15 January 2012

Losing the moral high ground

(to undergraduate protestors with love)
Young people are rebellious.  That’s how it always was and how it always will be, all over the world.  They have the energy, the determination, all the answers to all the questions, the idealism, romanticism and are typically fortified with sufficient quantities of arrogance, disrespect and innocence.  It is a heady cocktail and can be quite potent in destabilizing conditions. 
The young, especially students, are hardly ever free agents.  Idealism coupled with naiveté are made for manipulation.  The emotional are almost always prone to come under the sway of the calculating.  The organized consistently prevail over the un-organized or dis-organized, and the group even if small will sway bigger numbers made of disparate individuals.  This is why university students time and again end up becoming pawns of serious, determined, organized minorities.  Universities, consequently, are often the happy hunting grounds of the agent provocateur. 
Today’s undergraduate is a pampered individual.  On the other hand, courtesy an education system that is at odds with real world opportunity, a culture that is rights-heavy and responsibility-light;  a country where politics, from constitution to parliament to street, screams for a monumental re-haul; an economic system that accentuates disparities; a development paradigm that consistently marginalizes while undercutting civilizational ethos and erasing memory of history and heritage; their agitation cannot be tagged with the dismissive ‘ungrateful’. 
If policy makers have a point, it is clear they are not communicating the point effectively.  If students have a point, it is lost in hooliganism.  Policy makers appear to be in hook-or-crook mode, made worse by an unholy hurry.  Granted that long-standing anomalies need to be corrected, it is still advisable to exercise caution when making radical changes.  When systems are dismantled, even those that need to be changed, they fall on the heads of those they contain.  People need time to get out of the way.  More importantly, bad systems should not be replaced by bad alternatives.  The good and bad need to be assessed and debated using all avenues available.  When this is not done, both conscious objector and agent provocateur obtain and abuse, respectively, the moral high ground. 
What have the students done with the moral high ground though?  The history of student politics in Sri Lanka shows that time and again they fall prey to the machinations of political parties.  The JVP has had a stranglehold for at least 30 years.  They don’t have the numbers, but number-lack has not stopped them.  Endowed with organizational skill, well versed in the art of manipulation and intimidation, and carrying a perniciously vindictive and destructive gene, these operators have on numerous occasions brought the university system to a standstill. 
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has always stuck to a ‘not-us’ response, a line picked up by its all but in name successor, the Jana Aragala Vyaparaya (JAV).  Self-criticism has never been their forte.  All acts of thuggery and vandalism on the part of students have gone without censure and worse, uncommented.   Retaliation is not out of order.  The authorities with their own brand of arrogance have certainly justified the umbrage of undergraduates. Still, there are many ways to react and undergraduates have sadly chosen poorly in the matter of articulating objection.  They’ve lost the moral high ground. 
They’ve lost years.  They’ve gained a bad name in the eyes of would-be employers.  They have made it difficult for the larger population to take up their cause.  They’ve helped justify the call for the setting up of private universities and even privatization of the entire system.  In effect they are cutting the ground from under the feet of those they deign to speak for: the nangis and mallis who dream of obtaining higher education.   In short they are playing into the hands of their detractors. 
The sloth on the part of the JVP/JAV when it comes to condemning these acts of thuggery and vandalism and blank refusal to correct their ways feed the widely held view that they are not serious about meaningful social change, that they are good at destroying and poor at building, and therefore are essentially spoilers.  Even though the United National Party was the principal villain in the massacres of the eighties, the JVP was certainly not a minor player; the Red Comrades helped push the country to the brink.  If the current regime is flawed, the principal objectors are no saints either. 
There are times when anarchy is a convenience and indeed a necessity for regimes.  There are times when regimes have no choice.  The responsible rebel will not cut a path to an anarchical situation where the ordinary people will necessarily bear the brunt when the coercion option is exercised.  You don’t make revolutions that way.  You make mass graves.  The masses may not cheer, but they probably won’t weep either.  If at all, they’ll heave a collective sigh of relief and get on with their lives. 
Young people are rebellious by nature.  The rebel rarely wins but that is no reason not to object.  One thing is clear: when you lose the moral high ground you are in fact cutting a path to defeat.  That’s where student agitation seems to be heading right now.  Pity.   



Shaik Ahamath said...

In an ideal world, rebellion is a necessary evil. Somebody must have rebelled otherwise women or the landless would not have the vote. People rebelled to eliminate slavery etc. etc. However, taken to the extreme, it can be woefully destructive in the wrong hands.