Connect with us

Midweek Review

The value of aesthetic sentiment and its role in our lives

Published

on

Figure 2: ‘I see me’ a dance work choreographed and performed by Kanchana Malshani, Choreography Lab, Goethe Institute, Colombo 2019. Photo credits Malaka Mp Photography.

Pleasure or Purpose?

by Saumya Liyanage

 

This paper is based on a guest speech delivered at the annual lecture series titled ‘Medicine and Beyond’ organized by the Galle Medical Association at Karapitiya Teaching Hospital in 2019.

Introduction

Artistic practice as a creative endeavour is regarded as a second-rate activity when it comes to considering science and scientific truth claims. Plato wanted to remove artists from his utopian State. He argued that arts generated moral issues and bad sentiments so this type of human actions should be removed from the society. This tendency of marginalising the arts and artists’ works increased in 18th century Europe. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a tendency of ‘faculty psychology’ started identifying higher and lower faculties of sense experiences and those psychologists categorised human sense experience in a hierarchical manner. Along with this, there are higher faculties that are believed to correspond with human intellect and there are lower faculties which are defined as non-cognitive and bodily. These bodily faculties produce subjective experience (Johnson 2007).

Mark Johnson here refers to the eye of the human being as one of the higher faculties which are believe to produce human intellect. The eye gathers information which is processed in the brain, and the brain orders the body to take action. This is the ‘Nature-idea-response’ model that Western science has propagated for the last few centuries. We observe worldly phenomena, process data in the brain, and come to certain conclusions. Therefore, information which is gathered through the eye and processed in the brain, dominates our knowledge and we assume that our intellect is developed through the information gathered through the eye. The eye also refers to the mind or ‘mind-eye’ as well. However, other senses such as smell, touch, taste, and hearing are referred as secondary to ocular-centric perception. While these lower level senses provide lower rated sense experience, the higher order sense like the eye provides higher order intellectual attainment. As a result, aesthetic pleasure is also categorised as a lower level of sense experience because we believe that the arts ignite subjective mental states. This subjective experience is placed against rational thinking. Even in Asian aesthetic theory, ‘rasa’ is also defined as something related to ‘extract of essence’ or taste of food. In line with this, the consumption of food and extricating ‘rasa’ is a secondary sense experience achieved through the tongue.

Aesthetic pleasure

Our daily life is filled with activities: lecturing, teaching, seeing patients, having meetings, driving cars, cooking, washing, and cleaning. All these activities are understood as rational activities. Therefore, we think that we need aesthetic pleasure, which is placed against reason and again less rational, less intellectual, but aesthetic entertainment, a much-needed component of life, is considered ‘subjective’ because it addresses human sentiments, feelings, and emotions. In the rational-emotional binary opposition, reason is favoured and hierarchically higher than emotion. For instance, sexual pleasure is seen as obscene and less intellectual similar to mere bodily activity.

Arts, especially the aesthetic, come into play as a means of escape from anxieties in our daily lives. The idea of Terror Management Theory (TMT) explains how we are conscious about our bodies and health, and take care of our wellbeing through various activities. The idea behind this consumption of arts is connected with the desire for human immortality. The fear of death is alleviated by seeking help from art and aesthetic pleasure. Thus, aesthetic experience is used as a way of escaping daily reality and also used as a tool of wellbeing. However, my question is whether these arts and aesthetics are there only for us to gain pleasure. Are there any other utilitarian needs for which we humans can use the arts? What are the other benefits that the arts can bring to human life? In what capacity could art enrich our human experience? These are some of the vital questions that I would like to discuss here.

 

Body, Mind and Cognition

Western modern philosophy theorises the division between the rational mind and the body, and the human body is understood as a separate function like a mere mechanical object similar to a clock or a machine. We see the human beings and their bodily functions in this dualistic way. Accordingly, a human being has two separate entities: mind and body. Bodies decay and are vulnerable to all sorts of diseases and ailments. We unconsciously conceptualise our bodies as a collection of functionalities such as blood circulation, respiratory functions, secretions such as urine and saliva, functions of organs such as lungs, liver, heart, and intestines. These conceptualisations of human body and its functionalities lead us to think of our bodies as inanimate objects which are enlivened through blood and breath. We distinctively differ between the thinking substance (mind) and the physical body (Soma) because we believe that thinking is a higher order function, which has nothing to do with the physical body. These daily conceptualisations of our thinking and bodily functions lead us to separate our rational thoughts from bodily functions. Therefore, the body is marginalised in the history of philosophy.

