Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Of Hyperbole and Bogus Intellectualism

When I saw this heading in today's The News this morning, I mentally filed it away for the Bizarre Newspaper Headline Contest. I mean, have you ever read a more hyperbolic analogy? This is how the headline appeared in the print edition:



Yes, that's a 'Fall of the Roman Empire' as the subheading above the main heading.

But not having read the piece itself, I had put it down to the usual hyperbole of the Jang Group in which comparing an empire that spanned some 6.5 million square kilometres of land - from Western Europe to parts of the Near East, Central Asia and North Africa - and lasted hundreds of years could be compared to Pakistan that has existed in its present truncated form only since 1971.


Just to put things into perspective (source: Wikipedia)


Imagine my surprise when I finally did read the piece, with it's heading and sub-headings inverted on the web (which may well be how the article appeared in the Rawalpindi and Lahore editions, Lahore being where this brilliant intellectual achievement originated). Here the heading was simply "Fall of the Roman Empire" and the story appeared as one of the paper's 'Top Stories.' The whole piece is one long exposition of various historians' theories about what actually led to the decline of the Roman empire. The Pakistani angle it seems was put in merely as an afterthought, to provide some tenuous 'peg' so to speak.

But there was something even more intriguing about this piece. It authoritatively cited at least 11 authors (and their books) including obscure academics such as Bryan Ward-Perkins, William McNeill, Joseph Tainter and Ludwig von Mises along with better known ones such as Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon. Now, call me a cynic but I have yet to come across more than a handful of Pakistani journalists who actually read books, much less one who has read apparently every single well-known treatise ever written about the decline of a 2,000-year-old empire.

Hmmmm, I thought to myself, let me put my preconceived notions to the test. If I was a political beat reporter - as Mr Sabir Shah is - where would I go for references to pretend I was a historian without having actually read anything myself. Yup, bingo!: Wikipedia. My first guess yielded gold. Some examples:


Sabir Shah / The News:


"These historians, including the likes of Arnold Toynbee and James Burke, have argued that the economy of the Empire was actually a plunder economy based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new, maintaining the greed of the ruling elite wasted whatever resources were available to nation in its time of glory.
Both Toynbee and Burke have opined that the Roman Empire relied on a pattern of tax collection that drove small-scale farmers into destitution or into dependency upon the feudal lords, who were ironically exempted from taxation. The duo strongly believes that with the cessation of tribute from conquered territories, the full cost of the Roman military machine had to be borne by its citizenry.
British historians Toynbee and Burke have also contended in their research that the Roman economy was based upon slave labour precluded a middle class with buying power, besides having just a few exportable goods to earn revenues."


Wikipedia:


"In contrast with the declining empire theories, historians such as Arnold J. Toynbee and James Burke argue that…the economy of the Empire was a Raubwirtschaft or plunder economy based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new. The Empire relied on booty from conquered territories (this source of revenue ending, of course, with the end of Roman territorial expansion) or on a pattern of tax collection that drove small-scale farmers into destitution (and onto a dole that required even more exactions upon those who could not escape taxation), or into dependency upon a landed √©lite exempt from taxation. With the cessation of tribute from conquered territories, the full cost of their military machine had to be borne by the citizenry. An economy based upon slave labor precluded a middle class with buying power. The Roman Empire produced few exportable goods."




Sabir Shah / The News:


"While all historians agree that Rome was neither built nor destroyed in a day, US historian Arther Ferril has strongly asserted in his books “The Fall of the Roman Empire” and “Roman Imperial Grand Strategy” that the influx of German mercenaries into the ranks of the Romans also resulted in cultural dilution. However, Ferril holds the viewpoint that high taxation on the marginal land not only drove it out of cultivation but had also triggered acute food shortage in the Empire."


Wikipedia:


"The historian Vegetius theorized, and has recently been supported by the historian Arther Ferrill, that the Roman Empire – particularly the military – declined partially as a result of an influx of Germanic mercenaries into the ranks of the legions. This "Germanization" and the resultant cultural dilution or "barbarization", led to lethargy, complacency and loyalty to the Roman commanders, instead of the Roman government, among the legions and a surge in decadence amongst Roman citizenry. Ferril agrees with other Roman historians like A.H.M. Jones’ and says, “... the chief cause of the agricultural decline was high taxation on the marginal land, driving it out of cultivation.”"




Sabir Shah / The News:

"Historians like Edward Gibbon considered that the Roman Empire had rested on artificial support pivots, and as these holding pillars were removed by the vicissitudes of time, the stupendous fabric of the realm yielded to the pressure of its own weight."

