Pakistan’s ‘Oral’ Society

Public library of Hulwan, Baghdad

M. Shahid Alam

(Note: This essay was written nearly twenty years back, in April 1991. A great many changes have come to Pakistan since then, but I am afraid that the observations I had made then about ‘orality’ of Pakistani discourse still hold true. Pakistan’s best young minds do not go where their hearts and their talents lead them. Instead, overwhelmingly, they still pursue job security. Sadly, education – even for the brightest – is still mostly vocational education. With the introduction of multiple private cable channels, however, orality has entered a new age. The oral discourse, previously confined to drawing rooms and campuses, is now led by ‘talking heads’ in television studios. Is this discourse now more solidly rooted than before in the written word, in history and the social and natural sciences? I doubt it: and why should it? Pakistan’s brown Sahibs continue to drag the country deeper into dependency; they work overtime to trap Pakistanis in the most superficial consumerism, without the capital, technology and skills that support this malaise in developed Western societies. In other words, Pakistan is still caught in the disease that Jalal Al-i Ahmad had described in his book, Gharbzadagi Occidentotis: A Plague from the West.)

I first became aware of differences between ‘oral’ and ‘literate’ societies when I returned to Pakistan in 1979 – after an absence of some five years in the United States and Canada – to take up a fellowship at the Applied Economics Research Center, affiliated to the University of Karachi.

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Our Dead Culture

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges says America is gone. It’s lost to consumer culture and the cult of the self. We’re barreling towards collapse. Hedges points to Michael Jackson’s funeral, made into a maudlin form of entertainment where a celebrity attendee like Magic Johnson could plug his sponsor, A.K.A Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Hedges’ view of this world, lies and manipulation win over truth, as evidenced everywhere from Wall Street to reality television. Over time, says Hedges, corporations have morphed our consumption into a constant, nagging compulsion. One homogenous culture sold to us by large companies has stamped out our nation’s distinct regional differences, and there’s no turning back.

In this talk at Town Hall Seattle, Hedges makes his case against consumerism, celebrity culture, mainstream media and unfettered capitalism. His latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” Elliott Bay Book Company co–sponsored his talk on July 22, 2009.

The Triumph of Spectacle

Chris Hedges on GritTV: How did such a sizeable portion of modern society develop into a post-literate, fantasy-fueled, perma-reality show?  Noted reporter Chris Hedges speaks to the wonderful Laura Flanders about his new book: The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

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It’s a Miracle

Roger Waters is a prophet. This is from Amused to Death, an album that was inspired by Neil Postman’s classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death. (gracias Judith)

It’s A Miracleby Roger Waters

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