Yet, cognitive science has recently found that our thinking activities, conceptualisation, and ideas are not generated in a separate mind but these ‘mind activities’ are inherently embodied (George L., & Mark J., 1999, p. 3). The embodied mind is developed through organism-environment interaction or coupling. Traditionally, psychologists and philosophers have believed that thinking and thought processes are rational and intentional activities. However, recent studies have proved that our thoughts do not function rationally but occur largely within our unconscious region.

 

Further, abstract ideas and concepts are also largely metaphorical. For instance, in our daily lives, many abstract concepts such as time, space, distance, speed, etc., are understood in linguistic metaphorical structures (George L., & Mark J., 1999). These key findings of cognitive science have already questioned the way we understand human nature and our engagement with the world. We are now at a juncture where we may need to reconsider our previous assumptions on the human mind, reason and aesthetic experience and our engagement with the world. One cannot marginalise aesthetic sentiment as merely ‘subjective’ because the subjective-objective dichotomy cannot be applied anymore to explain how people perceive aesthetic experience. In other words, aesthetic sentiment is both rational and emotional at the same time. Hence, artistic activities, aesthetic experience, and perception are not mere cognitive or sentimental functions but about how human beings seriously engage with the world.

 

Music

Let me begin with music. Music plays a key role in shaping our lives and forming our experience as human beings. Music has the power to bring back memories and histories of our lives and it allows us to escape from the current social reality and encourage us to live through the past. Many of us are fond of listening to old music. The reason is that these musical sounds evoke nostalgic sentiments in us and help us escape from the current reality. Let’s contemplate for a moment and see what happens when you hear a familiar song from the 70s or 80s. How do we understand the experience it provides us? How do we understand its meanings despite its language and meanings derived from linguistic connotations? One of the basic arguments here is that we understand music not just because we know the language or we know the particular genre of music, but our understanding is rooted in bodily means. Mark Johnson argues: ‘The meaning in and of the music is not verbal or linguistic, but rather bodily and felt. We understand the meaning of longing, desire, expectation, for better things to come, and so on. We cannot convey it verbally, but it is nonetheless meaningful, and it is enacted via our active engagement with the music’ (Johnson 2007, p. 242). It is not a particular aesthetic mind that germinates and informs us about the meaning of music but it is the corporeal knowledge that is inherent in human beings which suggests to us different connotations of what we listen. The argument here is that music is an abstract form of art and its meanings go beyond our linguistic structures and connote indescribable meanings derived through our senses.

In terms of understanding arts and extricating aesthetic pleasure, we tend to transform all kinds of aesthetic experience into a ‘representation’ form. Transforming innate meanings into a representational mode allows humans to understand the arts as a ‘particular language’. There is a very popular saying that “music is a universal language”. But the irony is we do not listen or familiarize ourselves even with our neighbours’ musical traditions such as Carnatic music. Because language dominates the domain of understanding and eventually what we do is transform other forms of experiences into a language like metaphors through which we assume that we could understand the meaning of arts. Therefore music can be understood not only as an aesthetic object but something innately social and ideological text.

Figure 3: Cassandra directed by Seth Baumrin at Gershom Theatre, Lviv Ukraine, 2019. Actor, Lyudmyla Honcharova is performing with co-actors. Photo credit Vadym Rybin.

 

Dance

Let me now discuss, in brief, the values pertaining to dance. Dance as an art form can present diverse forms of expressions and meanings. Traditionally, Sri Lankan dance for instance have various codifications where dance audiences extricate meanings through narratives and stories embedded in dance. Hanuma Wannama or Gajaga Wannama depicts animal behaviours and meanings related to how these animals behave and move along with stories related to religion and rituals. Without these narratives embedded in traditional dance, we cannot see what meanings or feelings that these moving bodies bring as aesthetic meanings to the viewers. Similar to other art forms, we tend to define dance again as a universal language, or ‘mother of all tongues, or ‘the mirror of the soul’ (Warren cited in Leavy 2015, p. 149). These views are commonplace in the society related to dance, because we try to understand dance as a particular ‘language’ similar to music.

