The measure of intangibles

Esam Sohail

Those who are able to, end up trying their best to move to shores where such needs are far more likely to be met

  • Looking for a better life
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Ours is the sweetest language, the most sublime religion, the most sophisticated culture … and so the chimes go in article after article, decade after decade, generation after generation. A veritable source of legitimate pride, for sure, but hardly anything original in that cacophony of self-congratulation after the same notes are repeated ad nauseum.

As a research analyst, first in the business world and now in academia, I am what they colloquially call the “data kind of a guy”: Quantifiable evidence is what matters to me much more than loud assertions of greatness.

The problem is, however, that there is no inherent measurement of the superiority of a language, culture, or religion, notwithstanding the impassioned protestations of the savants of such finer things in life. The only measurement that can be attributed to such intangible elements of a society is the objective one based on actual results: What language, religion, culture, or combination thereof does the better job in the here and now for providing the most number of people the most opportunities for improving the material quality of their mortal lives.

No system or combination is perfect, and none can claim to give everything to everyone; thus common sense and basic reason would warrant that we look for the one where more people have a better shot, as evidenced by verifiable data, at having a life where there is enough to eat, shelter from the elements, literacy, safety on the streets, open green spaces, liberty from odious discrimination in front of the law, and the freedom to speak, write, read, and inquire as one pleases.

Those are fundamental needs of civilised people and, eventually, those who are able to, end up trying their best to move to shores where such needs are far more likely to be met. You can look at the migration patterns of the last 60 years to determine where such is the case and where it is not; your conclusions may be different than mine.

I can only point out that in my years of research, I am yet to detect a regular pattern in the post-WWII era of a huge number of Frenchmen moving to sub-Saharan Africa or a mass of Americans decamping for Pakistan in search of better lives for themselves and their progeny. It is 2014, and the trends I see and the data I analyse tell exactly the opposite story.

Some societies have succeeded much better than others, and the lines in front of Western consular offices and the boatloads across the Mediterranean and the South China Sea are crystal clear indications thereof. Even as they condemn Western “materialism” and pine for the imagined glories of ancient moral civilisations, Bangladesh’s intellectual elite know exactly what matters, and thus make sure to pack off their kids to colleges, universities, jobs, and eventually, residencies in the same Western countries that they condemn at every opportunity in their outpourings of cultural patriotism.

While the common man and woman is left to listening to these savants wax lyrical about our glorious cultural heritage, the offspring of the elite are safely off to greener pastures enjoying a better quality of life; while the plebians fight over the banning of offensive books on the streets of Dhaka, the patricians egg them on and smile that their own sons and daughters are ensconced in Boston’s safety and liberty.

The proof, as we have been taught in school proverbs, is in the pudding. Just as individuals are often reckoned by their accomplishments, societies are measured by their quality of life. A reasonably successful individual is likely to bring a good reflection on her family, educational institution, and professional background. In an analogous – if not entirely identical – fashion, a successful society at a point in time is likely to be considered a testament to its dominant culture, language, and religion. And such a testament, which depends on data-driven indicators rather than the intensity of vocal chords or angst of hearts, is much likely to sound convincing at the bar of history.

Through the mists of time, someone in the future will ask: “What is the proof that your language was the sweetest, or your religion the most sublime, or your culture the most sophisticated?” What, then, shall our answer be? Will we even have an answer?

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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