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Why Conservative?

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Regarding a BBC article about the troubles of Pakistani women being able to find comfortable bras, arose the following question by jimmyed that I found interesting:

Why hasn’t the mindframe changed with time?

One would imagine that the modern age, with it’s Netflix, tinder, Hollywood movies would have pushed out mediaeval era conservative ideology.

Although it sounds straight forwards, I really don’t think that it is. I was going to reply directly, but I thought it was interesting enough to address here instead.

The rest of this article is just a stream of thoughts - I would be interested to hear comments on this.

Boiling It Down

I think that generally Pakistan could be considered a conservative culture, and I think the question could be re-worded as: “Why is Pakistan culture not more liberal?”. I think this makes several assumptions that need to be addressed:

  1. Liberalism is better than conservatism – This is not entirely obvious. I think it would be safe to say that Western culture has enjoyed the fruits of liberalism, but this has not been without issues too. Protests, riots and civil unrest has generally increased over time. Every time a goal is achieved, a new goal is made. It’s unclear whether the liberal moment will ever find equilibrium, or whether it is always doomed to be in a state of flux.
  2. Given the right conditions, conservate societies will always become liberal societies – Whilst it appears true that Western societies have become liberal, they essentially all did this at the same time. Some of the biggest changes happened after two world wars, where they were essentially brought to their breaking points. Even if such a scenario could be recreated for Pakistan, it is not obvious whether they would become liberal or not. For example, their heavy ties with China (with a shared opposition to India) could lock them into an authoritative style of society for quite some time.
  3. Liberalism is better for Pakistan than conservatism – Most liberal Countries are richer and most conservative Countries are conservative. I’ve heard it argued multiple times that it is the thing that caused the success of these societies - but I believe it to be equally true (i.e. with as much evidence) that this is simply an emergent property of becoming richer. A richer populous can become more political as a result of having more disposable income and time. A poorer person is busied mostly trying to put bread on the table.


The second part is about the influence of Western media on Pakistani culture. Whilst it is true that Western media has an influence on other cultures, I think it is false to believe the influence is so great. When I for example see Bollywood media, if anything it solidifies exactly what Western culture is to me. I don’t start speaking in Hindi or adopting their traditional dress.

English Counties for example have been combined for thousands of years, with shared media, and yet, they are very different from one another. They have maintained their uniqueness, despite their influence on one another.

Although there is much cultural sharing, Pakistani culture and heritage is fundamental to the Pakistani identity, and unlikely to be lost so easily.


Specifically regarding this part:

[..] would have pushed out mediaeval era conservative ideology.

I think this is unfair to conservative ideology. Conservatism has kept the human race going for thousands of years, mostly in harmony. It certainly leaves much to be desired, but you cannot undermine the fact it works.

Again, to assume it’s medieval we have to assume that we have something modern and better - something I’m not sure is backed up at all. To me at least, it’s not entirely clear whether this liberal experiment has been successful yet. Until we reach an equilibrium of some sort, it might not be possible to see what it even results in.