“Dominance. Control. These things the unjust seek most of all. And so it is the duty of the just to defy dominance and to challenge control”—Robert Fanney
The meaning of the word ‘defiance’ according to the Oxford Dictionary is open resistance and bold disobedience. Although the term is generally taken to describe a rebellious spirit, considered mostly in an unfavorable manner but it is not necessarily a negative characteristic. Mediocrity and status quo are often found to be in close partnership, perhaps for the purpose of maintaining peace and order and anyone who causes disturbance by refusing to follow the set social patterns becomes an outcast. Some people, like the fictional Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, will tolerate nothing less than elimination for such deviants. Thus her favourite command on the slightest of offences is: “Off with their heads”. So, while defiance against social norms is considered negative, sometimes putting one’s foot down where injustice prevails is definitely a positive trait.
Peace and serenity are undoubtedly invaluable requirements of a human society. Conflicts mostly bring with them destruction, uneasiness, uncertainty and even loss of lives therefore ones who are responsible for causing a turmoil are justifiably looked down upon. Social control can only be exercised by a system of social control, both external and internal. There are innumerable incidents where people have been punished for violating rules and regulations, but then that is understandable because it means that there could be mayhem in the community which may be difficult to control. So, external control means that there are some laws that compulsorily have to be obeyed regardless of a person’s beliefs and notions. Few are prone to saying for example, “I am a free person therefore I can kill anyone I like”. This is not something that anyone would be pleased to endorse. Freedom can never be at the expense of someone’s life. Internal control is when individuals are groomed to understand that there are certain dos and don’ts, that must be observed to ensure social order.
Another most vital element of a civilized and humane society is the concept of justice, which if absent, is bound to unleash a wave of defiance. Where controls are such that they programme the human thought process to follow a particular pattern of ideals that entail discouraging creativity, originality, productivity, inquisition, even usefulness or there is discrimination in terms of gender, race or social status, then sooner or later the wave of defiance can overturn all existing standards. Replaced by new approaches to thinking, such societies usually undergo remarkable changes. According to Howard Zinn: “The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change”.
From the historical perspective, one can come across numerous instances where defiance has brought about revolutions or have acted as catalysts in the process of revolution. Although it sometimes comes with a hefty price, yet human beings can only tolerate injustices up to a certain level. Perhaps Bertrand Russell was right when he wrote in Why Men Fight: “Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth—more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man”.
Reactions to deviants are usually negative and involve attempts to change or control the deviant behavior, whether through clinical psychology if it occurs as a mental disease; or through placid ways and means as in subjugation of women; or by propagation of some ideology aiming at extortion of firm commitment or by force as in cases of political victimization and erstwhile colonialism or through a systematic global agenda like that of countries claiming super power status. Control freaks, regardless of whether they are from ordinary homes, heads of companies or governments, the clergy, political, military or civil organizations anywhere in the world, merely want automatons around them. Majority dislike the idea of being questioned or disagreed with therefore anyone who dares to take a stand against them, is called defiant, fit to be punished or persecuted.
The positive angle of deviance is that it can challenge existing norms and taboos helping to redefine the very values that are aimed at keeping the society in order. This cycle of continuity, break and resumption goes on and on. Take the example of feminist movements—from matriarchal societies to orthodox patriarchy and then again a wave of defiance against misogyny. Women have learnt to defy those false notions that have rendered their lives miserable although as yet, they still have a long way to go before achieving a better level of recognition. This defiance has brought about a sense of unity between females, a bond that is fundamental in causing revolutions.
Similarly, when the suppressed population persists in tolerating the idiosyncrasies of a handful of rulers, it remains under the blanket of suffering as is happening in our beloved country. Unity and fearlessness, essential components of deviation are missing which is the reason an overwhelming majority is able to withstand the onslaught of bad policies of governments, corrupt practices, mismanagement, poor governance and mainly, erosion of social values that were the prized characteristics of Pakistanis and which played a pivotal role in shaping the younger generations’ future. Hopes for a brighter tomorrow requires a serious display of defiance in a manner that can knock some sense in the minds of those who matter in this land. In the words of Terry Pratchett: “Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grow in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground”.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)