Colombo Telegraph

The Four Societal Shields

By Arjuna Seneviratne –

Arjuna Seneviratne

The things that protect us and make us safe, we value over all else. The people that protect us and make us safe, we revere above all others.  There are four ways in which we are protected and there are four types of people who use them for our protection.

We are protected by knowledge, we are protected by the truth, we are protected by medicine and we are protected by the material requisites of food, clothing, shelter and security from physical attack. Not too long ago, these factors, also known as the four societal shields against disaster, were deemed so critical that they were provided to all for free. The first was provided by teachers, the second by the spiritualists, the third by healers and the fourth by the kings.

Those who extended that helping hand through one of those four activities did so at great cost to themselves and their wellbeing. They walked, mostly, lonely paths and they did what few people could aspire to do or wanted to do. They did it for gratis and they put themselves on the line at ever y turn, twist and eventuality that could have the slightest bearing on the wellbeing of the people they watched over. They did it simply because they had unique talents and skills and the emotional strength and fortitude to use them for the good of others. They heeded the calls because they had the ability to respond to them. Granted, such as those were few but merely by dint of superior abilities and commitment to sacrificing themselves for others, those few were quite capable of seeing to the protection of at least very large multitudes if not entire nations.

They could, because of this ability to respond, be rightly called responsible human beings whose footprint reached into each substratum of society, succoring, regenerating, restoring, establishing, consolidating. They moved amongst the multitudes, strengthening the people, their lives, their livelihoods, their belongings, their health, their understanding. They were in turn, given optimal leverage to engage in those activities and they were revered and worshiped by the people for what they did for them. Never claiming their actions as a livelihood, they were simply the custodians of the four shields and were showered with an excess of physical, social, emotional and intellectual requisites as a humble act of recognition of their effort on behalf of the people and not as a reward for what they were doing.  For the people, the very presence of one of two such supremely enabled beings assured the peace of mind of people and was cause enough for joyful celebration.

Things are far better these days. Now, we have hundreds of thousands of doctors, teachers, clergymen and leaders and wherever we look we see more and more of them being churned out by their hundreds. We should be swooning in exhilaration. We should be drowning in joy. We should be living so peacefully that even a sneeze should startle us. We should be sleeping so soundly that we should be able give Kumbakarna a run for his money and we should be dreaming so wondrously that we should be rejecting the lotuses of Odysseus’ crew as beggar’s fair. No? Not really? We are not happy? We are not peaceful? We are not secure? Oh, how sad. How very sad.

The explosion in our times of the practitioners of the big four “callings” has actually had the opposite effect to the one that originally created those callings. There is a simple enough reason for this. The big four are not longer “callings” but rather “livelihoods”. Those who engage in them, do so, not in order to protect others but to protect themselves. Desiring security for themselves, they offer it either conditionally or as a last resort when all else has failed them.

Kings have been replaced by politicians manipulating the fickleness of human emotion to become, not our protectors but rather, our leaders. Healers have morphed into doctors who, quite apart from being “dosthora” or “dosha-thora” (bereft of ills) are full of “dosha” (illnesses). Teachers have turned into educators who are desperately in need of being taught a few things themselves and the spiritualists have transmogrified into the clergy, who, instead of being disciplined and insightful enough to understand the truth are unable to even understand the fallacies under which they live.

More dangerously though, they are overarched by a business class that promotes politicians for their own advantage, decide who should be teaching what to whom, how many times, where and why, determine what sort of “truths” are sermonized by the clergy and what sort of illnesses get treated to what level. The needs of the people are not even on the radar. Profit is the sole reason for the exercise of these livelihoods. In cahoots with one another, one sees constant exchange (internal migration) of individuals between the business class and the four shield areas.

It is not to be wondered at that these people, collectively, are completely bereft of the “ability to respond” and therefore implicitly irresponsible by default. They would not think twice about throwing the people to the wolves to ensure their own profit, position, pandering, pimping. Unlike in the past, when shield custodians cared not for the type of legacy they created or what they gained from their actions or the type of recognition and respect given to them, the current crop demand, command and threaten people into giving them a respect they do not deserve.

The people in turn would be entirely justified in protesting the enforced presentation of dubious bouquets and the outright rejection of this band of misfit renegades who now hold monopolies on their peace of mind. But they don’t. They can’t. These manipulative thugs preempted that eventuality through a very simple, clever and diabolical strategy. They institutionalized the four shields and labeled them as “state”, “education”, “religion” and “medicine” and brought them, their instruments, their hierarchies and their rituals into a system bound over with either fear or legislative instruments or both. They made sure that the people no choice but to engage them, work with them and serve them. In the process, they created for themselves a very advantageous state of affairs where they can enforce recognition of their positions and power and expand the depth of their scope of control and their scope of effect without having to provide the type and quality of services that are deserving of such accolades.

So, apart from a few exceptions to the current rule, many ordinary citizens recognize the positives of optimizing gain while minimizing effort and, having conveniently converted these callings into careers, they fight each other to the death to come out on top of the dung heap of human non-achievement.  When one of these misbegotten critters takes a hike to hell, a thousand others are ready to step into its shoes and put on its mantle of dishonor.  Our institutions ensure that dishonor is worse compounded. Our practicalities confirm our resultant vulnerabilities. Our realities affirm our certainty of doom. Protection is damned in everyone’s future. We are kaput.


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