However, dance is one of the most abstract forms of art where meanings cannot directly be accessed.

Despite the literal and narrative meanings embedded in it, dance is used to cultivate other forms of values and meanings for human beings. Dance is narrative and tells stories. In traditional forms of dance, people derive meaning from narratives and stories embedded in dance rituals. These stories and narratives encapsulate human nature and gods’ and goddesses’ influence in human lives and wellbeing. Dance is emancipatory and used as a way of expressing social and personal discomforts and disagreements. There are some instances in which dance is used to critique social norms and raise disagreements through humour and satire. These forms also can be seen in some traditional dance dramas such as Kolam or Sokari in Sri Lankan dance-drama traditions. In these dance-drama forms, people use this art form to critique and show their discontent about established hierarchies and social status. Dance can be used to raise social cohesion by engaging with various communities and bringing them to a common platform. Dance is used as a healing process and it can heighten human wellbeing and communal sense. So, there are many ways in which we can understand how dance could be utilised in our daily life. In recent studies, dance has been identified as a tool to transcend historical time. As Cleark-Replley argues ‘dance is a form of transformative human action that expresses an individual’s being with purposive ends and can thus support communal relations’ (Cleark-Replley cited in Leavy 2015, p. 149).

 

Theatre

Finally, I would like to discuss briefly how theatre and performance practice could benefit our lives not only as a source of aesthetic pleasure but as a way to uplift other human values in our daily life and beyond. Theatre is a powerful medium through which one can communicate and share ideas and thoughts with other communities. The idea of ‘theatre’ has been used for a wide variety of meanings from antiquity to the present. The term theatrum mundi is used to denote the ‘world as theatre’ capturing every human activity taking place in the world. Further the term theatrum vita humane connotes the idea of ‘life as theatre’ (Fischer-Lichte, E. 2014). These usages therefore indicate how the term theatre is used to encapsulate both human and worldly activities.

Theatre invites actors and theatergoers to get together and engage in a communal space where they share certain meanings of their lives and surrounding environment. This is understood as an autopoiesis feedback loop or ‘co-presence’ of a group of performers and viewers. In this co-presence, theatre ‘investigates’ as well as ‘represents’ social phenomena where we live in (Leavy 2015, p. 174). Hence, theatre is not only for us to have pleasure and use as a leisure activity but also an investigation, exploration and representation of our daily realities. In general, theatrical performance raises our conscious awareness of where we live, what we do, and how we can change our environment. This awareness is vital for human beings to live and work in a society where unjust and exploitation is dominated. Theatre raises our awareness of our surroundings and further questions prejudices dominating in social structures. Theatre has the power to empower marginalized communities, groups of people who are suppressed by dominant power structures such as military, medical or governments. Theatre therefore stands along with those marginalized people and leads their struggles to emancipate them from those suppressive tools. In this sense theatre is political and educational. Theatre activism leads people to engage with policy and make changes in how they are being governed. Theatre is education in the sense that it blurs the boundaries and restrictions imposed in the traditional educational systems and allows people to learn without been subjugated to established pedagogies. Thus theatre creates a space for people whose voice is unheard and left alone. People who are involved in theatrical enactment and who are a part of the audience can cultivate knowledge through watching and engaging with the theatre. In this way, theatre and performance can serve to enhance human experience in diverse ways.

Conclusion

In these concluding remarks I would like to restate the idea that similar to scientific enquiry, the arts and arts practitioners also do research in their respective fields and create theories, challenge existing concepts and prejudices, develop new ideas, find new forms, and problematize existing knowledge with new creative research and insights. As I have argued above, the history of philosophy has created a gap between artistic endeavors and scientific explorations. However, with new understanding about how the human brain and cognition operate, it is clearly proved that human thinking, conceptualization, and ideas, traditionally understood as a function of the rational mind, are not rational activities but are embedded with emotional drives and occur largely in the human unconscious. In line with this aesthetic sentiment is an important human cognitive function that goes beyond our limits of language. Therefore, the arts override language and linguistic meanings. We make sense of the arts and our environment through our bodies and their encroachment with the outer world. The value of the practice of the arts and aesthetic sentiment is an integral component of human development. It is our duty for the next generation to convince that the arts and the aesthetic is another way of holistically understanding the world that science cannot perceive through rational means.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Dr Arosha Dissanayake, past president of the GMA and all the committee members of the association who made this event possible. Further a special gratitude goes to Himansi Dehigama and Sachini Senevirathne for helping prepare this paper.

