20 July, 2019

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Making Democracy Our National Heritage

By Sarath de Alwis –

Sarath De Alwis

“The moment would come when both the economic and political systems were threatened by complete paralysis. Fear would grip the people and leadership would be thrust upon those who offered an easy way out at whatever ultimate price. The time was ripe for the fascist solution.” ~ The Great Transformation by Karl Polyani P236.

We are in the year of elections. It is the season of political name calling. Everybody is busy conferring some name on some body. 

Neo liberal, liberal, dictator, fascist, neo fascist, NGO agent, imperialist lackey is some of these devices that come handy and convenient to rapacious minds practicing the vocation of politics. We are also in the season of ‘common sense patriotism’ where history is commodified and marketed as ‘heritage’. 

Let us not forget, where we are. We are in a political landscape breathtakingly sterile in imagination and excruciatingly impoverished in combative spirit.

The word ‘Liberal ‘was once an honorable word to describe those who put ‘liberty’ first. Today the word liberal indicates indecision, obstinacy and deceit. 

The spectator sport of name calling and locating non-existing ideological positions has a purpose. It is intended to stop us thinking ahead. 

Two days after signaling the calamity of individual human rights, Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa discovered the virtues of American liberal democracy. He claimed that the United Sates will respect his individual human right to renounce his US citizenship – as and when he found it convenient to renounce or retain his passport with the emblem of the American eagle. Till that time, he will hunt with the Sinhala hawk and fly high with the American eagle. 

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has discovered socialism. Inaugurating the medical faculty of the Sabaragamuwa University, he has said that real meaning of socialism was to allow people to climb up the social ladder, that the country’s education and health sectors should be effective to pave the way for people to do so.

Therein lies the tragedy of Ranil’s political purpose. Climbing up the social ladder is not socialism.

 What is socialism in the second decade of the 21st Century?  Elisabeth Warren the Senator from Massachusetts defines it for oligarchs in the citadel of free market economics. 

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear.  You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. 

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

In the current firmament, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Gotabaya Rajapaksa stand out as two individuals who take the long view in politics and are quite adept in describing a spade as a compromise between a large spoon and a shovel.

Both gentlemen possess remarkably common traits. Not content with rhetoric and they both demand results. They have little interest in short term goals and are more focused on long term results. They both prefer to operate with close advisors of their own selection.   

If we are to adopt the hurtful pastime of labeling and pigeonholing politicians one is an overt autocrat and the other is a covert autocrat. Readers are invited to take their pick. 

Both are eyeing the presidency. Neither one nor the other can claim a clear endorsement from their respective camps. 

We must not delude ourselves. We have reached an impasse in our democracy and in our political direction. The Rajapakse family led opposition and the Ranil Wickremesinghe led government are equally committed to capitalist market relations. The Oligarchs clearly find Gotabaya to be the better prospect as was clearly demonstrated at the Shangri-La shindig.

A TV channel unabashedly promoting Gotabaya for President recently aired an interview with the country’s preeminent tycoon. He made a surprisingly sublime suggestion that our police force should use artificial intelligence to ensure the rule of law. 

Can you imagine Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos suggesting how technology can enhance the department of Homeland security? 

The idea is not bizarre. The world over, technology of artificial intelligence is now used to improve surveillance by law enforcement agencies. What the tycoon suggested made eminent sense. But if oligarchs call the tune, they own the music and the drums. All we need do, is dance to their rhythm. 

An anecdotal digression is in order.  A day after watching the TV interview, this writer got in to the elevator at the Liberty plaza mall now in the same conglomerate that operates the TV channel. The elevator greeted me in an apologetic voice. “Sorry to have kept you waiting”. ‘I did not complain” I responded. 

Getting off the elevator I heard the lady behind me telling her kid “Eh Minihata Pissu ‘! Probably she was right. Worrying about liberal democracy and artificial intelligence in a land where my faith is declared the heritage of the rest of humanity is indeed enough grounds to go bonkers. 

That digression apart, what is bizarre and brazenly vulgar is the inclination of the liberal democratic state to permit privately owned networks to discuss the defense of private property by private capital precisely at a time when nativist populists are driven to market a manufactured past by commodifying history and scriptural authority of a religion as a national heritage. And worse. They go pleading for universal endorsement of its capricious parochialism. 

