By Kumar David –
Just consider. Socrates was compelled to down a cup of hemlock by none other than the elite of Athens. Archimedes the first great empirical scientist was chopped down by a Roman soldier of the same Greco-Roman classical culture. Jesus, a Jew, was driven to death by a Jewish mob ranting “Crucify him”. Martin Luther was excommunicated and Galileo silenced by the same Catholic Church. The apple fell on Newton’s head 20 years before The Principia saw print and Marx was reviled by European liberals. More recently, Gandhi was shot by a fervent Hindu chanting “Hei Rama” (Glory to God). Dietrich Bonhoeffer was murdered by Hitler in April 1945 one week before the concentration camp was liberated by US troops. Alan Turing inventor of the Turing-Machine, now known as the computer, was ‘murdered’ by the British establishment in 1954. In fact, even I am not feeling too well these days after minor surgery!
A few were lucky. Thankfully, Gautama, Confucius, Mencius and Lao Tzu escaped slaughter by their own. All were celibate throughout their adult lives – did that help? Our SWRD, no great man, was gunned down by a Buddhist monk, and another known as Mapitigama Buddy who was implicated in the conspiracy was executed. A lady of unsavoury virtue got away with plotting murder thanks to her gender. Hidebound conservatism is not new. The State Government of Florida its Governor DeSantis have renewed the Medieval Inquisition-style, Nazi-perfected practice of banning, but not yet burning books.
It seems that human civilisation moves as much by regression as progress. Using Covid as a landmark, let’s note a few post-Covid changes. The personal has become dangerous; the comfort of being with others has been replaced by the greater safety of the absence of even close family. People appreciate the value of real expert opinions and see that government is something for the serious, not for jokers like Trump, Rajapaksa or Gamanpilla. Thankfully, some people see that they have to take responsibility for getting things right rather than expecting everything to be delivered by the state. A desirable collateral change may be that there may a decline in class, ethnic and religious polarisation and less faith in selfish individualism. The world was jolly about 20-20 and counted it twice, but 2021 turned out to be ominous. Now we have the chant “Death to 2022” the year of fake voting-fraud claims and storming of the Capitol in the US, war in the Ukraine with nuclear overtones and at home the year of economic collapse.
The coronavirus pandemic marks the end of our love affair with markets and the end of the Smithian romance with capitalism and individualism. Market-based models of social organisation are failing catastrophically and being abandoned even in the US – Obama, Trump, Biden. Will the US reorient politics and make substantial new investments in public goods, for example health and public services? The coronavirus pandemic will bring immense suffering but will it also force people to reconsider who they are and what they value? In the long run, it could help us rediscover a better version of ourselves.
But it could also turn authoritarianism with the prospect of a military crackdowns. The dystopian can be real. Religion can become different. Technology can have many different consequences; unemployment, inflation and the collapse of small businesses is growing in the USA. Competitive pressures will expedite the decline of regulatory barriers to online tools and loss of jobs; is this good or bad? The post-Covid world is a dense fog, an impenetrable Pandora’s Box.
On a humorous note is the BBC’s informative six-episode series on the major periods of world history “Cunk on Erath”. [Cunk! The naughty tag used by actress Dianne Morgan]. Netflix (Cunk on Earth) or BBC gets you to the programmes. My column today is not intended to be humorous, but surely you feel the need to relax after I dumped all the heavy stuff about the JVP, Ranil and the IMF on you for months. Another Cunk episode which asks “Which book is greater, the Bible or the Koran?” has been banned in many countries, including the US, for fear of religious riots because it quite correctly concluded that the Bible has a much greater and richer historical significance than the Koran. Mankind still lives in a cocoon.
A tribe that lived in the Neolithic era 4,000 years ago is touted as the most violent and aggressive ever. Archaeologists say that the Yamnaya ruthlessly massacred everyone else. But there are more recent brutal peoples too. The Sentinelese, our neighbours, have caught the imagination. They inhabit a tiny forested island called North Sentine, one of the Andaman Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. They reject contact with foreigners and pressure India to back their policy of ‘no contact’. They hunt and gather in the jungle and fish in coastal waters. In South America the Aztecs are the champions. They were there long before Columbus turned up, specialise in human sacrifice, slice the victim’s heart whilst still alive and boil the body for food. In our times cow-worshipers slaughter Muslims in Modiesque cancel-culture cow-dung events – the practice continues (BBC India “The Modi Question 2-of-2”, 25-January-2023)
Now turning to the ‘civilised’ world. “Amazing Grace” is a famous hymn composed by John Newton in 1772 in Olney England 350 years ago. Newton writes about a profound grace that liberated him from wretchedness.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see
But do you know what salvation the sanctimonious humbug is making an Alleluia about? Newton, a slave trader, who made stacks of money on human cargo is thanking the Almighty for freeing him from his sins and lubricating his passage to Paradise. For the masses, he is distilling opium by the truck load!
You know that the Founding Fathers (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington) finally ratified on June 21 1788 the notification “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. Oh! But nobody sought to ask the thirteen million slaves shipped out of Africa to the Americas (400,000 directly to the US) what they felt about justice, tranquillity, welfare and the blessings of liberty. It is a bit rough to be manacled to the floor of a ship for the whole journey! The numbers making the voyage were large as it was cheaper to ship-in replacements than care for the old, weak, pregnant and those unfit to labour in the corn and cotton fields even if “the sun shines bright and the darkies are gay”.
It seems that human civilisation moves as much by regression as by progress. Using Covid as a landmark, note a few unexpected post-Covid changes. A webpage which I have used to collect some of this material and which summarises opinions from a great number of sources can be found here.
The coronavirus pandemic marks the end of our romance with market glorification and the end of the Smithian romance with capitalism and individualism. Market-based models of social organization are failing catastrophically in many places. Will we reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods for health and public services? The coronavirus pandemic is causing pain and suffering but will it make us reconsider who we are and what we value? In the long run, could it help us rediscover a better vision of ourselves?
But it also threatens a possible turn to authoritarianism. Consider the prospect of military crackdowns; the dystopian can be real. Religion can become strange; technology may have strange consequences such as unemployment, inflation and the collapse of small businesses. This is the trend in the USA. Competitive pressure is expediting the decline of regulatory barriers to online tools everywhere. The post-Covid world is a fog, an impenetrable Pandora’s Box.
On a humorous side is the BBC’s informative six-episode series on the major periods of world history “Cunk on Earth”. [Cunk! What!! is the infectiously naughty name used by actress Dianne Morgan who hosts the programme.] This is not intended to be a humorous piece but you dear reader must feel the need to relax after all the heavy stuff about the NPP, JVP, Ranil and the IMF that I have been foisting on you for months.
The time has come it seems to make grave decisions. But alas as Paulo Coelho says in his celebrated novel The Alchemist (written in Brazilian Portuguese): “A big decision is not an ending but a beginning. After the plunge the current will carry you to places you never knew existed; there is no turning back; only onward into the unknown”. It’s what young people all over the world call a ‘Woke’ moment; so be it in Lanka.