23 June, 2024


Elitism – A Hidden Downfall Factor

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr. 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

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Latest comments

  • 0

    In olden days elitism was hereditary. Nowadays, elitism is bought!

  • 2

    Vipula, you’re absolutely right. SriLanka is having a deadly combination of Elitism combined with Egoism among rulers and Altruism among subjects, both interconnected by Racism. So much so that ruling Elitist take things for granted, believing they could get away from all wrongdoing including murder and corruption. They are accountable only to themselves. Regardless their subjects worship them as demigods and keep electing them on every opportunity granted. This well oiled political engine is powered by race , religion , hatred, divide……. Years after, country has reached to a point people either do not want changes or are lost for options.

    • 2

      Now that we got the cash from IMF (sanctioned), ” it’s business as usual “, when things get back to where started , we have IMF / donors to blame. Any bets ??? What’s expected from now ??? cabinet expansion, offer some position to disgruntled SLPP, Ranil takes his victory lap, some analysis show Lankans are more happy compared to last year, if possible conduct a Presidential election( not others) when people are happy, aim for unlimited term. Lanka requested 10 years moratorium that will see Ranil up to 1933. Remember Uncle took away civic rights of opponent to get re- elected, , change constitution, postponed parliamentary elections and extended term using executive powers, threatened and intimidated dissenting CJ . Now it’s Nephew’s turn.

      • 2

        YES, my prediction came true. Soon after getting IMF loan, Wijedasa, Ali Sabry and few others, left to South Africa to learn about “truth finding and true reconciliation” Remember S.A offered it’s help soon after end of war (almost 15 years ago) and Rajapaksas, rejected any outside help, promising their own domestic reconciliation. Apparently S.C lifted travel ban on Rajapaksas, so that they too can continue with their foreign jaunts. Hope the loans will last till Avuduru for Govt Employees to get their bonus. Ranil claimed “we are no longer deemed bankrupt”. Bottom line Lanka became the first in Asia (miracle ) to have governance come under IMF radar. In their statement IMF emphasized the importance of anti corruption and govt reforms as their core condition. They will continue to closely monitor fiscal governance, financial sector oversight, CB governance, Market regulation, the rule of Law, and AML / CFT. They also clarified “they NEVER recommend postponing elections”.

  • 0

    Compared to all other races in the world, our Sinhalese (of all creeds) are hung-up about caste and class within their own race, and other races within the island.

    Each group goes hopping around, hooting over the others, and worrying about things like e.g. coconut-oil vs. gingelly-oil. You see, they are scared that if they eat anything different, their genes will change (and Lankan chromosomes are very changeable as everybody looks the same race…it’s just that the coconut and gingelly oils give a bit of a differential in dna readings).

    Now Hindus in India are far worse of course, and for them, caste is a fact of life and after-life. However bad it is, it has been refined into a societal art-form. With our Sinhalese on the other hand, everyone is deemed equal under Buddhism. But yet, this South Asian culture persists in weird, coarse, and vicious ways.

    • 0

      In the midst of all this vulgarity, they fail to see the bigger picture : That they are being screwed left, right, and center in economic terms by leaders and other wealth amassing elite who use these very concepts for power building. They pay no heed to it, till they are suddenly hit badly in the gut. Sinhalese should have been more vigilant about this screwing from the time of Independence. Leftist Red-shirts knew what it was all about, but they were always too small in number and easily tortured and killed off.

  • 5

    For too long, the hoi polloi watched in awe when motorcades of super luxury vehicles with motorcycle outriders and imagined that the powerful and awe-inspiring spectacle was to be revered. However, now, when such a motorcade arrives, with white-clad fat-cats that wear many diamond-studded rings and gold bracelets adorning their parasitic bodies alight from them, a massive hooting ensues, as they now know, thanks to NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s painstaking speeches around the country that what they are actually witnessing is a set of grand criminals who should be rotting in jail. Those so-called elitist airs will not work anymore in this blighted country where people had for so long been taken for one ride after another, always enslaving them in deeper and deeper poverty each time.

    • 6

      Lasantha, how can public forget Mahinda getting out of his escorted, gleaming super luxury Mercedes in Anuradhapura, traveled all the way from Colombo to discuss political strategies with chief Thera, during the peak of Aragalaya.

  • 1

    Thanks. An aspect that needs exploration is the many who are left out of debates and discussions because, despite being well read, they cannot argue in English

  • 10

    We have never had an elite so to say, only a relatively little better than the common herd.

    We have had no real capabilities or talent. Our elite talk big but no real leadership or bravery. when a war came only the village boys went forward. No elite in Sri Lanka can claim talent or skills of a global level.
    Ultimately we know the end is near when the so called elite is represented ( or really forced on the country) by a bogus fraud like Ranil whose only creative act has been to write a book on Buddhism.
    The other elite is MR who is so repulsive and dishonest.
    So it is good if there is a revolution all these so called fraudulent rascals of elite are destroyed completely.
    Then the country can restart

    • 2

      Who on earth classified the ” Rajapaksas” as elite?

      In those days, when talking about Sri Lankan elites, my elders never talked about Rajapaksa.
      We must go back to DA RAJAPAKSA generation history and clear your doubts.

      Historians, come forward from your long slumber and clear the doubts about donkeys like Deepti Silva. It is imperative in this critical phase of the country.

      The media should be freed from their biased behavior. The distribution of laptops to their favorite journalists was public secret, apart from all other unsolicited dealings with their henchmen during RAJAPAKSHE MISADMINISTRATION. We can analyze how Derana TV became untouchably wealthy. Kudu Silva s TV HIRU is also richer.. How these men became unfathomably rich.????????????????????

      Remember? The tendency to forget quickly is in the Sinhalese DNA.
      They need rehabilitation to understand the depth to which they have fallen.

      May DS or the like be blessed with BRAINS !

      • 9

        Leela I agree that the Rajapaksa family is Godday and perhaps is amusing to the Colombo guys who speak better English >From your comments ,they may think you are also Godday !
        However please consider that elite has many definitions. Money, status, power etc so having had two presidents some may consider this family elite.
        Meanwhile, try to be an elite yourself, if possible. In this country it is easy. There is no hope in hell for you to become elite in Germany.
        They have more exacting standards and they can read people better ! No brown colour Wog ( western oriented Ganlalman !)desperate to ingratiate himself or of doubtful integrity or whose education/livelihood is only because of the benevolence of the West will be considered elite by the West ! Sad fact !

  • 1

    Prabakaran had already arrived before 1978. Not entirely due to the frustrations of the Jaffna farmer.
    That Prince among men Dudley Senanayake did come from an Elitist background but he displayed nothing of that in his public life.
    Gone with the wind…………

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