By Emil van der Poorten –
While there has been no dearth of analysis of one description or another of Sri Lanka’s progress towards an out-and-out dictatorship and of the hopeful signs since the 8th of January 2015 of at least a partial retreat from that headlong journey to perdition, at no point has the state of affairs from which I hope we escaped (at least temporarily) been subjected to a psychiatric/psychological examination. Neither has there has there been, to my knowledge, any attempt to put those dictating the direction in which this country has been taken on some kind of psychological/psychiatric examination table. In fact, leave alone microscopic examination, there hasn’t even been cursory attention paid to what made those who governed us “tick.”
While there has been no shortage, particularly since the white van menace has been in (temporary?) abeyance, of those who are now brave enough to classify the crimes of the recently dethroned, those critiques have generally been of the narrower “political” kind, listing the financial excesses and outright thefts committed in the name of governance in the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” Overall, there has been measurement of the miscreants on a scale of “badness.” However, the matter of “madness,” clinical or otherwise and serious examination for signs of mental illness driving particular behaviours has been conspicuous by its absence.
What got me thinking about this subject which is of particular relevance in our current context, was a piece by Prof. Raveen Hanwella in the MEDiScene supplement to the Sunday Times of April 26th, in which he deals quite comprehensively with the topic of the psychopath, given the length of the article.
The simple yardstick of measurement he adopts is extracted from a test devised by psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare: Psychopathy Check List – Revised (PCL-R). To quote Prof. Hanwella: “The following are some of the traits listed: glib and superficial, egocentric and grandiose, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, deceitful and manipulative, shallow emotions, impulsive, poor behavior controls, need for excitement, lack of responsibility, early behavior problems and adult.(sic).”
Prof. Hanwella provides this basic information in the context of parents who had sought his assistance in dealing with serious behavioral problems displayed by their son. However, the yardstick that Prof. Hanwella provides can obviously be applied to measure those outside this specific case and I would suggest to anyone reading this (or Prof. Hanwella’s piece in MEDiScene) that they give serious thought to its application to Sri Lanka’s current crop of politicians, with particular reference to the behavior of the leaders in the regime that was defeated on the 8th of January.
On a personal note, I have a distinct recollection of my first experience of someone who would meet the criteria for a psychopath during my years in Canada. Despite the fact that I had worked very closely for several years with First Nations people in North Central Alberta, it was not until about 1990 that I had my first experience of working in circumstances where the Indian Act operated and some of the basic laws of the land did not appear to apply, giving unscrupulous Chiefs and their Band Councils the kind of power that the Rajapaksa Regime exerted over Sri Lanka.
To cut a long story short, an ambitious but very viable project to generate much-needed economic development on an Indian Reserve ended up a complete shambles because of the lowest common denominators of personal favouritism and financial corruption overriding every moral, ethical and even business impulse. (Sound familiar?!) At the time, my wife and I were nonplussed by what was happening around us, with the Chief (of the Indian Band) who was bonhomie personified, doing things that were totally unprincipled and seemingly out of character and which were destroying the entire project. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Prof. Hanwella’s check-list of symptoms at our disposal at the time! When, shortly after this unnerving experience, I was describing what had happened and attributing what we had experienced to the amorality of one man and his acolytes (the Band Chief and his Council), I saw a smile gradually enveloping my listener’s face. The obvious question burst forth: “Why are you smiling like that?” The reply of the person who was expressing wry amusement at my tale of woe was, “You are describing the classic symptoms of a psychopath, no less.” I couldn’t but place significant credibility on this opinion because it came from a consultant psychologist with years of experience.
I would suggest that anyone turning an objective eye on the Rajapaksa Regime, would be well advised to apply the criteria just listed. He or she will have ample evidence of truly psychopathic behaviour.
The unfortunate part of this tale is that, while there have been societal responses, of a theoretical nature at least, to “bad” behaviour” in the governance of this country there have been few, indications, if any, of attention being paid to the matter of “mad” behaviour. This has been particularly evident in Sri Lanka since the emergence of the xenophic “Master Race” syndrome. A classic example of the damage that fiction could do was that even so much as the mention of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a 30-year war that could not but have had a massively brutalizing effect on the national psyche simply provoked a xenophobic response that went something to the effect of, “Members of a nation built on Sinhala Buddhism, cannot conceivably contract such a disease of the weak! “ Sound familiar and, perhaps, reminiscent of a nineteen-thirties Germany?
I expect that the last sentences of the previous paragraph are going to provoke paroxysms of rage from the very people who, no matter how unknowingly, subscribe to and actively support such thinking and the resultant irreparable damage to Sri Lanka.
If we didn’t realize that we were gulled by psychopaths while it was happening, I hope it is not too late to wake up to the fact even now. Or are our own egos so closely intertwined with those of the manipulators to whom we were in thrall for so many years, that we cannot see the wood for the trees and will continue to follow the same or some other tyrant piper down the path to final destruction?
Even if we cannot or choose not to expose and bring to trial of one kind or another, those whose criminally insane behaviour caused irreparable damage to the Sri Lankan nation, the least we can do to maintain something resembling national sanity is to recognize what was done in the name of governance, who did it and the fact that, it was then and is now TOTALLY unacceptable. Even if punishment is not to be meted out for whatever reason, we need to learn from our ignorance of psychopaths and their pattern of conduct, that there is an unimaginable danger in putting our lives and that of our children and grandchildren in their care. THAT is what we, as a nation, did for the past decade and that is what we, as a nation, have to reject as the path for a Sri Lanka of the 21st Century and beyond.