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A FEW days back I had an opportunity to watch on You Tube a talk of Samuel Martell Richards, a renowned sociologist of Pennsylvania State University, on 'Radical Experiment in Empathy'.

The lecture provoked me to introspect about the lack of empathy of present-day Pakistan society. What I found from the day to day reading of newspapers and watching local television channels is an unabashed example of 'apathy' or lack of 'empathy' of the haves against the have-nots.

Regrettably every section of society unashamedly has a myopic view of progress and wellbeing of society, i.e. restricted only to his individual comfort and socio-economic security.

Businessmen more often than not are found defending their right to maximise profits and avoid paying taxes on the plea that agriculturists are beyond the tax net.

Industrialists attired in designer suits blame, for instance, in the case of demanding high price of sugar on 'demand and supply' and growers asking extra price for cane, etc.

Stockbrokers and estate dealers do not want to contribute to the national exchequer by paying share of taxes on their fabulous profits as, according to them, it will discourage investment.

Leaders elected to serve for the betterment of voters adopted extravagant and ostentatious lifestyle on public money blatantly, as a matter of right. They do not even mind sermonising on austerity and simplicity, wearing expensive clothing.

Likewise, bureaucrats from the highest to the lowest no more consider themselves as servants of the public on whose taxes they thrive, but believe in having divine mission to rule their blighted 'masters'.

Even ordinary traders and merchants do not feel any compunction or moral pinch while hoarding and profiteering. They indulge in degrading acts of overcharging, short-weighing or adulterating, with immunity, vital commodities such as eatables and even drugs to make extra an buck. Thus lack of empathy has transformed the people from human beings to the beast of burden

The social malice of apathy or lack of empathy has not developed overnight but has taken years to grow. According to sociologists, 'apathy' has been felt after witnessing horrific acts, such as the killing or maiming of people during a war.

It is also known to be associated with many conditions, some of which are depression, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, schizophrenia and personality disorder, etc.

Thus it is the cumulative effect of 64 years of misrule in the country which brought disorder in the people's personalities. The state of wars, insurgencies, unabated socio-economic insecurity and spread of bigotry and terrorism are enough to desensitise the people.

The more I thought about the deep-seated state of social apathy now turned into a mindset, the more I am convinced that unless there is a matched and conscious response from civil society, this malevolence cannot be eradicated from the general psyche of the public.

MUHAMMAD ALI

Hyderabad