References

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2014). The Routledge introduction to theatre and performance studies. London: Routledge.

Johnson, M. (2012). The meaning of the body: Aesthetics of human understanding. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Kashima, E.S. (2010). Culture and Terror Management: What is “Culture” in Cultural Psychology and Terror Management Theory? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(3), pp.164–173.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (n.d.). Philosophy in the flesh : the embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York, Ny: Basic Books, [20]10.

Leavy, P. (2019). Handbook of arts-based research. New York: The Guilford Press.

Leavy, P. (2020). Method meets art : arts-based research practice. New York: The Guilford Press.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Midweek Review

Economic meltdown

Published

on

S.R. Attygalle (extreme left) before COPFon June 08,2022. Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Dr.PBJ and Prof. W.D. Lakshman look on

House watchdog committees ascertain culpability of FM, Monetary Board

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), inquiring into financial meltdown recently, called several former and serving officials to ascertain their culpability as well as that of the institutions they served for the developing crisis.

Among them were former Governors of the Central Bank Prof. W.D. Lakshman (Dec 2019- Sept 2021), and Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Sept 2021-March 2022), Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (Nov 2019-Dec 2021) and Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle (Nov 2019-April 2022), Sanjeeva Jayawardena P.C. (received appointment as a member of the Monetary Board in Feb 2020) and Dr. Ranee Jayamaha (the retired CB Deputy Governor received appointment to the Monetary Board in June 2020). It would be pertinent to mention that Attygalle earlier served a short stint as the Treasury Secretary (Ministry of Finance) between Oct. 31, 2018 and Dec. 18, 2018 during the constitutional coup staged by ex-President Maithripala Sirisena.

The term of office of an appointed member of the Monetary Board is six years and in the event of vacation of office by the appointed member, another person shall be appointed in his or her place to hold the office during the unexpired part of the term of office.

The COPF meeting took place on June 08. Dissident SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa chaired the meeting. CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe and Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, too, were present.

Attygalle didn’t mince his words when he squarely blamed the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also served as the Finance Minister (Nov 2019 to July 2021) for the controversial fiscal policy that had ruined the country. Attygalle declared that the government implemented the first Cabinet paper, dated Dec 04, 2019 presented by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The former Treasury Secretary, who also served in the Monetary Board till April this year, challenged the widely held view that abolition of a range of taxes, in line with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s fiscal policies, triggered the crisis. Attygalle asserted that the import restrictions, especially the ban on the importation of vehicles imposed at the onset of the Covid-19 eruption, and the economic contraction, resulted in the meltdown.

The COPF should seek an explanation from Attygalle, himself a former top Central Banker, having last served there as Deputy Governor, regarding the failure on the part of the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board to review the decision to abolish taxes soon after the Covid-19 eruption. The Finance Ministry banned vehicle imports in March 2020 as part of the overall measures to manage the weak foreign currency reserves. Therefore, the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board cannot absolve themselves of the blame for failing to take remedial measures.

 The COPF specifically asked whether the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board officials sought to advise the political leadership of the ground realities against taking such decisions. It emerged that they did nothing. The COPF proceedings revealed that in spite of a rapidly deteriorating financial situation, the Finance Ministry and Monetary Board mandarins failed to take remedial measures. The SLPP members in the COPF, too, should not forget that the change of tax policies had been in line with their 2019 presidential election manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.

A disastrous manifesto

The SLPP made the following proposals:

a- Income tax on productive enterprises will be reduced from 28 to 18 percent.

