Richard Simon, whose preferred title is “The End of History, Again” ……. — A parody which is presented in this blog viz,……………………………………. http://notesfromceylon.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-end-of-history-again.html — a site which I encourage you to visit …. Note that I have inserted highlighting emphases to assist readers.
Someone for whom I have great respect asked me to write my reaction to this essay by Sanjana Hatthotuwa in the Island. I do so somewhat unwillingly, since the kind of writing it represents is ordinarily of no interest to me. This is because I view, historical processes (including, inter alia, all social and political processes) as being beyond human control. It is true that humans, both individually and in groups, can grasp and sometimes make use of these processes to further their own ends, but in doing so they unavoidably change both the process and its results. And these changes and effects are not fully predictable by anyone. Hence my deep conviction that socio-political activism is at best ambiguous in its effects, and at worst downright dangerous.
Readers of an optimistic, pragmatic or executive bent may contest this. What nonsense, they’ll say. Of course, you can plan a course of action and carry it out expecting to see certain results, and if all goes well you will certainly see them. That’s exactly how we win wars, succeed in business, fly to the moon and do all the other great things that humans have done throughout history. What do you mean, historical processes are beyond human control?
I mean that it takes no more than a moment’s reflection to vindicate my thesis. Yes, indeed, we can predict the outcomes of process – but only some of the outcomes. There will always be unintended, unforeseen consequences, which may be problematic, negative, even fatal, and which will have to be addressed by further action – that is, by more process. And while this may offset the consequences of our first action, it will produce further unforeseen outcomes that will then have to be addressed with more action, and so on. The people performing these actions may kid themselves that they’re controlling some process or the other, but any fool can see that the process is really controlling them.
Of course. this does not mean we should give up studying history (or political science, or sociology); it is both our instinct and our duty to learn about the world we exist in and how we affect it. Our knowledge will always be imperfect, and we cannot help changing the things we study simply by the act of studying them, but we may yet learn something useful; if nothing else we will at least come to understand our own nature a little better. The question, for me at least, is whether Mr Hatthotuwa’s essay helps us in our understanding of the historical process. Just that: nothing more, nothing less.
Well, does it? The essay opens with a longish description of an LTTE child soldier fascinated by the workings of an ‘in-dash CD player’ fitted to a van in which Mr Hatthotuwa was travelling in the course of his laudable fact-finding and peace-building activities during the Sri Lankan civil war. This was apparently intended to serve as an affective, human-interest introduction to the rather cerebral think-piece that follows, but I’m sorry to say it failed to evoke in me any emotion whatsoever, neither did it provide any structural entry-point into the ideas and arguments contained in the essay.
The child soldier, says Mr Hatthotuwa, reminded him of Francis Fukuyama, the turn-of-the-century political scientist who famously proclaimed that the fall of Communism and the worldwide success of the liberal-capitalist socioeconomic model had brought about the End of History. Prof. Fukuyama is hardly the first person I would think of if a teenager pointed a gun at me, but perhaps Mr Hatthotuwa was reflecting on the possibly imminent end of his own history. Or maybe the kid looked a bit Prof. Fukuyama. Never mind; it is with Prof. End of History that the essay really begins.
Francis Fukuyama’s prediction was, of course, a failure. It failed for precisely the reasons I describe in my first paragraph above: the developments that brought about the supposed end of history also had other, unforeseen consequences, and these made sure that, Gorbachev and Walesa and the falling Wall notwithstanding, history just kept rolling along like Old Man River. This does not, however, appear to have dinted the good professor’s standing with Mr Hatthotuwa, who writes that
“Fukuyama’s central thesis is that populism’s rise and appeal at present is because of the indignity suffered by those in society who are rendered invisible by the dominant narratives undergirding the politics, practices and policies of the government.”
Oh, nice. So the rise of populism isn’t due to any characteristic or tendency in the populists, or in the populus, themselves, but in the way they’re regarded in ‘the dominant narratives’ of the State. Here we encounter the great illusion of the left going all the way back to Rousseau: humanity in a state of nature is perfect, and it is only society (or rather its engines, such as the State) that mar his perfection and turn him selfish, violent and anti-social. That doleful, exhausted old nag, the Perfectibility of Man, dragged out for yet another totter round the course.
Well, I’m not buying it, especially from a disreputable old huckster like Francis Fukuyama. But now we come to the meat of Mr Hatthotuwa’s essay:
“Fukuyama suggests that the politics of the left has lost its way, focussing on ever smaller issues anchored to specific communities, giving way to right-wing politics that uses identity politics, including by appropriating the language of marginalisation and outrage, to appeal to ever greater numbers. Fukuyama focussed on the deterioration of liberal democracies in the West, but his critique of polarisation in political dialogue, lack of robust critique, the rise of emotion over reason, short-term fixes instead of long-term reform holds true even in Sri Lanka. Refreshingly, Fukuyama doesn’t posit any of this to social media. Towards the end of the book, he says that as much as social media is clearly responsible for exacerbating existing social, political and communal divides and thus contributing to violence, it also holds the key to greater cohesion, stronger democracy and better governance.”
