Arun Dias Bandaranaike … being an Email Memorandum to Michael Roberts.,19 December 2o18 in response to a Comment in Thuppahi from Chandre Dharmawardena …. presented here with highlighting imposed **
Dear Michael, thank you very much for sharing the reply or response from Prof. Chandre Dharmarwardana, which apparently is a quickly drafted return, and does not betray the same careful thought and penmanship as was discernible in the prose composed by Sam. He does however include some salient points for consideration, and directs a question that has some validity viz. “What is your yardstick?”
I would perforce have to respond by saying that my yardstick is not that of a prevailing worldview among a mass of people in the United States of America, Canada, Italy, France or many other places that are termed ‘the west’; in fact, was one consider the late Rudyard Kipling seriously, his observation that the ‘the east is east and the west is west and never the twain shall meet’, then, Ceylon/Lanka does not appear within the frame of reference that includes the so-called western countries and cultures. Even the ‘east’, I fear, cannot be lumped as one homogenous lot, for indeed Singapore in the past 50 years is vitally different from Malaysia during the same period, similarly, South Korea and Japan are dissimilar to Taiwan, North Korea is different from Myanmar, and Indonesia from the Philippines. Likewise, the yardstick of India can hardly be applied in the measurement of attitudes among the polity and in recognizing the sense and sensibility of Lankans. There are similarities, admittedly, and yet there are differences, given the vastness of one and the parochial, xenophobic views as well as a contrasting global view among some, providing an interesting mix in a much smaller island population.
Ceylon has enjoyed ‘free education’ for several decades now. Schools and colleges function in all provinces and districts, and controlled by both governmental and private resources. Universities have flourished in far-flung places. It boasts of an adult franchise granted its people for even longer. Newspapers have been read for more than a century, albeit among the educated in the early years and by millions in the decades that followed. Radio has been reaching out to communities in 3 languages for more than six decades, and TV since 1978, with islandwide accessibility since about 1982, with a plethora of private stations emerging since 1992 clamouring for attention via no less than about 34 channels. All this polyglot of psychobabble has focused within a land of 65000 sq kms in extent!!!
That, then, is my yardstick.
I do not dispute the point that “the average rural person has a good understanding of social justice and democratic values, as well as their own rights.” However, there is a difference between such awareness and the capacity of people to analyse and discern fact from fiction, truth from theory, right from wrong and blatant propaganda from Truth. Oftentimes, the people of Lanka are as badly off as rural North America, Andalusia or Australia. In fact, the Lankans ought to be better off in terms of being aware and informed.
Just this morning (Tuesday 18th Dec) I was in conversation with the influential (now retired) Professor of Mass Comm at the Uni of Sri Jayawardhanapura, Dr. Sunanda Mahendra, while we were both at the Ministry of Information in Narahenpita. He lamented the parlous state of journalism and the quality of ‘communicators’ both in the written form and in the electronic. He recognizes a golden age in mass-communications as one that has long passed! He asks me Why? I was appalled that he too was not able to fix the exact reason why the demise in professionalism has occurred. To illustrate his point he mentioned how he had had to ‘expose’ a group of 34 final year students in his campus to the existence of reference works known as the Encyclopedia Britannica and Encyclopedia Americana. He was shocked, he says, to discover that after 4 years of undergraduate studies those students were of the opinion that factoids and information (as relating to his discipline, mind you, he was not talking about medical science or astronomy or engineering) were to be ascertained via the ‘smart phone’. It was with a sense of ‘desperation’ that Prof Sunanda had arranged with the librarian for a tour of the facility and to have these students ‘introduced’ to reference works that have stood the test of time for completeness and reliability. I am not fabricating this tale; rather this is what Sunanda told me this morning.
This, then, brought another factor into the discussion, and that is the difference between information and knowledge of facts, and wisdom. He implied also that many teachers impart facts and notes, but they themselves lack ‘insight along with wisdom’. That this differentiation or the ability to recognize what was what being beyond the grasp of the many who enter the realm of journalism and broadcasting, sums up his lament. The observations are his, an academic’s, not mine.
We have to recognize the issue- what is the situation with the hapless people to whom and upon whom this unprofessional stuff is unloaded on a daily basis?
The lack of principles and the unwillingness to abide by such codes as Human Rights, Justice, morality and fairness is rampant, as was observed, when even parents cheat the system to admit children to school, thereby providing a poor example for the next generation. Certainly, Dickens and Lorca have dealt with the malaise in their literature in their times. Curiously, though, the Lankans were inculcated with principles, and comely mores via temples and Sunday schools (and in all schools that were properly supervised either as missionary run institutions, or under the strict criteria adhered to during the time of the school inspectors, of which I have heard much from my elders), and were supposed to have been streets ahead of their western counterparts who were thought to have been uncouth and uncivilized during the times when the Kings of Lanka ruled in their glory millennia ago. This was the land where the ethics constituted in the Sirithmaldama were taught by the elders in all rural communities. What has happened to all that background of courtly conduct, which was advocated therein?