b- The Economic Service Charge (ESC) and Withholding Tax (WHT) will be scrapped;

c- A simple value added tax of eight percent will be introduced, replacing both the current VAT of 15 percent and the Nation Building Tax (NBT) of two percent;

d- PAYE tax will be scrapped and personal income tax will be subject to a ceiling of 15 percent;

e- A five-year moratorium will be granted on taxes payable by agriculturists and small and medium enterprises;

f- Various taxes that contribute to the inefficiency, irregularities, corruption and lack of transparency of the tax system will be abandoned. Instead a special tax will be introduced for different categories of goods and services;

g- Import tariff on goods competing with domestically produced substitutes will be raised;

h- A simple taxation system will be introduced to cover annual vehicle registrations and charges for relevant annual services, replacing the cumbersome systems that prevail now;

i- Various taxes imposed on religious institutions will be scrapped;

j- A zero VAT scheme will be adopted in the case of businesses providing services to Tourist hotels and tourists, if they purchase over 60% of the food, raw materials, cloths and other consumer items locally;

k- Service charges levied on telephones and Internet will be reduced by 50%;

l- Special promotional schemes will be implemented to encourage foreign investments;

m- A tax-free package will be introduced to promote investment in identified subject areas;

n- A clear and uncomplicated system of taxing will be in place with the use of internet facilities, special software and other technological services;

O- Information Technology (IT) services will be totally free from taxes (Zero Tax), considering said industry as a major force in the national manufacturing process;

p- All the Sri Lankans and Foreigners, who bring Foreign exchange to Sri Lanka through consultancy services, are exempt from income tax.”

Dr. Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon, Soosaiappu Neavis Morais and Dr. Mahim Mendis in a FR petition filed in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution listed the above-mentioned points, in that order, as one of the primary reasons for the current crisis. Among the respondents are Prof. W.D. Lakshman, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Dr. P.B. Jaysundera and S.R. Atygalle.

All of them earlier appeared before the COPF where the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe emphasized that officials should never engage in politics and should recognize the difference between them and politicians. Dr. Weerasinghe asserted that officials were duty bound to inform politicians if the decisions taken by the latter were wrong. The outspoken CBSL Chief declared that politicians alone shouldn’t be held accountable for the consequences of such wrong decisions. What Dr. Weerasinghe obviously meant was those who served in key positions at that time, too, were responsible for the current crisis. Dr. Weerasinghe, who had been asked to succeed Ajith Nivard Cabraal, in March, after the former suddenly announced his retirement, told the COPF, the officials’ claim that they had been unaware of the economy was on a wrong path for two years leading to the meltdown was not acceptable. Dr. Weerasinghe also strongly questioned the claim that economic policies had been implemented only on decisions taken by the political leadership.

Lawmakers present participating in the proceedings declared that the political leadership and the officials ignored their concerns as regards the economy raised at different occasions.

Culprits identified

CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe before COPE on May 25, 2022. Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana is on Dr. Weerasinghe’s right.

The COPF proceedings should be studied along with revelations made by Dr. Weerasinghe before the COPF and the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) on May 24 and May 25, respectively as well as lawmaker Ali Sabry’s shocking declaration on May 02 as regards the origins of the crisis. President’s Counsel Sabry discussed the issue in his capacity as the Finance Minister after having led the government delegation for talks with the IMF.

Appearing before the COPF, Dr. Weerasinghe disclosed that those who had been responsible for preparing budget estimates over the years deliberately deceived even the Parliament by providing unrealistic and inaccurate revenue estimates. The CB Governor explained how such practices further weakened the economy as decisions and allocations were made on the basis of fraudulent estimates.

The whole process had been nothing but a farce. Lawmaker Sabry on May 02 in a live interview with Swarnawahini, and Dr. Weerasinghe on May 25, named those responsible for the current crisis that has ruined the economy with unemployment at an unprecedented high. Sabry alleged that the Secretary to the Treasury, Governor of the Central Bank, and senior economic advisors to the President, misled the Cabinet as regards the economic situation. The National List member revealed how they repeatedly assured that the situation was well under control, in spite of difficulties while expressing confidence that issues could be successfully dealt with.

By the time the Central Bank floated the rupee in March this year even without bothering to inform the Cabinet-of-Ministers of its decision, irreparable damage had already been caused, Sabry said.

The COPF and COPE proceedings and MP Sabry’s interview in which he questioned the role of the Finance Minister have revealed the pathetic situation as regards public finance.

The MP has alleged that those who managed the national economy had prevented the country seeking IMF’s intervention well over a year back. Had President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet-of-Ministers received proper advice, Sri Lanka would not have been in the current predicament, Minister Sabry said.

