them on their own side. After introduction of mass media into the equation, it makes it easier for the corrupt to influence indifferent people and provide them with false satisfactions. While the media does also serve as an instrument to cause say 2 persons from the honest segment of the society to defect due to intensive propaganda campaigns. In this way corrupt people will be able to form a government with a majority of 70%.

Therefore, after all the above discussion I believe that democracy will eventually lead corrupt elements of any society to power. While when these corrupt elements gain power at once it is easier for them to retain it as well. The corrupt element do not necessarily have to be financially corrupt which nevertheless they are in most cases, they can be morally corrupt or ethically corrupt and when they would rule a society they would cause of downfall of the society. Degradation of values and increase of crime rate as is evident from the condition of most of third world.


1. Aristotle. Politics.

2. AlFarabi. On the Perfect State. [trans.] Richard Walzer. s.l. : Great Books of Islamic World. 1-871031-76-1.

3. Abraham Lincoln Online. The Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln Online. [Online] [Cited: 4 July 2009.] http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm.

4. Nisar, Muhammad Shemyal. I Think- Menaces of Democracy and its Problems. I Think Blog. [Online] 05 January 2009. [Cited: 05 July 2009.] http://mshemyalnisarthinks.blogspot.com/2008/12/menaces-of-democracy-and-its-problems.html.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Democracy Vs a Republic

Democracy is a one of the many forms of government for any country. Like every other form of government it has its own political setup and social order. A democracy is popularly defined as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” In the words of Aristotle, democracy is a form of government that strives for the interest of the majority. As majority of a population is any society is generally poor, therefore it would not be wrong to classify democracy as government which caters for interest of poor. In short democracy means that poor of a country get to rule the country, while rulers are paid attend the assembly. But again this is not always true; there can be a society where majority of the population is rich. In such a case democracy would change into an oligarchy. Then again if majority of a certain state is racist or barbaric in nature, these people would get to rule the state. Not to mention if most of the population is illiterate and uneducated, like would be the people ruling them. This is because majority of the people get to have their say and there are boundaries to what majority can do when together. In words of Aristotle from his famous work “Politics”:

Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all

As already stated democracy is a form of government that takes care of the majority of the population or serves the interests of the majority only. This would mean that majority of the population if they want can and will make or change laws of the land as and when they want. This gives the majority the power of a monarch and thus of a tyrant ruler, in other words tyranny-by-majority. If we have learned anything from the history it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If for example we assume that majority of people of a certain state are fascist or racist, they can try and eliminate all other minority nationalities from their society. This would bring misery and injustice to the people and would morally not be correct, otherwise what Nazi’s did in Germany should not be looked down upon as Germans were a majority in that land and thus exercised the right of majority to dislike or hate the minority races and thus take any action they deemed necessary.

Republic on the other hand, although generally confused with democracy, is a totally different kind of government. Today almost all of the countries in the world, with the exception of a handful, are declared republics. But still most people do not know what a republic is. A republic on the contrary is a form of government that is governed by laws. It controls the majority and ensures the rights of the minorities. It protects the minorities from the wrath of majority. It provides civil liberty to the people, especially minorities. The republic can therefore be defined as a constitutionally limited government, created by a constitution.

In democracy the majority’s power is absolute and unlimited its decisions are not appealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This is because majority is the authority for making of laws and therefore majority and make or bend laws in their own favour and thus achieve their own objects. As for example if in some country majority decides that a certain race or a religious group is unwanted and should not be allowed to live in that country after a certain period of time and the crime is made punishable by death. It does not matter if those people have been living there for past 500 years or 1000 years, when majority decides for them to be a threat they will have to either leave or be slaughtered by the majority. Again in democracy majorities can make minorities to change their lifestyle and ethical and moral standards. In other words democracy opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority.

The question that arises is, whether rule of law is important? If it is important, is it so important that we ignore the wishes of majority of population? I believe the answer to these questions is yes. This is important in order to prevent injustice in the society. So that everybody get his basic human rights, irrespective of race, creed, religion and colour. If such is the case, it brings a happier and a coherent society. It brings society at peace with itself, a society where everybody’s life, wealth and loved ones are secure.

As we see today in the world, where almost every country is a republic there each country is being trusted upon with the idea of democracy as well. Whether anybody likes it or not, he has to be a democracy today. So much so that today we have forgotten about every country being a republic. The idea of a republic seems to be fading away in the flood of clamour for democracy. So can a democracy and a republic co-exist? Let us see through this question and try and find an answer. If a democracy and a republic are enforced together this means that popularly elected politicians now have the right to change the laws of the land at their will. It would also mean that majority can now enforce their will on the minority by just including certain provisions in the laws or the constitution. This imposition of will can be usurping their wealth or taking away their religious rights or simply by banishing them from the state. This mean in case of such collusion very purpose of a republic is lost. I think for the simply reason of these two political orders being totally different from each other, their co-existence is next to impossible. Many would argue against it not being the case around the world where every country is a democracy as well as a republic. But I would argue is majority not usurping the rights of minorities. Take an example of France, a typical western European country. A few years ago a law was passed by the government banning head-gear worn by the religious minorities of Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. Was it not against the rights of religious freedom? I believe it was steered by the popular vote which undermined the rules of a republic. United States of America cannot be considered as a Republic, but it is not a democracy either. It has changed into an oligarchy where the rich rule, but we would leave this debate for some other time.

As we have already seen in the previous essay on democracy and it’s menaces, we now know that under a democratic regime the ethical and moral standards are more prone to spiral down. Whereas in a republic, which is governed by a rule of constitutional law this can be controlled by those who are governing. The rogue elements in the society which tend to degrade these ethical and moral standards would be educated to improve themselves or removed from the state for the obvious dangers they cause to the survival of the state and fabric of the society. The ultimate aim of any society is for its inhabitants to be living in peace and harmony. This is not achieved by mob rule enforced by tyranny of the majority. Everybody has his or her rights but at the same time there should be a limit to these as well, so that these rights are not abused by those with vested interests. So that we do not offend anybody or a minority group with our freedom of speech for instance.

Media has a very critical role which has been very instrumental in the past revolutions as well. It has played a very important role in bringing up revolutions as well as in containing many revolutions. Although media and its representatives should be watched very closely for the power they hold on the population but this topic is still open for debate. As it will require more deliberation to outline the role it would play and the boundary it would contain itself in for a perfect state. This is left for future discussions, but one thing is clear that republic is a better alternative to a democracy and democracy is a potential threat to a republic as well.