What of the monks who were the custodians of knowledge and the right & noble teaching? Notable in the diaries of Colonel Olcott kept for reference at the Centre of the Theosophical Society in Adyar in Chennai are the frank observations of the old colonel as regards the ‘attitude’ of the monks of Ceylon, who, he felt, were a detrimental influence on Buddhism and mannerly Buddhist behavior. Anyone who wishes can access them, and form his conclusions about the disquiet felt by Olcott (maintaining his diary after repeated visits to Ceylon in the late period of the 19th century) who was influenced more by the strictures of Victorian manners than any ‘mystic eastern philosophy’!!!! [Former Times of Ceylon journalist S. Muttiah, who on retirement returned to his home town in Tamil Nadu, published excerpts in the Deccan Herald, from where I have learned of these diary entries, at a time when I met with him about 10 years ago in Chennai. He continues to write columns in English newspapers in Tamil Nadu].
My seeming digression into the diaries’ contents was only to draw attention to how people may be and are confused and unable to differentiate between right and wrong. Critical thinking, it appears, has been suspended.
Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere’s recent treatise published under the title “The Doomed King – A requiem for Sri Vikrama Rajasinha” has much in its pages to provide the conclusion that from the time of the Kandyan kingdom the polity was open to manipulation of ideas by provincial chiefs who were bent on political advancement at the expense of loyalty to the crown. Obviously, some of those enterprises succeeded in dismantling the system and contributing to the destruction of that kingdom.
I ask, how much has that changed in the 21st century? I am puzzled by the continuing inability of so many to discern matters, given the huge strides made in terms of education and information sharing as touched on above.
It is most interesting to hear (and see on You Tube) Prof Nalin de Silva waxing on about the debacle that wreaked havoc since October 26th, 2018. He ‘sanctified’ the putsch (not my term- many are using that nomenclature to describe the process) and suggested that it is not ‘his business’ to tell of what is right and wrong, or just and decorous, but, there are methods to secure a majority in parliament and that it needs to be done by hook or by crook and once that is done then just press on with the process and let the President succeed with his wishes. This, he says, is nothing to do with human rights and constitutional priorities and all that sort of irrelevant jive….rather, the job has to be done and the quicker the better with securing power. [The clip has him speaking on camera in the Sinhala language].
What are the chances that vast numbers that are open to this sort of ideology will be able to discern truth from falsehood, and right from wrong?
I must indicate here that I am completely neutral as regards political opinion and partisanship. I have never held a political view but rather have been able to take on a role as an observer and never as a stakeholder in any political ideology. This has been beneficial from a number of perspectives and I am able to say I bear no guilt of bias, and this has been recognized among those that matter. Obviously, I was “nobody’s man”- it has allowed me to serve in various capacities in the media and other professional areas since the early 1980s until the present under different heads of state and governments. I have been able to comfortably engage on TV interviews and discussions with the LTTE leadership just as I have been able to with the likes of Lakshman Kadirgarmar or Sunil Handunetti or even Tilwin Silva (of the JVP), and not ever had them wonder what my ‘stance’ is or whether I am trying to show them up in some sort of negative way. They have all relaxed and spoken from their hearts because I have paved the way for them to do that. I do not emulate Larry King or Tim Sebastian or any of those ‘stars’, and I don’t wish to cramp my own style.
This, I have mentioned, in case someone might think I have some ‘agenda’. I care not for any agenda, but I think I have a sense of what the average human is interested in and wishes to know. I have a much more old fashioned idea that people need to be treated with respect, even when they hold opinions and views that conflict with commonsense and verifiable truth!
I do not know who Amila Muthucutti is, what his credentials are and whether what he admits to has veracity or not. But, he has submitted a piece that was published in the Colombo Telegraph a few days ago, and I have taken the liberty to quote from that bit of prose. This is what he says:
“While it is true in some cases, people have still the chance to get information from reliable persons and sources in authority via Facebook. On the other hand, if someone questions as to why people read papers and watch TV, answer could be that Sri Lanka doesn’t have good internet coverage in remote areas. It is with low computer literacy that people hesitate to access to the internet for verifying information.
