03 August 2014

When the Pied Piper comes a-calling

It's not just about mice and kids.   Pic courtesy gutenberg.org

Precedence is an important word.  It is a license-giver.  It helps define the universe of the possible.  As important, it is a very important educational devise.  If you see or know of someone who has rubbed two sticks and produced fire, you are well on your way to becoming a fire-maker.  Precedence prompts replication, not just of act, but similar acts, i.e. those based on the fulfillment of conditions similar to those that precipitated the initial act. 

Precedence is example.  If sanctioned, it amounts to ‘law’, and consequently open to use and abuse.  This is what’s so beautiful of that sad but telling children’s story ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin’.  It is telling because it is amenable to a very adult, very contemporary (across time and space, really) interpretation. 

First a recap to un-cobweb adult mind and facilitate a revisit to childhood.  Hamlin had a problem. Rats.  Hamlin needed a solution.  Hamlin was willing to pay for a solution. Pied Piper arrives.  States his price.  There is agreement. He plays a flute.  The rats of Hamlin follow him. All rats.   He walks to the river, playing the flute.  Gets on a boat.  The rats follow.  They commit mass suicide (unintended of course).  Hamlin gets its problem solved. Reneges on payment.  Piper plays the pipe.  No more rats to follow him.  There are children, though. Hamlin. No rats. No kids. End of story. 

Extrapolation.  An instrument useful in one instance can be abused to deliver an unexpected and unwanted outcome.  The flute is system, the piper the person(s) using/abusing the system, and the people of Hamlin those who ought to have seen that there’s danger in sanctioning a particular course of action because it can be cited in justifying similar actions even if the outcomes are not exactly happy.

It is not always about the same person using the same instrument for two different purposes, one prompting salutation and the other horror and condemnation.  Take the 1978 Constitution, the JRJ one, that is.  I doubt if any UNPer who voted for that constitution in 1978 would have imagined that it would boomerang on the party just 14 years later. 

This is the perennial Hamlin-error.  The Hamlins think that the good times are forever, they believe that a system or instrument that has benefited on one occasion will continue to benefit. They cannot imagine that something that delivered the ira-sanda (sun and moon) would or could also cause a total eclipse.  It did not matter as long as it was ‘our guy’ in charge.  Time passed, things changed and the changing circumstances saw script being tweaked just at the right/wrong (depending on preferred outcome) time in the right/wrong way and all of a sudden the UNP found it had got on the wrong side of Mr. Constitution-Piper. 

The ‘adult’ message is simple.  It can be reduced to a single word: beware.  Need elaboration?  Think ‘worst case scenario’.  Think ‘The UNP in 1978 and in 1994’. Think ‘the children of Hamlin’.  It is easy to be blind and blissful when things go your way.  It is easy to think ‘let’s make the best of the good times’.  That’s one way of seeing it. It is not the most patriotic or democratic way of doing things, though.

The chair upon which ‘Our Guy’ sits today could be occupied by ‘Their Guy’ tomorrow.  The former is the equivalent of the rat-exterminating scenario and the latter the kid-less outcome. 

It is simple, really.  There is nothing illegal about playing a flute.  In other words, systems can be put in place or amended through legal means.  The problems lies in the nature of the worms in the political can that is invariably opened or, to put it another way, the difficulty in coming up with a melody-restrictor once the flautist is given a visitor’s pass. 

These are days when system change/amendment is being discussed.  Sometimes the power to change is dearly purchased.  It is sometimes a once-in-twenty-years kind of opportunity.  Or worse.  All the more reason to be careful, to take time, to shake your proposal many times and ask as many people as possible to comment. 

It is a good time to visit a little village called Hamlin. Good to ask about rats.  About kids.  And about how a simple devise could be used to two starkly different purposes.  About the Our-Guy-Their-Guy issue mentioned above. 

The rats of Hamlin.  That was the past.  The children; they were the future.  A single instrument. Used for different purposes.  That’s a political lesson, I feel. Something we should all learn in these days of ‘setting things right’.

*First published in September 2010 in the Daily News 



sajic said...

A good analogy. There will always be rats and there will always be pipers.
If promises are kept and pipers paid maybe they would play a different tune?

Anonymous said...

To me the most important thing is Hamlyn not keeping to his word. Integrity. Our guy or their guy does not matter if you do the right thing. The emphasis should be on the precedence. The style and the vocabulary of your article is way above the average Sri Lankan. A sad habit of the English educated intellectuals. You may reach so many more readers if you had kept your style and words simple. It is an interesting piece of writing that should be read by many.