18 April, 2024


SL Stands For Sheep Loom: Obedience Above Intelligence

By Paramie Jayakody and Matheesha Gunaratne

The pearl of the Indian Ocean is a small but proud nation, that has been known throughout history for our natural beauty, hospitality, wonderful tea, pearls and gemstones. The small island of Ceylon also boasts a literacy rate of above 90% by 2018 (UNESCO), free education up to undergraduate level, and a crop of graduates that proud parents and politicians alike like to describe as outperforming global standards.

Of course what media and reports try to hide in misguided patriotism of the country, is the fact that computer literacy (a must have skill for many) is not even 50%, we’ve consistently hit global records for having an abysmal sex ed. system resulting in the most number of googles for “sex”, and that in order to convey a message properly and with impact to the masses, a certain level of circus tricks are required. 

Now opinions are varied about our country’s political system, with some regarding certain parties/families/figures are saviors, and others regarding the whole system as a corrupt joke. For example, people tend to vote for certain figures based on criteria such as “a person from our area/village” or undermine certain parties simply because said party made incorrect decisions a generation or so ago. No amount of thought or research seems to be put into their current policies or stances. These allegations are solely comments passed down generations whose validity in current context is questionable at most times. 

The criteria the populace looks at when exercising their democratic rights is also very intriguing. One would want to look at what kind of plans political parties have, and their agenda on how these are to be implemented, how will it affect the people in the long run, and how successful they have been recently in their endeavors. But our populace seems to be more impressed with notions like appearance and attire rather than what a person brings to the table. In one of the most hilarious trends, some feel that a party may have the right plan but they won’t win the election, hence, in a bizarre twist of logic, they do not wish to vote for them. 

Despite the varied attitudes and opinions regarding the system itself, everyone is quick to unite efforts to jump on the criticism of our political figures which, sadly, doesn’t take much effort at all.  

However, there is one thing our politicians (among others, possibly) has gotten right, and that is to resort to parlour tricks to prove a point. When earlier in 2020 a minister gave a press conference atop a coconut tree, it wasn’t even a scandal, as people merely dismissed it for being yet another joke. 

However, when a former minister of fisheries ate raw fish on camera in a bid to prove that the fish are not infected with COVID-19, people sat up and took notice. It sounded, and looked, preposterous. The mocking on social media was swift and brutal, but many people missed the key discovery that this incident brought to light. Fish sales immediately increased. In other words, it worked. 

Now this is solid evidence that regardless of what our very vocal but small minority of savvy social media users say, certain ‘primitive’ resorts have to be taken to get messages across. This makes us wonder if the coconut tree press conference was also onto something. 

This seems to be one method of effective communication our people have got right. 

However, the next question is, why do we need to resort to such measures? For a nation with 90%+ literacy, this seems to be a caveman method of communication. Certainly not befitting the proud nation of Ceylon with world class graduates. 

An additional problem with this method of communication is that most of the propaganda through social media happens through unofficial pages and channels which look at information based on meme value rather than actual facts. Hence these comical acts on the political stages, reported by unofficial sources run by less than qualified individuals on the subject, have equal or more reach compared to official sources that have well analyzed information. Hence the public tends to take these acts and other publicity stunts into the equation rather than actual policies & acts on matters. In other words, we’re looking the wrong way. 

Global results indicate that collective worldwide IQ is dropping. This is particularly true of countries that started socio-economic development in the 1900’s. However, even with the decline, IQs remain at a respectable rate where we can assume one has common sense. 

Yet within our country itself, there is a tendency to treat our population as dumb. 

If you look at our culture and traditions, on the one hand we have a rather hospitable culture that adheres to many religious and cultural traditions of varying backgrounds. On the other hand we also have a tradition of a surge in road development right before an election. Another tradition of blatant personal attacks through the media, sometimes a meager amount of money being passed around. Recently there were even accusations that the government COVID relief of LKR 5000 was only selectively distributed to supporters of a certain party. 

Such tactics have worked, and work on the current population, because politics go hand in hand with personal favours. As such we see traditions where parties connected with political parties in power gain benefits from jobs & other resources in the public sector as these individuals have actively contributed to the campaigns of political parties in office.

Another example can be found in marketing, a sector that, if compared with the marketing sectors of other countries, take little to no effort at all. While attitudes are changing, the main strategy to convince people to buy certain products seems to be: a lot of ads, all the time. When it comes to the creative industry, creativity is lacking, and we more often than not see the same campaigns with variations over many years, even when the context barely applies anymore. 

The typical newspaper, radio, television or social media ads we see seem to have spectacularly stiff scripting, a wonderful amount of lethargy and an insane amount of the same old template. There’s more effort put into vague claims of “being the best” and releasing flashy ads, but little to no effort on proving it or establishing an identity as a corporation. One would wonder why the industry is so stagnant. The answer is, because it still works. 