It is time for us to launch a search for a Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s greatest appeal is his authenticity and his genuine commitment to a socialist political order at time when liberal democracy and market economics are in terminal crisis. 

We need a leadership and a movement that can capture the spirit of the time- the Zeitgeist that prompted the millennials todefenddemocratic ideals at the Lipton Circus, Kollupitiya round about and the Independence square following the October 26thObscenity.

Only a leader with an authenticity of commitment to a social democratic manifesto can generate the hope and enthusiasm necessary to create a mass political movement. 

Mahinda Rajapakse’s ‘Pansal Populism’ Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ‘Pulpit Populism and Maithripala Sirisena’s Village  Upaska Populism are  all rooted in market economics where growth is pursued to enlarge the size of the cake.

All three are captive of the oligarchs who determine how the cake is shared. Under their consequential guidance we are imprisoned in our own minds holding our own chains around us. We create our oligarchs and fight for their right to oppress us.

We cannot ignore what we are up against at this exceptional “populist moment”. It is time for a radical left response to the moral atrocity committed by the instigators of constitutional turmoil on October 26, 2018. 

The continuing moral offense by Ranil Wickremesinghe who has failed to censure the transgression merely to remain in office to present a budget with incentives to win the next election also calls for a radical left response. 

As the Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe points out, economic failure of liberal democracy and China’s swift progress sans democracy threatens the future of democracy. The disenchanted left demands democracy with social justice.

We are angry, impassioned and confrontational. Watch Tissa Vitarana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara.  Can the left be foggier than that?

The refusal by the state to acknowledge the democratic character of demands by the wage-earning class makes it easier for Gotabaya and his troops to formulate their ambitions in xenophobic language. 

Our collective will must be harnessed to demand and achieve equality and social justice. 

We must start all over. In 2014 we had a vision of a just society.  We undertook a noble task but made a terrible mistake in terms of strategy. 

Karl Marx’s theory of a perfect society envisaged unsubjugated, liberated working class. Stalin reneged. So, we have historical precedents in betraying, squandering   historical opportunity.

But just as Marxist theory paved way for social reforms and trade union rights our efforts succeeded in ensuring an independent judiciary that helped us halt tyranny at its point of reincarnation. Our vision of a just society has allowed us to minimize injustice.

Technological progress, GDP growth, industrial output are not the ends of development. They must lead to human freedom and human dignity.

True human freedom hinges on determinants such as freedom for participation in public discussion, political and civil rights, provision for educational and health facilities, elimination of poverty, tyranny, social deprivation, intolerance andthe unrestrained power of the repressive state. 

As Amartya Sen points out in his classic ‘Development as Freedom’ that earned him the Nobel prize for economics, ‘expansion of freedom is both a means and an end of development. The purpose of development is the enrichment of human life.’

Development according to Amartya Sen, must not be measured solely in terms of growth of gross national product. It must be assessed in the background of human contentment. 

Unbridled market forces lead to exclusive development culminating in crime and violence in society. 

The invisible hand of the free market must be regulated by the restraining hand of a social democratic order. We must understand human nature.  When we grasp the reality of the acquisitive instincts of ‘capital’ we gain the courage and strength to remove what Karl Polyani called “removable injustices and unfreedoms.” 

Democracy is not periodic elections. Democracy is not framing electoral rules perpetuating the interests of the political class and political parties.

We must relearn our democracy anew. The great novelist Thomas Mann escaped from Nazi rule and sought sanctuary in America.In his new refuge, he wrote the essay ‘Coming Victory of Democracy. Having just escaped Nazi tyranny he found expressive meaning and eloquent promise in democracy. 

Humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity created a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality andan elementary dynamic force.”

Democracy, Mann continues, is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman, on each person’s moral striving for freedom, justice and truth. It would be a great error to think of and teach democracy as a procedural or political system, or as the principle of majority rule.

It is a “spiritual and moral possession.” It is not just rules; it is a way of life. It encourages everybody to make the best of their capacities — holds that we have a moral responsibility to do so. It encourages the artist to seek beauty, the neighbor to seek community, the psychologist to seek perception, the scientist to seek truth.

