08 September 2019

Curing the nation of its many dementias*

Teddy Ameresekere offers a pithy and pertinent elaboration of the meaning of dementia: ‘The former regime has forgotten why they were chased out and the present can’t remember why they were elected.’   
Those who believed or were hopeful that the yahapalanists would bring about ‘change’ are largely silent. Some have resolved to dwell on small gains and talk about better times to come. The more honest criticize the Government, urging it to do better. In Sinhala they say that’s like believing one can obtain feathers from tortoises.   
As for those who are against this Government, they ask tongue-in-cheek, ‘fjki iemo?’ (is the change pleasing?). Implies is that ‘change’ was for the worse and not better. This, however, is not true.   
The 19th Amendment was a joke. The Right to information Act was not. That was an important ‘honeymoon period dividend’. However, if you are talking about corruption, embezzlement abuse of state resources, infringement on the freedom of expression, use of police brutality, suppression of democratic rights, crippling of the judiciary, legislative subterfuge, abuse of power and authority and so on, then there’s no ‘venasa’. The ‘achievements’ of this Government in close to just three years is appalling and alarming. It’s almost like a repeat of the previous regime, but fast-tracked.   
So, what this all means, is that the people either knew and didn’t care or they forget easily
Teddy is both right and wrong, and moreover his observation, classic though it is, is incomplete. Simply, the ‘why’ of it is irrelevant to politicians. In the first case, the defeated will attribute defeat to reasons other than those Teddy probably thought of — deficiencies (which the  yahapalanists, Teddy believes, were serious about correcting). In the latter case, clearly rhetoric exceeded intention by quite a margin.   
This does not mean that there’s been no ‘forgetting,’ however, and that’s the missing part in Teddy’s claim: ‘The people forget that those who they elect forget those who elected them.’  
We have always elected ‘known devils.’ Only the utterly innocent and the fiercely loyal would believe the parties they’ve helped bring to power were angels. Some might think ‘relatively better’ and might even say it if they were honest. For the most part we’ve pressed the ‘default button.’   
This is true of the ‘Yahapalana Option’ as well. That ‘move’ was led by individuals such as Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Rajitha Senaratne, none of whom are angels or seen as such. And then there is Maithripala Sirisena, a senior member of the previous regime. The Premadasa Excuse (‘I was nothing more than a peon’) doesn’t really hold.   
So, what this all means, is that the people either knew and didn’t care or they forget easily. They forgot the track records of those they voted for and they forget that you can’t get feathers from tortoises.   
And it’s not just about elections, electing and the elected. Those determined to protect or spread a doctrine (be it Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or Marxism) appear to have forgotten the basic tenets relevant to their preferences. Substance is readily (and even consciously?) subsumed by label. And so we can ask those who style themselves as defenders of the Sinhala Buddhists what their ‘Sinhalaness’ is and what kind of ‘Buddhism’ do they obtain from to justify word and action.
We can ask similar questions from evangelical zealots peddling their version of ‘Christianity’ and from those espousing ‘Radical Islam’. We can ask why Marxists and Leftists in general don’t talk of class and are so reluctant to criticize capitalism (leave alone taking it head on!). Marxists might wonder why workers lack working class consciousness. Some might ask if the bourgeoisie knows its class interest. And some might remember the following paragraph in the Communist Manifesto:   
“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.… All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober sense, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” 
Well, one must question the claim of compulsion considering all the forgetting, real or feigned, alluded to above. Perhaps, one can interject, that it is ‘sober sense’ that produces the dementia that Teddy refers to. Perhaps it is an acquired or imposed sense of helplessness that makes people appear to be slothful in analysis and decision, to deliberately forget, if you will.   
True reasons and confessions notwithstanding we have come to or pushed towards a state of ‘making do’ or appear to have arrived at that unhappy place.   
On the other hand, since we are taking from Marx and Engels here, just as we are conditioned by circumstances, we can shape the circumstances as well.   
We have hit a wall, we hit it a long time ago. And keep banging our heads against it. Perhaps it is time to look for ways around it
We have hit a wall and we hit it a long time ago ladies and gentlemen. And we keep banging our heads against it. Perhaps it is time to look for ways around it. That wall could be many things or be made of many things, but a key element of it is the party system as we have it in this country and a political culture of self-delusion come election time pushing us to opt for ‘default’ and to think politics begin with the announcement of an election and ends with the declaration of winner(s).   
It is time to start remembering. Let us remember that the villains who ruled and rule exchanging places and visiting cards as per changed circumstances are not interested in remembering the people in any serious manner. They don’t represent and are not interested in representing the citizenry.   
Let us remember to forget, then. Let us remember to forget these usurpers of franchise and desecraters of sovereignty. Let us remember that recovery of such things is our business. Let’s get serious about our business. Let’s forget those who arrogantly and with intention of deceit wear the messiah badge because they are essentially (as history has shown) not interested in leading the masses to any ‘promised land’ of any kind of verdancy.   
Let us shed our various dementias. Let us opt out.  
*This article was first published in the Daily Mirror (October 26, 2017)