Dr. Weerasinghe named those who refused to heed IMF warnings when he appeared before COPE on May 25. The role played by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and the Cabinet-of-Ministers were discussed during the proceedings with Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, too, helping to ascertain the environment in which the SLPP leadership operated.

Dr. Weerasinghe went to the extent of naming Dr. PBJ as the one who prevented the government seeking IMF’s intervention.

The Customs, Inland Revenue and the Excise Department responsible for revenue collection are run in a shoddy manner. In spite of the watchdog committees exposing glaring omissions and commissions by them that had caused revenue losses in billions of Rupees over the years, the political leadership hasn’t taken remedial measures. Committee reports paint an extremely bleak picture.

But what could be the most unforgivable sin is then Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa joking about having himself used the illegal Havala/Undiyal system that completely shut down  several billion dollars that should have legitimately come to Sri Lanka as in past years as remittances from our migratory workers, especially serving in West Asia. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic the country received about six to seven billion dollars from mainly those unappreciated poor Lankan workers slaving in those countries as mainly labourers and housemaids. Such money may not be enough to pay back the country’s USD 50 billion foreign debt. That money, however, would have ensured that the country had the few million dollars to clear a shipment of gas or other necessities, instead of having to beg all over the world.

Unfortunately, the Parliament seems incapable of taking corrective measures. The Parliament should explore the possibility of appointing, a smaller team, comprising members of COPE, COPF and the COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) to recommend remedial measures, including possible criminal prosecution of dual citizen Basil Rajapaksa for his many omissions and commissions, but especially for not applying the full weight of the law against those running the underground money transfer system, that has even robbed the education of our children.

 Keeping the currency steady is the wish of any Finance Minister as otherwise in a country like Sri Lanka dependent on imports for many of its essentials, like milk food, wheat, etc., it would result in basics skyrocketing in price as experienced now and as former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel also learnt it the hard way after allowing the rupee to devalue almost overnight by over 40 percent in the aftermath of opening up the economy to market forces after the victory of the UNP in 1977 with a staggering 4/5th majority in Parliament. It led to government workers staging a general strike demanding a Rs 10 wage increase, but was ruthlessly crushed by that regime.

A corrupt ministry

The Parliament needs to take tangible measures to restore public faith in the system. The Finance Ministry should be overhauled. Perhaps, the IMF, currently engaged in negotiations with the government, should look into the current system in place. The government can formulate an action plan on the basis of findings and recommendations made by the parliamentary watchdog committees. Perusal of proceedings of these committees reveals that the government hadn’t acted on their findings. The inordinate delay in taking action regarding the mysterious decision to reduce the duty on a kilo of white sugar from Rs 50 to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020 without passing on its benefit to the people is a case in point as pointed out by the COPF Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, MP. It, however, cost the cash starved Treasury dearly in billions in lost revenue.

Mahinda Rajapaksa served as the Finance Minister at the time of the issuance of the relevant gazette notification. S.R. Attygalle had been the Finance Secretary. It would be pertinent to ask both MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Attygalle who recommended the duty reduction.

Actually, the COPF should ask Attygalle to explain the circumstances leading to the issuance of that controversial gazette. As Dr. Weerasinghe pointed out recently the officials cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the highly questionable decisions taken by politicians.

Who benefited from the reduction of duty imposed on sugar? In fact, the parliamentary watchdog committees should undertake a comprehensive study. Perhaps, the Finance Ministry role in the Yugadanavi deal can be investigated. Sri Lanka finalized the Yugadanavi transaction with US based New Fortress Energy at midnight on Sept 17, 2021 against the backdrop of Basil Rajapaksa receiving the finance portfolio. The government also brought in retired controversial figure M.M.C. Ferdinando from Australia to assume the leadership at the CEB before making the final move. S.R. Attygalle played a critical role as the Secretary to the Finance Ministry. The SLPP had no qualms in going ahead with the agreement in spite of Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila challenging the transfer of 40 percent shares of the power station held by the Treasury among other concessions not fully revealed to the public.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) defended the agreement with the US energy firm. On the invitation of the then Presidential Spokesperson Kingsley Ratnayake, M.M.C. Ferdinando briefed the media of the usefulness of the US investment. It would be pertinent to mention that Ferdinando, who fled the country in the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph in 2015 returned from Australia after the change of government in Nov 2019. Ferdinando’s 2015, move should be examined against the backdrop of corruption accusations directed at him by civil society activists Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon and Attorney-at-Law Namal Rajapaksa. The lawyer lodged a complaint with the then anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat. There had also been a case in the Fort Magistrate Court regarding the import of coal for Lakvijaya coal-fired power plants at Norochcholai.

