Failure of our academics to answer issues of the day
Posted on December 7th, 2016
H. L. D. Mahindapala
After the retirement of the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist mafia in academia – namely, Jayadeva (Marthelis) Uyangoda, Kumari Jayawardena, Carlo Fonseka, and their fellow-travellers – the public face of universities that has been popping up like a bad penny is that of Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, the Senior Lecturer in History at the Colombo University. His talking head appears on TV shows too which is good for light entertainment when Sunil Perera is not there. His latest interview with Kelum Bandara in the Daily Mirror (30/11/16) demonstrates not only his inability to field serious questions and present a lucid analysis but also the mediocrity of our academics whose interlocutory interventions invariably distort the public discourse.
The headline, picked from one of his quotes,(“Nationalism is the manifestation of a crisis, not a solution to it”) made it clear that the main topic was Donald Trump and the impact of his brand of “nationalism” in the immediate future. In reading it I was hoping to get some insightful revelations radiating from the Colombo University. At the end of it, I am sad to say, I was left with only irrelevant inanities to most of the questions raised by Kelum. I am afraid I can’t deal with all his irrelevant imbecilities due to the limited of space available in this article. I will confine myself to only a selected few.
As for Donald Trump, I must say, in passing, that the showmanship qualities in his swaggering braggadocio can be titillating up to a point. But in the end he comes out of it as a picaresque con artist who bulldozed his way in to White House of the Alt-right. He stands out as the ultimate symbol of the American pop culture which, I thought, was always tainted with obscene and loud vulgarities. All of it seems to have come together in the arrogant pomposities of Donald Trump.
That apart, the first question put to Dewasiri (Q: With the conclusion of the election in the United States, there is a perception that nationalism is triumphing over internationalism. What are your views?) opened up possibilities of covering a wide range of issues. In the main, it touched on the new dimensions of Trump’s foreign policy arising from his inward-looking nationalism that put American first, virtually dismissing its traditional military, economic and political alliances abroad. Dewasiri’s confused answer to Kelum’s first question runs in diverse directions except to explicate Trump’s impact on his version of “American nationalism” which verges on isolationism, perhaps, even a new version of Munroeism. At least, as a self-professed Leftist, he should have attempted to dissect the consequences that would flow from Trump’s “nationalism” to the global order as it exists now. But his answer only exposes his total inability to grasp the far-reaching dynamics of the issue. Instead his answer drifts in the direction of ko-hay-da-yan-nay- mal-lay-pol. (Where-are-you-going-there-are coconuts-in-my-bag).
He is all over the place with his wish-washy answers. He rambles on about the French Revolution, Karl Marx, Engels, UN, human rights, globalisation etc., – none of which explains the consequences of the “Trumpist” variety of nationalism – and concludes with the cliché that “nationalism has always been a strong force”. Even the dullards in his class will know that because they feel it running through their veins as an existentialist force. As an academic he should have dealt with the new forces that Trump has threatened to unleash on the global theatre. He is the new face of capitalism turning inwards to embrace economic nationalism, abandoning globalism / regionalism. He is threatening to dismantle the entire European and even global order put together by the post-World War II diplomacy of America. Dewasiri, drowning in his ignorance, doesn’t have a word to say about it. He doesn’t even mention Westphalia which is accepted by all historians as the defining moment in the concept of nationalism.
“Trumpism”, together with “Brexitism”, signals that the people who are losing their identity in the globalised market, are yearning to go back and reinforce their roots. Economic nationalism is intertwined with political nationalism. “Trumpism” and “Brexitism” hope to make America / Britain great again with home-centric economics. But this runs contrary to the intrinsic nature of capitalism. Adventurous capital always tend to get out of the box; not to get locked up inside a box at home and stagnate. Money does not grow inside a box. It grows only when it is invested outside the box. Colonialism, regionalism and globalisation are natural extensions of capitalism. So can Trump’s reversal to keep jobs at home by threats and incentives to the corporate sector be the answer? Or is he blindly playing the role of King Canute, ordering the waves of globalisation to roll back?
Trump has clearly decided to pull up the draw bridge and keep out the invading aliens. This has raised new challenges. With all his entrepreneurial skills he cannot contain capitalism within his domestic walls because the crippling effect on the ever-expanding forces of capitalism, spinning beyond his control, can rebound and drag America deeper into a “Trumpist” black hole. His is a recipe for recession / depression.
Capitalism has come a long way from the narrow Dickensian garrets on which Marx based his questionable predictions. Capitalism is at the stage where it cannot survive only on the sales of local market, however big the market may be. Besides, market forces has turned the globe into a village. America has to compete in the global village if it is to survive. If America doesn’t do it there are plenty of others who will fill the gap. China still can continue to remain national because its labour market is comparatively cheap and retains the capacity to compete with the world. The economic nationalism that works for China will not work for America.
Besides, Trump is hoping to make America great by keeping his industrial babies at home. Can he do that? If America is to be competitive and grow it has to cut labour costs to survive in the global markets. But that is not going to happen in America. So somebody has to either cut the spiralling costs of labour, or subsidise the high cost of labour to keep the profits up. If this can’t be done then industries will have to go in search of cheap labour.
