By Sarath de Alwis –
Sooner or later, bitter truth overpowers bogus bragging. When that happens, truth unforgivingly appears in the form of anger, disillusionment, and utter hopelessness. For an ambitious politician in pursuit of power, metaphor and allegory are provocative ploys. They are designed to persuade the skeptic, mislead the foolish, appease the naïve and mesmerize the class congenitally disposed to resist change, preserve existing order. The metaphor and parable help the politician to survive current adversity in the hope of walking into history with that memorable expression that will mark his brief dalliance with power.
Such metaphors will become part of history for posterity – our children and grandchildren to determine who they really were – simple con artist, audacious clown, or virtuoso ring master.
In May 2022 it was ‘Grusha’ of the ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ playwright Bertolt Brecht’s powerful portrayal of selfless universal motherhood carrying baby Michael across the rickety rope bridge.
“I am undertaking a dangerous challenge. In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, Grusha crossed the broken rope bridge carrying a child that was not her own. This is an even more difficult undertaking. The precipice is deep, and its bottom cannot be seen. The bridge is made of thin glass and there is no handrail. I am wearing shoes with sharp nails that cannot be removed. My task is to safely take the child to the other side. I am accepting this challenge for our nation. My goal and dedication is not to save an individual, a family, or a party. My objective is to save all the people of this country and the future of our younger generation. I will undertake this task willingly risking my life if needed and will overcome the challenges facing us. I ask you to extend your support to me in this endeavor. I will fulfill my duty towards our nation.”
In November 2022, ‘Grusha’- the selfless Universal Mother is on board the Titanic that has hit an iceberg.
The Daily FT reports “President Ranil Wickremesinghe describing his accession to power in crisis-hit Sri Lanka as “taking over the titanic after it hit the iceberg”.
“With the bankruptcy that we have declared, our economy has virtually come to a halt. The inflation, the bankruptcy, and everything else that is happening have brought our economy to a grinding halt. How do we restart it? That is what we are engaged in… “
The transfiguration of Brecht’s idealistic rope bridge into the real world of total shipwreck is no accident.
‘Grusha’ was a bedtime story of a speech writer. It fooled nobody. In the final analysis, the Titanic metaphor is a tough hardnosed recognition of the tough truth that calls for an honest conversation with people. It is time to abandon elitism, cronyism, and oligarchism.
Hyperinflation is not a new phenomenon. We don’t need maggots feasting on the rotting carcass of the UNP to initiate us to subjects of hyperinflation, expansion of the tax base or on bolstering the productive capacity of the nation.
Frederic Taylor in his gripping account of the hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920s – ‘The Downfall of Money’ explains what occurs in such disastrous times. “… the country’s wealth was no longer spread evenly among millions but largely coagulated in blobs among the new plutocracy’… “. Capital passed from the slowwitted to the opportunists.
The Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic together with some 1500 passengers. Some made it into lifeboats and to a rescue ship that reached the port of New York.
What really happened to the skipper of the Titanic is not known. As author Wyn Craig writes in ‘The Titanic: End of a Dream “Captain Smith had at least five different deaths – from heroic to ignominious.“
We do not know where we are headed. On 2nd November the multitude took to the streets. Those who marched believe that the Titanic cannot be refloated. ‘System Change is about a new vessel. The “Aragalaya“ is a complex business.
Some demand a new vessel. Some demand lifejackets. Some others prefer lifeboats. Some would cling to anything that floats. The overall demand is to reach land before their lungs get clogged in the wintry ocean.
There is no limit to frivolity. Upright and honest comrades swaying between a Marxist Moksha and a Market with Morals opted out.
A recent mood of the people survey indicates that roughly ten percent approve of the government’s handling of the ship of state. This ten percent believe that the new Captain could restore the Titanic to limp into the port of New York and perhaps reach Washington!
But a near ninety percent of ordinary people remain overwhelmed by disgust and despair. They don’t trust the new skipper. I don’t blame them.
The economic historian R.H. Tawney in his Religion and the Rise of Capitalism makes a remark that should help us to understand the leaderless ‘Aragalaya’ – a phenomenon that succeeded in compelling the resignation of a Prime Minister and an eviction of an elected President.
“Mankind does not reflect upon questions of economic and social organization until compelled to do so by the sharp pressure of some practical emergency.”
Tawney’s observation explains why the government presently in power cannot suppress the ‘Aragalaya’ with tear gas and water cannon. State oppression has its limits.
A cataclysmic economic crisis as envisaged by this economic historian Tawney has forced the younger generation to seriously ‘reflect upon questions of economic and social organizations.’
What they seek is a socially cohesive economic order that treats justice as fairness – an idea that is anathema to the crony class that is entrenched in the current order.
The mass of khaki clad white helmets that intercepted the peoples march on 2nd November was an unmistakable demonstration of state tyranny.
What is Tyranny? I do not know who said it, but it is generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
“Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”
Gerald Ford is the only person to become President of the US without winning a general election for President or Vice President. He succeeded Richard Nixon who resigned in disgrace. When Ford took his oaths, he summed up his remarkable reach of high office using no metaphor no allegory no parable.
“The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution. But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts,”
He told the American people “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”
Today we find ourselves in our hour of history. This hour of history troubles our minds. It hurts our hearts. Our nightmare is not over.
I started this missive referring to political rhetoric of metaphors, allegories, and parables.
Narcistic types use these devises to confuse a hungry, weary people trapped in misery.
These parables of Titanic’s collision with an iceberg and a ‘Grusha’ pirouetting on a rope bridge with an infant in her arms are meaningless inanities neither true nor false.
They fall within the definition of what Harvard’s Professor Harry Frankfurt calls BS on which he has written a slim volume. He claims that there is a lot of BS in public life. It allows the practitioner of BS to exude an aura of great authority, expertise and learning on “events and conditions in all parts of the world” They speak quite extensively “about anything and everything claiming an absolute grasp of subjects they virtually know nothing about.
The liar knows the truth and lies to hide truth. The BS artist doesn’t lie outright. BS artist distorts and deviates. The focus is panoramic and not particular. Dishing BS is not a craft. It is an art. That is why they are called BS artists.
‘Grusha’ held hope. The ‘Titanic’ is a harbinger of more tears.
The ‘Aragalaya’ is about the “Downfall of Our Money”.