Seriously, did we need a failed Japanese-American political scientist to diagnose these ills for us? ‘Polarisation in political dialogue, the rise of emotion over reason and short-term fixes in place of long-term reform’ have been staples of Sri Lankan politics since before Francis Fukuyama was born. Anyone who has struggled to follow the self-interested antics of the constituent groups and individual members of the Ceylon National Congress and its precursors during the early years of the twentieth century will have learnt more about polarization in political dialogue than he may well care to know. Polarization in Ceylon politics began the day the Jaffna Association rejected Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s attempts to create a non-communal basis for political activism in Colonial Ceylon; it has been nothing less than the basis of Lankan politics since the death of D.S. Senanayake, the last truly unifying figure in our country’s political history. As for the rule of emotion over reason, identity politics are nothing less than the only demotic politics we have; such has been the case ever since the Sinhalese Buddhist revival of the late nineteenth century. Reasonable polities debate issues such as the economy, national defence, law and order, public welfare, education and health policy, and so on; polities ruled by emotion concern themselves with race, religion, language, caste and other issues in which government should rightly have no place at all. As for ‘short-term fixes in place of long-term reform’, what else can you hope for when nobody gives a toss about road safety but everyone’s afraid of their neighbour because he speaks a different language or worships a different god?
The problems of Sri Lanka are, no doubt about it, similar to those facing Western democracies today; but while the disease may be the same, the symptoms in our country are much more extreme than they have yet become in the West.
The disease? I would call it civilizational decline. In Sri Lanka, as in the West, it has been discernible – if only to hindsight – since around 1900 or so and gained serious momentum after the Second World War came to an end. Barring calamitous climate change, however, the collapse of the West may yet be deferred for a generation or two; it is a high civilization, quite possibly the highest in human history, and it has far to fall. In Sri Lanka the collapse is already accomplished.
I speak, of course, of the civilization imposed on us by our temporary masters the British. Our own high civilization has been dead seven hundred years or more; barbaric successor kingdoms and foreign powers then fought over Lanka for half a millennium. At last, about twenty years after the establishment of British rule over the island, genuine civilization returned – this time as a foreign imposition. It didn’t stay long, though: in less than a century it had begun to ebb away again. Much was already lost already by the time we gained independence in 1948, and by 1972 the decline had become unstoppable. Today what little is left of the democratic nation-state of Sri Lanka is running on the dregs of momentum acquired in the past. Very soon that too will be gone, and we shall have returned to the conditions of oriental despotism punctuated by episodes of anarchy that were the only political reality known to the people of Lanka from the death of King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa in the thirteenth century to the adoption of the Colebrooke-Cameron mission report by the British colonial government in 1833.
History, of course, never ends. Yet it is hard to see any great change being accomplished in Sri Lanka without a revolution so comprehensive that it destroys not only the present order and its institutions, but also our national myths and superstitious fictions. It might even have to be a world revolution, for these days no island is an island. And even a revolution alone will not suffice: a century or so of rebuilding – or else occupation by yet another foreign power – will have to follow before any kind of civilization returns to our beautiful motherland. Well, I am selfish enough to hope the revolution doesn’t happen in my time, and as for occupation by a foreign power, well, my oriental-language skills are rather poor. Much as I would like to see a return to civilized life, I don’t see any possibility of that for generations to come. Certainly it will not be accomplished through ‘constitutional reform to address issues around identity and dignity that were drivers of violent conflict.’ For constitutional reform to work, people have to take constitutions seriously. And only civilized people can do that.
ORIGINAL TEXT entitled “The End of History, Again,” can be seen at http://notesfromceylon.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-end-of-history-again.html ……………………………Notes from Ceylon = Jottings, rants and book reviews from a place that no longer exists.
Sanjana Hattotuwa: “Identity, Belonging, Dignity. Lessons from Francis Fukuyama for Sri Lanka Today,” 2 October 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/10/02/identity-belonging-dignity-lessons-from-francis-fukuyama-for-sri-lanka-today/
Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, 1992.
John Richardson: “Politics without Principal in Sri Lanka, 1948-1992.” 24 October 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/10/24/politics-without-principle-in-sri-lanka-1948-1992/#more-32154
Stanley Samarasinghe: “Good Governance in Sri Lanka. Wherefrom Minihaa!!” 21 October 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/10/21/good-governance-in-sri-lanka-wherefrom-minihaa/#more-32110
Wikipedia: “Francis Fukuyama,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama
Louis Menand: “Fukuyama postpones the End of History,” 3 September 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/03/francis-fukuyama-postpones-the-end-of-history
Michael Roberts: “Ceylon Tea and Its Surrounds: Richard Simon’s Tour de Force,”18 July 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/07/18/ceylon-tea-and-its-surrounds-richard-simons-tour-de-force/
Michael Roberts: “The Lines of Fire within Mark Field’s Paternalist Message,” 7 October 2018, https://thuppahis.com/?p=31943&preview=true
Michael Roberts: “Pirapaharan’s Inspirations and Mind-set,” 10 August 2018,https://thuppahis.com/2018/08/10/pirapaharans-inspirations-and-mind-set/
Induction of a Tigress after training, 1991 from BBC Video documentary on “Suicide Killers” 1991
Tiger soldiers relaxed in camp–Pic by Shyam Tekwani, Indian reporter embedded withIN the LTTE late 1980s
Young Tigress soldiers — regarded with awe by Tamil civilians? … n. d.