Donald Duck-economics wants to have it both ways, judging from his deal with air-conditioning giant, Carrier, which was planning to relocate its factory in Mexico, sacking 1100 workers from its plant in Cincinnati, Ohio. All the hoopla about his success in keeping jobs at home is a load of codswallop. He has cut a deal to pay Carrier $7 million for ten years and keep only half its working force in Ohio. In other words, it is the taxpayers who will have to subsidise industries struggling to survive in America. Can Trump go round the country and offer subsidies to hundreds of American industries struggling to keep head above water? Of course, he is making a big show of his deal with Carrier to gain some political mileage which is a part of his showmanship. Sooner or later, the weight of subsidising American corporations to stay at home will cripple both the economy and Trump. The winner in this game, so far, is not Trump but Carriers. They got a subsidy from Trump and they are also exporting half the jobs to Mexico. On both counts the American tax payer is asked to carry the burden. Angered by this betrayal, Sarah Palin, one of Trump’s sidekicks, is condemning it as “crony capitalism.”
This is the reality that bites into the hype of Trump. Besides, even before he can take office he has set himself on a collision course with China. Dewasiri’s answer does not show any understanding of the serious consequences of Trump’s politics or economics? Or of the inherent contradictions in Trump’s populism that will drag him down? His “economic nationalism” has turned into unsustainable “crony capitalism”. Can this be a long-term solution for the American economy? The example of Carrier also indicates that some jobs and industries will continue to go abroad. Of course, Trump has a chance of creating jobs by investing state funds in public utilities like roads, bridges, schools etc. But he has to go beyond that to reinvigorate the economy and make it competitive internationally. Can he do that by subsidising private industries?
These are some of the issue that a perceptive academic should address. But Dewasiri hasn’t a clue about the new dynamics that will derail Trump’s triumphalism. I am more concerned about Dewasiri’s ko-hay-da-yan-nay-mallay-pol answer. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that his academic wife draws a bigger salary than he does. Leaving her aside, (she may be worth her weight in gold!) the tax-payer is entitled to ask whether the public is getting their money’s worth from papier mache heads like Dewasiri pontificating in academia.
Like all the NGO and academic pundits he poses as if he is the solution to the crises facing the nation. But he is only regurgitating the same old slogans and recipes of the Tamil-NGO lobbies. For instance, he claims that the “confederalism” – not federalism – is the answer to the constitutional crisis. And with this pronouncement he poses as the genius who has at last found the ultimate solution! At a time when the nation can’t agree even on federalism to ask for confederalism is like asking a ninety-year-old woman to produce quintuplets when she can hardly produce a foetus. But this type of fantasising is typical of our dunderheads in academia and NGOs — all of whom pretend to be problem-solvers.
Consider also how this “yakka-demic” deals with the following straightforward question : “Q You are an academic who strived for the installation of the current government that pledged to implement good governance principles. How detrimental is this trend for the country?”
Now, I urge you not to laugh. This is his answer: “Good governance is something different I have to explain to you. I do not use it in that sense. If I leave it aside, there will be a lot for us to talk about in this case…..” Hilarious, isn’t it? He was asked about good government and he says “leave it aside”. How many marks will he get if he gave that answer to a question asked from him at an exam. It reminds me of the story of a student who answered his question paper saying : “I don’t know. Only God knows”. The examiner wrote back saying : “God gets 100 marks. You get nought!”
Obviously, he doesn’t want to admit his vacuous mind cannot cope with the embarrassing question. He crowed glowingly about his “good governance” on January 8. He couldn’t stop talking about it. But when he is asked how detrimental it is now for the country, he dodges the issue and says let’s talk about “nationalism”. Once again it’s ko-hay-da-yan-nay-mal-lay pol. He says “good governance is something different”. Different from what? He doesn’t say. He adds: “I do not use it that sense.” What is the sense he has told Kelum? Dewasiri unable to answer the question is trying to con his way out.
Really, how can our universities ever hope to rise to higher levels when it is in the hands of “yakka-demics” who can’t answer a simple question? Dewasiri is the kind of “yakka-demic” who runs down the Mahavamsa without having the capacity to write a book of that magnitude ever in his life. While his doctoral thesis on some obscure fragment of the Dutch administration must be gathering dust in the mortuary of Leiden University the Mahavamsa has been studied, annotated, analysed and revered by some of the great Oriental scholars and the public. It has been the source of inspiration to millions and guidance to leading international historiographers. It is the living, undying, monumental treasure which the “yakka-demics” have tried to bury and failed.
Can Dewasiri who can’t provide credible answers to simple questions put to him ever hope to attain the intellectual heights of the humble monk who put the Mahavamsa together? How many of his peers have even bothered to cite his thesis in their footnotes? He is not even doing anything original in attacking the Mahavamsa. He is merely repeating what G. G. Ponnambalam did in the thirties.
What then are the chances of Dewasiri growing up to some degree of maturity in his life time?