Even when it comes to scamming and cons, many of us would agree that we see the same old tricks everywhere. Most of our youth groan in agreement if we say parents are not able to spot a scam in front of their noses, and they’re right. During the infodemic of the initial COVID waves we saw mass panic, misinformation, disinformation, and even some scammers making the rounds on email, on whatsapp, and almost all digital platforms and what are very transparent attempts to misdirect and con users are still believed by the majority. Despite WHO itself issuing a statement that steam does not cure COVID, one has to wonder if someone needs to go in front of the cameras, steam themselves, then still get diagnosed with COVID a week later for that particular point to get across. 

All these can be equated to the magician performing rudimentary tricks for 5-year-olds. They work because the children are unable to understand how deception, illusion and mind games work. 

The educated elite (still not a majority) have a tendency to overlook these blatant attempts at bribery, the scams, the baseless claims, because who would ever fall for those? However, the fact that our elections sometimes defy expectations, our political system remains largely corrupt, scams continue with lackluster planning, and people still tend to buy brands based on media presence, shows that these rudimentary measures remain effective, and with the recent incidents, the fact of why has been brought to the attention of the public. 

Aside from media presence, there is also inherent brand loyalty that runs in the family, (Ex:- “We have used this product from this brand since the time of our ancestors.”) While loyalty is an admirable trait in most occasions, it also leaves little or no room to sample alternatives. This is disturbingly similar to the familial voting tradition we observed earlier in this article. The work an established brand/party/person needs to do in order to promote is limited. Why? Because people will continue to fall for the product regardless how it’s currently promoted.

The reason why this treatment of collective stupidity exists might be explained by the fact that ‘literacy’ is a subjective term. The fact of the matter is that education across the country has vastly different standards, and there are very few efforts to rectify this. The current budget for education per year is less than 2% of our GDP and unless children perform extremely well in their examinations (scholarship, O/L, A/L) there are very few chances for the poor or lower middle class children to get access to quality education. 

The education system itself is not without its flaws. Between the memorization-oriented primary education system and the oppression-based rag culture in the State universities, our education system is more likely to churn out sheep with less initiative and independent thought, and more herd mentality and the ability to follow unquestioning orders. Sri Lankan state university graduates are already farming a reputation among the public as unsuitable for work, particularly in the management sector. 

This seems to be happening because the education & skill set provided is not aligned with the requirement of the job market. You have people with the necessary paper qualifications but absolutely no idea on how practical work situations function. Nowadays we see more and more students resorting to outside organizations such as Rotary and Toastmasters (and associated clubs) in order to learn soft skills, which should be an essential requirement of the education system itself. 

With all this in mind, one has to wonder if our State’s best interest is in a basic ‘literacy’ percentage, or actual collective intelligence. Considering how much our country relies on a dumb population, we’re inclined to believe the former. 

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Latest comments

  • 1

    I suggest we look around us well, before just only blaming ourselves.
    …”Now opinions are varied about our country’s political system, with some regarding certain parties/families/figures are saviours, and others regarding the whole system as a corrupt joke.”…
    Is it not a worldwide phenomenon that things change and no system will be there forever.
    It is a natural law of evolution – change – for better or worse, impermanence.

    • 1

      So only concerted and constructive thinking to better the system is necessary. As the authors identify the problems, we need to think of how to progress with solutions.

  • 1

    PART A
    Yes, yes, we know all about Sri Lanka’s 90+% Literacy Level, and never mind “computer literacy”. What we need is to ensure that there is education that ensures that people who can think emerge in society.
    The two authors do, however, point out a few important facts.
    The most important relates to how we govern ourselves. It is implied that no system other than democracy through voting is acceptable.
    Yes, “familial voting” is a problem; it arises because we are unable to get a majority of people to think out as individuals before voting. Every now and again somebody from “the educated elite” says that an article has to be translated “for the masses”. Translation is very difficult work, but don’t you see the fallacy there?
    Translate. Fine. How do we persuade millions to read/listen? You were right to say that Dilip Wedaarachchi got people to take note. He acted with passion. That cannot be forged; nor can it have the same force if repeated. I’m sorry to be only criticising, offering no solution.

  • 0

    PART B
    What solution can I offer using the language of foreigners? To remove humbug, Gota was elected President by the Sinhalese people; the reality also is that minorities don’t matter even in the Parliament, which still meets.
    “The Sinhalese Masses” perceive that there are, in effect two lots of people, and they vote accordingly. You prove them right by turning to “Rotary and Toastmasters” to provide “soft skills”. You mean well; how do we provide the hard skills?
    I’m sorry to be pouring cold water, but I have been a teacher, retired after seeming to have achieved little. The means of communication have changed. I think that Youtube-like programmes have a major role to play. WhatsApp seems to have come to stay.
    Let me see what others have to say. Perhaps it’ll be pointed out that I’ve focussed on “Political Education”. No, there’s material on all subjects. I’ve ignored Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
    Well, look at what I’ve just seen:
    Events of a few hours ago, but the “story” has appeared only an hour ago.

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