Furthermore, even though people in Sri Lanka is well ahead of its regional counterparts in terms of language literacy, media literacy in the country is not at satisfactory level. Media literacy can be defined as the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and produce communication in different ways. To put it simply, media literate person can critically think of what they see, hear and read in media. So long as media literacy is poor in this country, it is a blessing in disguise for opportunistic politicians and businessmen engaged in media business. “
In conclusion, mainstream media in Sri Lanka have miserably failed to win the public trust and fulfill their duty of conveying the truth, which is of course [the] need of the hour. They cannot expect their readers, listeners and viewers to believe whatever is available in their media, since people are now more sophisticated, having an access to the internet and increasing number of social media users. This trend can be introduced as a rise of social media and fall of mainstream media in Sri Lanka.” end
I shall allow you to figure out whether that has resonance with what we address here. I find it interesting that this man applies the term “media literacy” here.
Social media is used….but by whom?
In the heart of Colombo, at the SSC club, are workers who travel into work as janitors and pool attendants. One engaged with me recently, and she travels to work from near Pannipitiya. Is she an ignoramus of the highest level? Oh no! She’s a caring parent, seeing her daughter through University, providing for the household to support her husband who is also a wage earner. She listens to radio, watches a bit of TV but after work has to attend to chores at their modest home. She is not likely to read deeply in newspapers, although she has copies of current issues on her table. But beyond a few headlines and adverts she does not give herself that energy for concentrated reading. She travels daily to the SSC club. She claims to ‘know nothing of what is going on, except that there is a state of ‘lawlessness’ according to what some people tell her. She asks that someone explain to her what to believe, because she has no clue as to what is supposed to be rights and laws and constitutions and the like. Her mind will be filled with whatever someone chooses to impart to her. Would I tell her what to believe or what course is right or wrong? No, I shan’t. I shall, though, allow her to make up her mind for herself by indicating little bits about the position adopted by the court(s) and what the role of the speaker of Parliament is and a few details about comely procedures and traditions that exist within.
Another person I meet almost daily is of the suburb of Badowita in Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia. Close enough to Colombo’s metropolis, and anyway travels almost daily to work in town. That community in Badowita of persons at the lower end of the social scale and economic circumstances, and where drug-heads are active and thieves and gangs hang out, is also not sure of what is what. My informant is ‘surprised’ by what is learned from me about what is taking place. These matters about adherence to law and constitution is as abstruse as a lecture on the craters of the moon or the ridges on Mars. The stories and theories that percolate in the community are at variance with what is known by me and followed by persons like myself. I can aver that I am very very different from those at Badowita who would just as well be induced to engage in violence and bloodshed if that is the agenda of those that wish to exploit any situation. [Think of Goebbels if you wish!]
There is a very interesting frame that has been posted by Verite Research in just the past few days. One can see the areas of influence and how that can and will play out in conditioning the minds and hearts of the Lankan polity. This post is included in their November & December 2018 update. Please do check it through for it is instructive, what has been entered under ‘ethics eye’. Any chance that the general populace will ever become aware of what ‘Ethics Eye’ has tried to convey? The answer is a clear no!
Sufficient unto the moment is the substance contained herein, to provide a glimpse as to how I might arrive at my seriously less than academic ‘ethnographic’ perspective.
ETHICS EYE as computed by VERITE RESEARCH = 31206210_606346393053755_3061675936693878784_o
A SPECIAL NOTE from MICHAEL ROBERTS
Both Arun Dias Bandaranaike and Chandre Dharmawardana are old friends whose observations I take seriously. I recall that in the recent past Arun has provided me with succinct accounts of ethnographic encounters in the hinterland that were highly informative and useful . Chandre also related information conveyed informally by Foreign Minister Bogollagama regarding events at the height of Eelam War IV that set me on an useful investigative journey so to speak.
This emerging debate, therefore, opens up an area of debate that is a minefield: popular opinion on vital issues. How do we tap into popular thinking? and work out the people, events and media channels that have moulded the dominant strands of opinion? Given a wide variety of “STRANDS’ relating to any one issue, how does one work out which strands are the more dominant in some numerical sense?
In such circumstances when all of us are groping for some ‘fix’ on the thinking of Citizen Silvaa and his faithful Kussi-Amma, some gems of information are welcome.
SOME BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES
Thuppahi: ““Hot Press from Sri Lanka: Thoughtful Ethnographic Commentary,”14 December 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/12/14/hot-press-from-sri-lanka-thoughtful-ethnographic-commentary/#more-33082
Michael Roberts: “USA’s Threatening Interventions during the Eelam War in @009,” 3 July 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/07/03/usas-threatening-interventions-during-the-eelam-war-in-2009/
Samarasinghe: ““Sam Samarasinghe’s Postscript to the Raging Debate in Colombo Telegraph on His Previous Essay,” 13 December 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/12/13/sam-samarasinghes-postscript-to-the-raging-debate-in-colombo-telegraph-on-his-previous-essay/#more-33057