We must find an alternative to free market fundamentalism. That is possible,  if we make truth adhering democracy our national heritage. 

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Latest comments

  • 3
    3

    If Ranil demanded results, where are they? I mean the results he got in the last four years.

  • 1
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    It is likely that the proponents of the Neo-Liberal thesis in the island are also partial towards Mann considering Death in Venice and all that. Sarath dear man you have a knack to pick up the subjects and authors who interest me greatly.

  • 3
    1

    Thank you Sarath de Alwis for the article “Making Democracy Our National Heritage”.
    It is inspiring. We are all in square “Hopelessness”. When we reach the end of the article, we are back in the same square.
    .
    Democracy is a government of the people by the people and for the people. Law and Order will prevail. Needless to say that citizens are equal. Periodic elections will ensure that citizens do not get shortchanged.
    .
    Some seventy years ago, we decided that some are more equal. The euphoria that followed led to breakdown in law and order. Our democracy has evolved into ‘government of elites, by elites and for the elites. Although there are elections, we are left with a Hobson’s choice. Our hope lies in changing government till they clean themselves. This of course will take time.
    Right now, the real danger is losing our power to vote.

  • 6
    1

    What heritage are you talking about?

    In Sri Lanka , 70 Years On, Misery Is Democracy’s Only Real Legacy.

  • 3
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    “Humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth”

    Unfortunately we do have a problem Sarath de Alwis. I wonder if this Sena caterpillar is much smarter than our entire political leadership. The human creatures that act inhumanly and don’t understand this trinity are the ones our idiotic voters keep electing. This is the vicious cycle we need to end. We set useless targets and waste enormous capital in unproductive pursuits like making the Thripitaka a national heritage. What good does this serve when these creatures don’t understand it. Just like the constitution, the Thripitaka too has been misinterpreted for personal gain and greed for power. Any creature out there is better than these political snakes that serve no purpose but crawl from one temple to the other. No sooner they take sill, they break that sill by opening their mouths by hissing at their opposition by calling them “Samanalayas”. Is it not a coincidence Sarath that this army caterpillar has the word “SENA” in its path of destruction like our IN-SENA president?

  • 2
    8

    This ‘man’ must be mad to suggest that we make an American ‘Mann’ document our national heritage. Americans will laugh their backsides off hearing of such stupid, slavish craving for copying their history and culture by lick-asses in a country with an advanced civilisation that precede theirs by 3000 years!

    This man’s mission to destroy Sri Lanka appears to be motivated by religious hatred based on stupid convictions, and does not appear to be inhibited by any notions of shame.

    How long to go?

    • 7
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      T. Devendra:
      I see you’ve added another 500 years to your constantly-parrotted “2500 Years of Sinhala Buddhist Civilization.” Why should anyone be surprised by the lunatic ravings of a frog in a civilizational well, though?
      P.S.
      You might take a look at recently discovered archaeological FACTS pointing to there being significant settlement on the North-West coast of Sri Lanka, thousands of years before even you and your “Sinhala Buddhist” supremacists have claimed settlement of this island by the “Lion Race.”
      Perhaps, that was another fabrication by the Imperialists?

      • 4
        2

        Emil van der Poorten,

        The Sinhalese Buddhist Supremacists keep bragging about their so-called 2500 year old civilization. OK, even if we accept that, can these people point to any significant contribution they have made to human civilization worldwide?

        I cannot think of any.

        • 2
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          You ignorant Tamil mlechch obviously haven’t heard of the Tripitaka, Have you?

          Ignoramus like you can only be pities and your suffering ended by our army.

          • 3
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            Buddhadasa@,
            .
            You sound to be ZIAMESIAN twin of Eagle Eye, hope not you are blood related to him?.
            :
            If all TAMILS are called to be mlechch what terms would be left you guys to use when refering Rajapakshe and his loyalists that egg him on move in favour of so called ” sinhala buddhists” but premediated high criminals ?
            :
            If you would have a brain the size of a needle head you would generalize this way. We fought a 30-year long brutal war. Even after that, our people sinhalayas seem to have not GRASPED it YET today. Latter is seen THE charactor of you guys.
            My wish is DIVINE forces to destroy you guys, as if we DO it for the poisonous snake if found live in our backyards.