Wikipedia:

"Edward Gibbon famously placed the blame on a loss of civic virtue among the Roman citizens…"The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight," he wrote."



Sabir Shah / The News:


"The Russia-born American historian Michael Rostovtzeff and Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, have both viewed that unsound economic policies played a key role in the impoverishment and decay of the Roman Empire. According to Rostovtzeff and Mises, the debasement of currency (the minting of coins with diminishing content of gold, silver, and bronze) after the 3rd Century, had led to inflation, besides indirectly resulting scarcity of food, decrease in trade and arbitrary taxation."


Wikipedia:


"Historian Michael Rostovtzeff and economist Ludwig von Mises both argued that unsound economic policies played a key role in the impoverishment and decay of the Roman Empire. According to them… debasement of the currency (i.e., the minting of coins with diminishing content of gold, silver, and bronze) led to inflation…According to Rostovtzeff and Mises, artificially low prices led to the scarcity of foodstuffs, particularly in cities, whose inhabitants depended on trade to obtain them…This, coupled with increasingly oppressive and arbitrary taxation, led to a severe net decrease in trade, technical innovation, and the overall wealth of the empire."




Sabir Shah / The News:


"A Canadian historian William McNeill has noted in his book “Plagues and Peoples” that the Roman Empire had suffered from epidemics such as small pox, measles and plague, which had ultimately killed about half of its population. British historian Peter Heather, in his book “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” maintains that the incentive for local officials to spend their time and money in the development of local infrastructure had disappeared as public buildings from the 4th Century onwards had tended to be much more modest and funded from central budgets, as the regional taxes had dried up. Heather further writes in his book that the land-owning provincial literati had shifted their attention to where the money was, away from provincial and local politics, to the imperial bureaucracies." 


Wikipedia:


"William H. McNeill (b.1917), a world historian, noted in chapter three of his book Plagues and Peoples (1976) that the Roman Empire suffered the severe and protracted Antonine Plague starting around 165 A.D. For about twenty years, waves of one or more diseases, possibly the first epidemics of smallpox and/or measles, swept through the Empire, ultimately killing about half the population.
"Peter Heather, in his The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005), maintains…the incentive for local officials to spend their time and money in the development of local infrastructure disappeared. Public buildings from the 4th century onward tended to be much more modest and funded from central budgets, as the regional taxes had dried up. Second, Heather says "the landowning provincial literati now shifted their attention to where the money was … away from provincial and local politics to the imperial bureaucracies." "



There are many other examples as well, but I think you get the picture. (And I'm not even going to go into the details of the internal inconsistencies of the article which posits sometimes glaringly contradictory positions as equally valid. To cite one instance, after claiming that the Roman Empire was based on a plunder economy that looted existing resources and never made anything new, the article ends with a paean to the "genius" of the Romans who were also "masters of adaptive innovations.")

Hey, Mr Shah and editors of The News, do you know what plagiarism means? Look it up in Wikipedia. It's all about looting existing resources and not making anything new.

9 comments:

Magnum said...

Brilliant, CP. These idiots at The News think they can have their cake and eat it too.
This is shameful. But then this is the kind of dishonest and pretentious smut we have come to expect from The News.

TLW said...

Ah, XYZ, the perennial Pakistani problem of cheating! Or if you want to give it a pretentious name, Academic Dishonesty!

From rampant cheating in school exams, to barely any concept of academic sourcing, to downright copypasting (plagiarism like you seem to be catching here) on to the fake degrees of our esteemed MNA's, what more is there to say? Forget if anybody gives a damn about academic honesty in the homeland, as long as it puffs the writers ego and nobody asks too many questions, nobody cares where the actual idea or thesis has come from.

So screw The News and their shitty staff reporters.

Anyway, thanks for answering my question on planted stories (here's the actual link: Indian Army monitoring Pak successes against Taliban)

Wonder who Abdul Najeeb Khan is? Add this joker if you want to Sabir Shah.

Saleem Shady said...

Speaking of bizarre headlines, here's one from The Nation today: http://img33.imageshack.us/img33/15/nationheadline.jpg

Anonymous said...

I for one am impressed at Sabir's attempts to at least paraphrase rather than plagiarize verbatim. :)

AD KHOKAR said...

hah! busted!

mcphisto said...

Oh Boy. this was bad.

Umair J said...

laikin kyun kiya aisa Sabir Shah nay? This just sets a bad precedence, not of academic dishonesty, but of making completely stupid analogies.

XYZ said...

@Saleem Shady: Thanks for that link, I think I'll put it up! :)

NitPit0 said...

Now, my question is:

"How soon will the Pakistani journos learn their lessons?"