Missing critical junctures

How societies change

History subsumes events, incidents, and junctures that turned, redirected and changed its trajectory once and for all. Salubrious, anomalous and ordinary systems, lifestyles and conventional ruling apparatus were influenced by a single development that altered, transformed, and altogether, changed their way of operations.

These points, called ‘critical junctures’ in social sciences, are pivotal and decisive movements having lasting effects on society. The rest of the piece discusses critical junctures in different parts of the world and proposes a would-be critical juncture plan for ours.

Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, carried by merchants of China, via the Silk Road, entered Europe in 1347. Prior to this plague, feudalism was pervasively present in Europe and its adjacent regions, with daily life highly influenced by lords. Growing labour yielded low wages; poor lifestyle among peasants prevailed; socioeconomic and political developments concentrated on bourgeois hands; any social safety net was absent; social mobilisation was virtually non-existent; and the primate order performing pupil-dilating tasks encountered nothing but prejudice.

Amidst the aforementioned circumstances, the Bubonic Plague firstly swallowed much of the population all over Europe. In the aftermath, it triggered a change in Western Europe with adequate labour wages, incentivized public demand completion, and making the peasants work on their wishes. In short, social mobilisation thrived, the lifestyle and living standards got better and a sense of satisfaction prevailed. However, the aforementioned reversed in Eastern Europe with the working class falling deeply under the talons of feudalism. Peasants started ending into indurated servanthood and got grappled with conflagration of slavery and disenfranchisement. In a nutshell, the Bubonic Plague served as a critical juncture for both halves of the continent, salubrious for one and detrimental for the other.

Mao Zedong, an ambiguous character, for some a leader and a dictator for others, brought contemporary China under his rule in 1949. For the 27 years, Mao ruled and ruined the China mainland via his projects like The Great Leap Forward, a social campaign to transform China’s agrarian economy into an industrial one. The initiative reversed the economy, brought about a halt in growth, and led the country in hot waters. Millions fell prey to famine and eventually lost their lives.

The critical juncture, in this context, is the death of the Chinese dictator himself and the rise of Deng Xiaoping as a paramount leader of modern day China. His visionary leadership transformed the socioeconomic and political incentives from “great leap” to “small steps”, incentivized and completed the agrarian economy into an industrial one and opened ways for public mobilisation, to some extent though, for exponential growth.

Pakistan is still in the middle of the path hapless, helpless, hopeless waiting for a plague, a death, a visit, a protest, or a movement to catalyse change. Pakistan had a critical juncture, though a negative one, due to Gen Yahya Khan’s farcical and maladroit mental capability and the then West Pakistan leaders’ preposterous act of denying the Awami League mandate. The rest is history.

With colonisation at its apogee in all over Africa, the continent, divided into parts by the then European powers, had annexed most of the continent all the way to Cape of Good Hope. The next destination was to annex its adjacent regions, that was Botswana. However, before the colonisation grappled Botswana, Botswana’s tribal chiefs, Kgosi Bathoen II (Bangwato), Kgosi Selebe II (Bakwena), Kgosi Tshekedi Khama II (Bamangwato) landed in London— a critical juncture— in protest to nip the colonisation bud and not let it enter in their country. Breaking the mould, they stayed there until issued no annexation of Botswana directly and that vow persisted till its independence in 1966.

Looking into the African continent shows Botswana’s development, institutions and ruling apparatus differs from the rest. The country is relatively resilient in the face of socioeconomic and political upheavals, and ergo, stands tall.

Though the US Constitution unequivocally enshrines the rights— Bill of Rights, 1791— of all the population regardless of gender, race, and ethnicity, the African Americans bore a tall socio political and economic toll. The incessant racial segregation for African Americans, a disenfranchisement by the oppressed, and a canker from the oppressor triggered a movement called “Civil Rights Movement” involving major personalities, Revd Martin Luther King Jr being in the forefront. The movement spread countrywide, in effect, the Black African got mobilised via constitutional amendments i.e Civil Rights Act, 1964, and Voting Rights Act, 1965. Ergo, the civil rights movement is a critical juncture that paved the way for Black mobilisation, their social participation and racial integration.

What is common in all aforementioned incidents is the critical juncture. A single event, incident and juncture changes the historical trajectories of countries, ethnicities and particular populations. Though the changes were good and detrimental too, mostly critical junctures proved to be a boon rather than a bane. In the social sciences, the critical junctures are of huge significance given the positive (mostly) outcomes influenced by them.

If the Bubonic Plague had not hit Europe, Mao had died when he did in China, the tribal chiefs of Botswana had not visited London and the Civil Rights Movement had not been triggered in the USA, the world would have been different from today. Globalisation, by definition, suggests that every individual is influenced by the developments occurring in the globe.

Pakistan is still in the middle of the path hapless, helpless, hopeless waiting for a plague, a death, a visit, a protest, or a movement to catalyse change. Pakistan had a critical juncture, though a negative one, due to Gen Yahya Khan’s farcical and maladroit mental capability and the then West Pakistan leaders’ preposterous act of denying the Awami League mandate. The rest is history.

In ascending order, death and the plague both are natural phenomena, however, protest and movement are man-made events that brought change, in the Botswana and USA cases. For Pakistan, if the military gives up its intervention in the politics and leads an operation in ‘Katcha’ — of both Sindh and Punjab — two critical junctures will simultaneously occur. One, Pakistan’s political landscape will thrive with good leaders masterminding change for national success and two, the populations in both provinces will finally breathe without a fear of robbery, thuggery and abduction.

Insaf Ali Bangwar
Insaf Ali Bangwar
The writer is a freelancer. He can be reached at @[email protected]

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