Is our democracy run by mindlessness and mediocrity?
Posted on October 19th, 2018

By DR D. CHANDRARATNA Courtesy The Island

The title of the editorial yesterday, the Terminal fracas (18, October) referred to the heated debate in the Cabinet over the sale of another state asset, the profit making eastern terminal at the Colombo port, but it subliminally suggested the terminal illness that has befallen our entire democracy.

Any democratic society assumes two things: the existence of a public, the very seat of sovereignty, and responsive leaders. By extension, that public must be articulate and knowledgeable, and the political leaders, who if not men of reason, must at least be reasonably responsible to such a knowledgeable public. Regrettably, our failed democracy suggests that neither the public nor leaders are responsive and responsible. Both seem to have lost their democratic relevance in Sri Lanka.

Today the characteristic member in the higher circles of power is an intellectual mediocrity, although sometimes a conscientious one, but nevertheless a mediocrity. Such weakness is revealed in the occasional realization that he is not up to the decisions one is called upon to confront. Public utterances are motherhood statements of piety and righteousness, but sentimental and empty rhetoric in their generality. Our leaders at the highest level are dismissive of the publics as asses, exemplified in the abbreviated, vulgarized, pre-digested and hackneyed explanations dished out to the publics on matters of the highest importance as for example, the economy, the ports, airports, trade pacts and bilateral relations. They are not masters of knowledge on any subject, but commanders of the phone call, the briefing, and just the headlines of the dailies. We also wonder where the lieutenants of power are, who have been assigned the role of knowledge, speech and media who consume so much tax payers money on globetrotting, yet incapable of delivering anything of value to the public. There is a commanding indecision on every subject where not any viable prospect pleases.

The editorial mentioned a number of items that should have commanded the highest priority for the country, but decided by men at the highest level without a panoply of reasonable discussion. The lack of intellectual appreciation by political men or their ghost administrative apparatus means a muted public mass. Such political decisions should not be taken in a country, which boasts of a robust history as a democracy. For one thing, no one has been given an electoral mandate to sell our national assets or sell our dignity for ransom. In countries such as Australia, such proposals are whetted by numerous bodies and usually a bipartisan stance is arrived at, before entering into dealings with foreign powers for these can destroy the sovereignty of the nation. These men of power wax eloquent in prepared speeches to international conferences about the strategic significance of Sri Lanka, and yet show utter callousness in the decisions they take. The manner these autocratic political men act is no different to the behaviour of the underworld elements that have no qualms about appropriating other people’s property. The leaders of any nation are only the caretakers; they have no authority to do otherwise unless electorally mandated. More than that, the leaders should be astute, one step ahead of the general public, to take important decisions in such a way, not just to be voted in or out but debated seriously in public, in the right intellectual form. The decisions taken in recent times have already landed us in hot waters, leaving room for foreign interference in our country about which we can do very little.

Our current crop of leaders is taking this nation to the doldrums. By implication and omission, by emphasis and fabrication, their communication to the public display the mindlessness and myth that commercial propaganda that beauty culture has come to exemplify in Sri Lanka. We cannot read whether these men of public affairs are dogmatic or mindless or both. What we are presented with is precisely the absence of any rational argument of any kind, inflexible or otherwise. Other than the recriminations and accusations we hear nothing of reason and argument in favour of the decisions they take to surprise us. There is no activity of value in the Parliament that holds its empty sittings at great cost. The esteemed institutions are ridiculed by the behaviour of its occupants. No argument prevails over the dogmatic views held by some, especially regarding the predatory nature of globalisation, to take just one example. The only description of these politicians is to label them crackpot realists, who see a prosperous 2025 coming, but not the 2020 disaster that is portending gloom. They have constructed a paranoid reality towards which the nation is dragged, unable and unwilling to engage with an alternative viewpoint presented to them.

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