By Vipula Wanigasekera –
It may not be appropriate to attribute a country’s downfall to a single aspect such as elitism. There are often many complex, complicated and interrelated factors that contribute to a country’s success or failure, including inter alia, economic conditions, political stability, social factors, and natural disasters.
The intention is to shed light on the nature of elitism that is predominant but less spoken and its influence on decision making for many predicaments Sri Lanka has faced.
The French Revolution was sparked in part by a growing resentment towards the French aristocracy and their perceived elitism. The nobility was enjoying privileges and power that were denied to rest of the population thus fueling an uprising.
Many historians argue that the Roman Empire declined and fell in part due to the growing influence of an elite class of wealthy landowners and merchants. As these individuals became more powerful, they were less willing to contribute to the common good and instead focused on their own self-interest.
The Soviet Union was brought down in part by a ruling elite that had become disconnected from the needs and desires of the people they were supposed to be serving. Corruption and a lack of transparency within the government eroded public trust, and the ruling elite were seen as more concerned with their own power and privilege than with the well-being of the country as a whole.
Elitism can therefore attribute to social, economic and political instability, and undermine the trust and confidence that citizens have in their Government and institutions.
This could be another perspective to describe Sri Lanka’s down turn and elitism that is triggered by egoism, commonly defined as Self Worship, Unwarranted immodesty, Megalomaniac pride, Narcissism of individuals or groups often lead to self-destruction.
If history is not forgotten, Sri Lanka can present a whole gamut of examples from polity to bureaucracy though not discussed explicitly despite their causal connections to many quandaries in the country.
Elitism is elaborated in many ways. Psychological elitism is a phenomenon which ultimately motivates self-interest for human action and they can be altruistic or selfless too. This is however not about ethical elitism in which the desires are pursued for better living without being burden to others.
What is intended to present is the nature of egocentric behavior powered by inferior complex or egomania that emerges in response to poor social conditions of average masses with lack of education. It is for this reason that elitism is criticized for their implications, as they can be seen as promoting selfishness and a lack of concern for others.
The article does not wish to point fingers at individuals. Nevertheless, most shortsighted and hasty decisions were taken in the past at polity or bureaucratic levels with no rationale from collectivity, whether there was personal interest or not.
In simple language, the arrogance of responsible people holding top positions, on the pretext that ‘leaders must be firm’ has been the cause for many bad decisions while the so called ‘control’ is not exercised for altruistic benefit of majority of masses.
There are many examples in the recent past too. But to keep away from controversy, lets mention a couple of examples in the 70s and 80s so the dead can continue to rest in peace.
One Government felt that the tenure must be extended until the fruits of local economy were reaped. The problem was that the sacrifices were made only by the poorest of the poor like today. That two year forced extension advocated by the arrogance of the Government then left them with just 6 seats in the parliament in 1977.
When the Indian goods were dumped in the North after open economy was announced in 1978, Jaffna farmers lost all hopes and went to streets. The attitude of the most commanding Government then was ‘let them do whatever they want!!’. That was a fertile ground for a Prabakaran to emerge and the rest was history.
Many such political and economic blunders made thereafter influenced by elitism of individuals or groups more than rationality or collectivism while the country paid a heavy price specially with loss making state owned business enterprises. Needless to elaborate.
Paradoxically, the majority of the people are also part of the problem. The ‘respect’ for politicians for instance, seems to derive from the size of the entourage, the number of security guards carrying guns, mansions they occupy, life styles of their children etc., which are evident in this part of the world. One minister who used an Indian car for his official use, lost the following election!!!!.
Sadly, until true indicators reflect in the Sri Lankan society such as simplicity, respect for collectivism, strategic thinking and above all altruism for the masses of people, the political and economic status quo tends to remain.
*The writer is former Diplomat, Tourism Official and Currently an Academic