Context-free versus Context-dependent Political Strategies – the dilemma for Sri Lankan Rulers
Posted on November 7th, 2013

R Chandrasoma

It can be argued that politics must be based on inalienable moral principles that are unflinchingly applied irrespective of consequences. Thus, it may seem eminently reasonable that the Death Penality should be abolished because the taking of the life of even a convicted murderer is morally wrong and judicial executions cannot be be carried out in a civlized nation.

It will be admitted by all that such ‘context-free’ decision-making by rulers is the exception rather than the norm. A moral stand can win the plaudits of the devout but may be politically unworkable or even foolish. Much of the opposition to MR’s rule is based on the supposition that he is opportunistic in matters where the the moral position on a politically sensitive question is well defined.

Those who argue thus appear to ignore the fact that ‘real politic’ is strongly context dependent – that what appears an unambiguous moral issue is muddied by the fact that there are practical consequences that no politician can ignore. Let us take the case of the licensing of gambling-houses.

The moral issue – that gambling is a pernicious vice – is not questioned. Matters becme problematic when rich foreigners who see gambling as a ‘money-game’ that does no harm except to the purses of the rich are debarred by a law that has no moral force for them. If these aliens do good to us by patronizing oases of luxury in our morally strait-laced country what harm is done? If some ‘Buddhists’ – mostly of the ‘Pecksniffian’ kind – find all this a moral offence, it must be pointed out that a secular ruler acts to maximize the well-being of his subjects – not to uphold a moral law that has no consensus. Gambling – like sex – may be good or bad depending on circumstances. The Bond-Market is not essentially different from a gambling-house but nobody finds this institution obnoxious.

The lesson that must be well understood is that in politics and state administration there is no clear line of action based on a moral consensus. Some like to eat beef and see no wrong in the humane slaughter of cattle to serve the vital nutritional needs of mankind. In ruling on such matters, it is not the moral law that is paramount – it is the feasibility of the law given the many-faceted nature of the human condition. Ignoring this results in disasters of which the best example is the judgement of Western Nations on Prahakaran and the Tamil insurgency.

The Nations of the West view the death of thousands in the final phase of the Eelam Wars as a horrendous moral faliure for which the Sinhala leaders must be held accountable. This is a lamentable judgement based on a context-free assessment of an unavoidable tragedy. The colossal error here is the making of a sweeping moral judgement while ignoring the context – the background and the compelling

constraints that made MR and his advisors resort to war and conquest. Life is such that in order to sustain it and to maximize well-being the seemingly immoral has to be done given the dire nature of the challenge.

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2 Responses to “Context-free versus Context-dependent Political Strategies – the dilemma for Sri Lankan Rulers”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    SL must learn from Israel how to handle POLITICAL enemies (TNA)!!

    “(CNN) That’s the verdict from scientists trying to answer a question that has riveted people around the Middle East and beyond for nearly a decade: Did someone kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by poisoning him with a radioactive isotope?

    His widow insists he was assassinated, a conclusion scientists who have completed an exhaustive study of the evidence did not reject, but said Thursday they could not confirm either.

    “Was polonium the cause of death?” asked professor Francois Bouchud, director of Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics about Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004 in a Paris military hospital. “Our study has not been able to prove categorically a hypothesis of poisoning or another of non-poisoning by polonium.”

    He was fielding questions from reporters in Lausanne, Switzerland, about his group’s work a day after Al Jazeera released a report prepared by his laboratory that concluded that levels of polonium-210 measured in Arafat’s personal effects and in tissues from his exhumed body “moderately” support a proposition that he died of polonium poisoning.

  2. Naram Says:

    Thank you for bring out an interesting issue. My observation is that Legal systems tend to evolve by experience more tan moral principles. In the feudal societies polygamy had been a normal arrangement among aristocracy but today monogamy is the norm not necessarily sanctioned by marriage ceremonies specially in the West as couples tend to live together for years without registering their affinity. In Sri Lanka we see historical Islamic practice of polygamy continuing among some, and in fact changing the religion to Islam was a way out for men entangled in a strong extra marital affair.

    Historically Buddhists seem to have been very liberal about many things – Buddha lived in a time of gambling dens, death penalty, harems for kings and highly paid intelligent courtesans like Ambapali but his attention did not focuson removing such practices. Various Sila precepts are for individuals to follow or take liberties withas the occasion demands. stretching the truth, mild intake of alcohol, bribery, voyeurism and pornography are dealt with in a matter of fact way in Buddhist literature.

    It would be difficult to define say rights of animals over man, in a short essay certainly expanding human population and the inevitable growth of suburbs need strong environmental laws to keep the balance.

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