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The last laugh.

06 May, 2008

By Dr. Ghayur Ayub


Laughter is seen as a sign of happiness. Happiness is closely linked with being victorious; be that on a battlefield or in a political arena. That is why we give weight to the one who has the last laugh. At Harvard, a social psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, is known as the Professor Happiness. He has done extensive studies on the nature of human happiness.

His book, “Stumbling on Happiness” was a New York Times paperback best seller for 23 weeks and won the 2007 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. According to him, people usually do not predict correctly their emotional reactions to future events. Explaining it further, he says as we can’t predict how we’d react in the future, we can’t set realistic goals for ourselves or figure out how to reach them. As a result, many times, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. So the good news is that going blind for example would not make one as unhappy as one think it might and the bad news is that winning the lottery would not make one as happy as one would expect.

A study shows that on the scale from zero to 100, people generally, report their happiness at about 75 and they fear worse as the scale goes down below 20. 

With this study and scale in mind, it will be safe to say that Murree, Dubai and Lahore declarations, after all, will not make us that happy or the other way around. This becomes truer against a proverb that political incidences stay briefly in one’s memory. This theorem coupled with the fact that most of us return to our emotional baselines quicker than we’d predict, make politicians in Pakistan accept alleged murderers as ministers or even governors. In simple words, it is known that people can get away with much more than the existing law would allow. The public, despite seeing all the wrongdoings stay aloof. No wonder, ordinances like NRO, keep pounding the public, while the elites keep convincing them about the essentialities of such laws through popular talk shows. And the suspected perpetrators who should be brought to justice for corrupt practices are having the last laugh.

According to the Happy Professor, another factor that makes it difficult to forecast our future happiness is that most of us are rationalizers and rationality is linked with the educated lot. It is not that I am trying to run down this group of people; not at all. It’s just that rationale more often than not fails the calculating mind. The uneducated people, on other hand, link happiness with relationships and the amount of time they spend with family and friends. They believe that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. They are amazed at those, who sacrifice social relationships to get other things that will not bring them as much happiness. Another study proves a point that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things. One reason for this is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects usually aren’t. 

A study shows that the uneducated adapt very quickly to new circumstances. Still the majority of people take the uneducated as unintelligent. Pakistan is a typical example. Taking graduation as yardstick of education, general Musharaf in 2002, barred non-degree holders from taking part in elections, in spite of the fact that the country went down the gutter because of the educated lot. Unfortunately, in Pakistan illiteracy coupled with poverty changed the whole scenario by raising the frustration graph. That graph can spiral down if the people are given the chance to have meager amount of cash in their pockets. This can be done by providing them employment. According to the study, the poor can buy a lot of happiness with a little money whilst the rich will get little happiness from their riches. But how can we give even a little money to our poor, when the educated and the specialists in the government fudge figures to show the world that poverty in the country is declining. So here we are living in a country, where the poor are portrayed by the government as not so poor and the rich are made richer through corrupting ordinances and designed malpractices. 

To make the situation worse, in post 9/11 era, the policy makers and their boss mixed foreign interests with the local interests in the name of ‘Pakistan First’ policy, widening sectarian, linguistic, ethnic and social gaps. To prove his policy is right, they distorted these gaps by changing partners from religious custodians to secularists; from army generals to politicians. In the process of these changing settings, they ignored the core element of the society-the uneducated public.  They were left with the burden of rising prices, insufficient food items and unavoidable poverty making them extremely unhappy and frustrated. According to the Happy Professor’s formula, all they needed was a little money for a lot of happiness. They failed to do that. Can the new power to be do this? Yes it can, provided they take the public seriously and instead of roping them with rhetoric promises, they focus on the real issues. Have they taken any step in that direction? No, they haven’t; by what we have seen so far.  All we see are brawls about who should have the last laugh. 

According to a news item, the apparent stalemate between the two major parties in Dubai caused Musharraf and his political allies to rejoice. A friend and a confident of the president went one step further by saying that Musharraf would have been really thrilled had his political allies won the Feb 18 elections. About Zardari; he said, he (Zardari) wanted a grand political reconciliation and had worked hard in that direction by taking all the major political stakeholders on board. Then he threw a spanner at Nawaz Sharif by advising him not to quit the ruling coalition on account of the sacked judges and adopt a reconciliatory attitude with the objective of wrestling with the actual colossal problems of Pakistan. Such action by Nawaz Sharif would stabilize Musharaf giving him a chance to have that much sort after last laugh. But Nawaz Sharif, is known for taking stands.  He refused to bow down in front of two presidents, two army chiefs and a chief justice. It looks like he is ready for yet another round and is talking about conspiracies being hatched at the presidency, naming Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Attorney General Malik Qayyum and Maj-Gen (retd) Rashid Qureshi as the main culprits.

Rightly or wrongly, so far,  Musharraf is having the last laugh over the deadlock in the talks between the PPP-PML-N. His allies, the PML-Q and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), are also looking elated over the standoff. They are eager to see the PML-N walk out of the ruling federal coalition according to its public commitment. Against the wishful thinking of advisors in the presidency, it is up to the prudence of Nawaz Sharif and Zardari to keep their coalition intact and arrive at an amicable solution to the lingering issue of the restoration of the judges. If they failed, the faith people reposed on them on Feb 18 will fade away, leaving their opponents having the last laugh.

As part of the policy and create gap between the two major partners, it was highlighted that PPP was not comfortable with Shahbaz Sharif replacing Dar. To dramatize it further, the gurus used the word ‘rush’ when Nawaz Sharif flew to Dubai to participate in what they called ‘make-or-break negotiations.’  When asked about the news item, Ishaq Dar laughed it off saying he had requested to be withdrawn from the team, as he had many serious issues at home to deal with. It is just to create misunderstanding between the leaders of the two coalition partners. Some even linked Zardari with Musharaf through zodiac signs, by quoting the former, who once said in Landi jail, that he shared the symbol of Leo with the latter. Leo is known for pushiness, arrogance and pride. They say Asif Ali Zardari is bound by the pre-election deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf to develop a working relationship with the president. The twists and turns of the elite advisors and inquisitive journalists from both sides of the divide are trying to prove that those they support are going to have the last laugh. In such muddled circumstances, people like Lt Gen (Retd) Jamshed Gulzar Kiani seem to be utterly disappointed. According to a news report he said, "In such situations how can we trust our leaders". As if he didn’t know that important people in Washington and Dubai who acted as guarantors are involved in this game of ‘who has the last laugh’. 

As opposed to these high level intrigues, the life gets difficult for the everyday man. Poverty took a new turn in Karachi, when a clerk became the victim of a loan he took from MCB to reduce his poverty. When he failed to pay back installments on the loan, he was insulted and threatened by consumer loans recovery team. This led to the young man committing suicide. He is the latest victim of antipoverty measures taken by the President, who only last year boastfully explained that people couldn’t be poor if they were buying, cars, motorbikes, freezers, fridges and air conditioners. In an amazing paradox, instead of alleviating poverty, his government was making the poor public poorer by converting them into loan-holders (Karzdaar). The question is where will this race of having the last laugh end? While the political gurus are busy planning how to defeat their opponents for that much sort after last laugh, the poor public might rise to give them a surprise. The last laugh by the public would not be like a hefty laugh of the rich elite; it will be garbed with deep-rooted pains of poverty and hate-filled sense of depravity.

End.

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