By Sarath de Alwis –
On Friday 13th August I passed the 79th year in my life. The 80th looms ahead.
An ephemeral memory nags me. I was born in 1942 in the British administered crown colony of Ceylon. In 2021, I live in in a family fiefdom politely described as a republic in the middle of a pandemic. In my eightieth year I refuse to concede that life is a list of years full of fears and tears. Opinionative obduracy compels this essay.
Measuring up my journey from a Lost Paradise to a shackled Shangri-La, I am reminded of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s moving lament describing how we humans lose our way.
“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost”
How did we lose sight of the straightforward path?
In 2015, we thought that good governance was possible with no agreed agenda on good policy. That was a grave mistake. The ensuing chaos was such, that it prompted a half-witted cleric to reminisce on Hitler’s holistic humanity.
What followed was inevitable. An oligarchic elite formed a coalition with the mob. I am too old and too tired to explain the difference between the mob and the masses. Suffice it to say that ordinary people who could think, said a plague on both houses and stayed home. That explains the super majority.
When the greedy elite and the mindless mob forms a coalition what follows is pure puppetry.
The puppets perform their varied forms of art on the stage in the middle of the swamp. Up and down, they move as the strings that hold them direct the puppets in the prescribed roles.
Unless we understand the logic of this puppet theatre, we run the risk of becoming puppets ourselves. This pandemic and this trivialization of death is a wakeup call for us to differentiate between the puppet theatre in the middle of the Diyawanna swamp and the real drama of our innocuous, ordinary existence.
The hurt of the hungry, the audacity of the aggrieved and the pluck of the protestor are forces that the Pandora’s Pandemic box has unleashed. Sooner than later, those forces will fuse into an agenda that will dismantle this tyranny.
A tyrant cannot survive alone. For tyranny to survive, it requires a steady supply of useful idiots. Sooner than later the tyrant will run out of useful idiots. Then it will be the turn of useless idiots. That is how tyrants usually exit the stage.
Tyrants coexist with evil. As my favorite political thinker Hannah Arendt points out, we end up with evil because we stop thinking. Our failure to think allows evil to thrive. So, it is time for us to think.
History I gathered in my lifetime holds one lesson. Those who promise stability are the people who create great instability.
JR Jayewardene introduced an arbitrarily conceived constitution promising stability. What he in fact achieved was quite the contrary. Permanent instability is the legacy he left behind. His successors have only improved on his masterpiece.
The COVID-19 virus will run its course. As all plagues and pestilences of the past it will eventually reach a stage when we will get used to it. Then we will again introduce ceremony at the cemetery and treat the dead differently from the current pragmatic irreverence of treating dead humans as dead goats or dead cattle. The corona virus will become a regular virus.
The pandemic has demonstrated that it does not discriminate.
When the pandemic broke out in late 2019 and early 2020, our venerable monks predicted that it was a great opportunity for the great redeemer to redeem the nation a second time.
It was now another new war that the nation had to contend with. The metaphor of war visualized a strong man at the center ordering and commanding the fight against the virus. Things have not worked out quite in that way.
Poor comrade scientist and virologist Tissa Vitarana should stop complaining.
The metaphor of war was a natural instrument to demand obedience of the people. But the metaphor of ‘war’ did not identify the virus as the enemy.
Now the protesting teachers are the enemy. Those who oppose militarization of higher education are the enemy. Those who equate printing money with inflation and economic disaster are the enemy.
We do not really know the exact statistics of the infected, cured and the dead. We must accept the statistics released. It is too bad that they don’t address our anxieties. We have no choice but to blindly trust those in the command post – doctor or soldier.
I am fortunate. Thanks to my children, I am well taken care of. Occasionally five- and six-star outfits in the metropolis deliver atrociously fastidious delicacies to your doorstep.
An investor friendly regime has removed, or reduced VAT or value added tax on services and that makes non-essential luxuries affordable.
The elite are obsessed with the return to the ‘normal’. The poor are the ones struggling with the real business of living.
For my birthday I got a present. The newest bestseller Thomas Piketty’s “Capital and Ideology.”
He presents an interesting thesis. He explains why human societies have always been unequal and why we need a new politics of addressing social justice.
Thomas Piketty has unraveled our local phenomenon called Viyathmaga’: “Meritocratic discourse generally glorifies the winners in the economic system while stigmatizing the losers for their supposed lack of merit”