            • 1
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              Strange stuff coming from a desperate ‘Sinhalaya!. Youmorally corrupt thieves. Your devious ways will not work again. You are too clever by half?

              • 3
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                Mind your words please ! Your name is no means fit for you. I am not new to CT forum but you re.
                We would hate Rajakshes forever. I simply dont like you guys to treat all tamils alike. That is it. If Tamils are that hateful, I have no words to describe Rajapakshe led racists. Now or later they should face the music.

          • 1
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            “You ignorant Tamil mlechch obviously haven’t heard of the Tripitaka, Have you?”
            Have you?.
            Our race is not Tamil, Sinhala, American, French…..but ‘Animal’ (සත්වයින් ) and separated by other animals due to the higher intelligence factor (මිනිස් කුළ,,මනසින් උසස් වූ හෙයින් )

            There are more than 84,000 (අසූහාරදහසක් ඉක්මවූ ධර්මස්ඛන්ධයන් විනය පිටකයේ පමනක් අන්තර්ගතය.)
            You have presented yourself as an ignorant, empty vessel. Anyway, welcome to the ‘Real World’. We will educate you in ‘Paramaththa Dhamma’ Suwapath Weva!…..

  • 7
    0

    Mr. de Alwis,

    All fine sentiments, but who can provide the leadership to such ideas when society is not inclined to support it? Can Anura Kumara Dissanayake evolve the JVP and gain enough support to lead such a vision?

    Some of the issues with the economy are tied to the capitalistic world order, and it being what it is, it is not going to be easy to bring about revolutionary change.

    Alan Greenspan has recently written a book with Adrian Wooldridge, the political editor of The Economist: ‘Capitalism in America: A History.’ In it, he continues to extol the virtues of Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction,’ and cunningly ignores all the problems it brings about, including his role in it while he was the chairman of the Federal Reserve. There aren’t too many supporters of Greenspan’s views these days. But in America even many people even in the lower middle class spectrum carry visions of becoming ultra rich themselves and are disinclined to support government intervention to set things right. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders don’t have enough support to overcome this resistance. Joe Biden might end up being the Democratic nominee.

    I think SL will have similar issues. So people in SL should by all means try to find a new leader, but if the choice ultimately comes down to RW and Gotler, then it is clear who should get the vote.

    Also, Pankaj Mishra’s NY Times article, ‘The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class,’ provides a devastating critique of Brexiteers, British colonialism and the ‘chumocrats.’ It is a good read, and some of it applies to SL as well– Royalists might have fashioned themselves as Etonians and the ‘chumocrats.’

    • 1
      3

      Agnos,

      I don’t usually engage with masks/pseudonyms. You compel me do precisely that with a very middle class disdainful question and a pontifical statement.
      “Can Anura Kumara Dissanayake evolve the JVP and gain enough support to lead such a vision?”
      “but if the choice ultimately comes down to RW and Gotler, then it is clear who should get the vote.”

      • 1
        2

        If your choice ultimately comes down to RW and Gotler, you have no political vision. You will then be trapped deciding the relative merits of canine poo and human poo.
        The JVP’s success will depend on its ability to build a broad coalition with a credible manifesto.

    • 1
      2

      Agnos,

      I don’t usually engage with masks/pseudonyms. You compel me do precisely that with a very middle class disdainful question and a pontifical statement.
      “Can Anura Kumara Dissanayake evolve the JVP and gain enough support to lead such a vision?”
      “but if the choice ultimately comes down to RW and Gotler, then it is clear who should get the vote.”

      If your choice ultimately comes down to RW and Gotler, you have no political vision. You better study the relative merits of canine poo and human poo.
      The JVP’s success will depend on its ability to build a broad coalition with a credible manifesto. I think it is possible.

      • 2
        0

        Mr. de Alwis,

        You are probably 3 decades older than me, and my training was in engineering, not philosophy, so I don’t expect you to understand there are legitimate reasons for using a pseudonym on the internet. So I will ignore that issue. Just know that I have consistently used this name on CT for more than a decade and have never abused anonymity.

        On the issue at hand, “I think it is possible” is a weak argument. What is the probability of your vision becoming a reality all of a sudden by the time of the next presidential election? Of course, a lot can happen in politics within a year; if AKD can form a broad and winning coalition, I will be glad. But I am a realist — I have observed politics long enough to realize that ‘visionaries’ rarely get elected, and I don’t think it has a high probability. Karu Jayasuriya or Sajith Premadasa, will probably have a better chance than AKD of winning the presidency.

        • 1
          0

          Agnos.

          Indeed. To you, it is a weak argument. To me it is an argument – a proposition that holds out promise. By the way I did not imply that AKD should be the next presidential candidate. It my hope that AKD will succeed in pushing the 20th Amendment that will abolish the executive presidency. Now that again is a weak hope!
          BTW If it helps you frame your argument for using a pseudonym in the internet I am 76 years old ! Probably the gap is more than 3 decades

  • 1
    0

    Elections comes and goes. The same old politicians, political institutions, political culture remains unchanged. All of the Srilankan politics is go round and round in the name of saving the Lord Buddha (not his preaching) and saving the unitary concept of the Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalism. Out of the 700 years of slavery, they got a free gift from British for past 70 years. They enjoy the freedom of massacring innocent Tamils, Muslims and poor Sinhalese who are not part of the Fundamentalism. Whether it is left or right, whether it is UNP, SLFP or JVP are not capable of going against Buddhist Fundamentalism to stop this massacre culture.

  • 2
    0

    Sarath, this guy is shitting and peeing in his pants for the special courts are going to hear his cases daily, the cases would be concluded soon, the judgements would out at the earliest, and he knows well what going to be the outcome and his fate. Hence forth, there wouldn’t be villy, dilly with regards to the cases, and all going straight go at it. So, this contesting the presidential election is a poly to put wools on the eyes of judiciary, law enforcement and AG Department. For any thing to move, first off, he should come clean and renounce his US citizenship, this is not a easy and mean task for it’s a long process- so many US government agencies and departments are involved in it, in total over 200 of them, and all of them have to shift through, scrutinise, vet and approve it, before they come to a final decision. On top of it, they advertise it in the press, asking the public, if they have any complaints and comments. Imagen, if this is the case, and with his record, what’s going to be the end results. It’s not a case of just walking into a government office or consular office across the street, and Uncle Sam, wouldn’t let go off it’s people that easily. If the process started recently, it wouldn’t see the light of day, even before the nominations.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Sarath de Alwis: There need not be any “HOPE” or “NEED” to talk of GR’s aspirations of what he is to “BESTOW” to Sri Lanka. I have said many times how this “Man” (GR) plays HUMBUG” with the politics and people of Sri Lanka. For details of this “HUMBUGGERY” , please read the article of Sunday Times, that deals with many obstacles that have to be faced by this “MAN” (GODLY to Viath Maga) in his bid to contest for the Presidency. All the PEOPLE of Sri Lanka DO NEED to know those facts presented by the Sunday Times. How I see this “BID”: As “INHERENT”, he (GR) makes a “Deterrent” show off and conveys an “Unholy Message” to all those involved in the Law Enforcement, including the Judiciary as: “Be aware I will be the BOSS of all”. Why? The people must keep abreast of very many “Court Cases” that are lined up to be taken up, commencing this coming week. Our hope must rest on the “Independence” of the Judiciary and make this country a safe heaven for Law abiding citizens whose wish is for a “Democratic” way of life.

  • 0
    0

    Mr de Alwis: If you have not seen it already, you may be interested to read a review in current New York Review of Books — The Many Stages of Liberalism.
    I may have got that title wrong; I am using my mobile, so cant cut & paste, & memory unreliable.

  • 0
    0

    Oh! It’s The Many Lives of Liberalism.

  • 0
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    sirisena made thripitaka a national heritage now sarath alwis wants democracy a national heritage.

    what’s wrong with these gentlemen

    do they know the meaning of making something a national heritage?

    • 0
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      Mrs Mahathanthila@And you should better make effort to your obesity, dont you think so ? after that only, you will get what SA is going to share you by the article.

  • 0
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    babanpunchi

    Do not you worry about my Maha Than, my hubby will take care of them

  • 1
    0

    Surely Sarath De Alwis, Sri Lanka’s foremost journalist ought to know better – democracy is a thing that cannot be made a national heritage.

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