In spite of initial public interest, such major cases are often not pursued properly even by those initiating them possibly with ulterior motives. When The Island inquired, lawyer Namal Rajapaksa acknowledged not being aware of the developments of his own case. At the time of the Norochcholai project, Ferdinando had served as the Secretary to the Power Ministry. The unholy alliance between the Finance Ministry and monstrous institutions, such as the CEB, should be investigated and mechanism put in place to protect the public interest.

The controversy over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s alleged intervention on behalf of India’s Adani Group at PM Narendra Modi’s persistent request led to Ferdinando’s resignation recently. The disclosure made by Ferdinando at the COPE, his subsequent denial and a letter dated Nov 25, 2021 Ferdinando wrote to the then Treasury Secretary Attygalle exposing the horrific way business of the State is being conducted. Accountability and transparency seem to be the last thing in the minds of political leaders here.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Group formation and culture of Galle Face protesters

Published

on

File photo of Gota-go Gama protest site.

by Sena Thoradeniya

Galle Face Protesters (GFP) have brought the relationship between youth, politics and culture to the focus of cultural critics. Nobody has ventured into study this phenomenon in detail in the uprisings of 1971, 1988-89 and Eelam war, although fragmentary references were made into JVP’s post-1971 ‘Vimukthi Gee’ (of Nandana Marasinghe fame, assassinated by JVP/DJV; a stern warning for those upper class elements who pamper the GFP coining some adorable names such as ‘Aragalists’ and ‘Gotagamians’!) , Nanda Malini’s ‘Pawana’ and ‘Sathyaye Geethaya’ during JVP’s second insurrection and LTTE’s ‘Pongu Thamil Eluchchivila’ celebrations.

In this two-part article, we first discuss about formal and informal groups and characteristics of informal groups. In the second part we intend to discuss the culture of Galle Face Protesters arising as a blend of individual level variables of group members and group level variables.

Since saving space is more important, we, in this short piece, do not intend to define what is meant by youth, politics and especially culture. It is also not necessary to discuss the “political demands” of the GFP or what they understand by politics and how they interpret the current political situation, some are well known, some are in vague and undefined and others uncertain and concealed. The main focus of this article is on “Galle Face Culture”, which we do not believe that it will be sustained, developed or become a permanent feature in the cultural landscape of Sri Lanka, although we do not deny that some aspects of it can penetrate into the wider society. Some other arguments against this may arise, questioning our premise whether it is scientific to examine a culture among some loosely knitted individuals, not inhabiting a particular locality permanently. But some sort of a culture is discernible among groups of train travellers, parents who chaperon their children to school, students sitting next to each other in a classroom, devotees of Bacchus who habitually go to the same barroom, people living in one lane or adjoining apartments or different floors, etc. With the advent of Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms another method of group formation receives our attention. Newspaper reports are in abundance of Facebook parties organised by people who have not met each other physically or engaged in face-to-face communication. It is common knowledge that the GF protest had originated with the work of some WhatsApp groups.

In Organisation Behaviour (OB), groups are defined as consisting of people who interact frequently over a period of time and who share similar interests, attitudes and see themselves as a group. Although a universal definition of groups does not exist, students who read this article are requested to refer how sociologists and management and OB theorists had defined groups, group formation and characteristics of groups as it is outside our scope.

There are two types of groups: formal and informal groups. Although the Galle Face protest has passed more than 60 days to this day and some occupy the Galle Face Green turning it into a “village”, according to Group Dynamics (area of study that is concerned with the interactions and forces between group members in a social situation), we still define it as an informal group. This informal group was spontaneously composed of likeminded people, as a result of interactions through social media platforms, attractions and a common need: chasing out GR. There is no dispute that the protesters have come from different economic, social and cultural backgrounds, making it a heterogenous mix of individuals. One of the many attributes of group formation is propinquity or spatial or geographical proximity of individual who join groups. We argue now with the advent of social media platforms, proximity described by earlier theorists has taken a new dimension; technological proximity had taken precedence and had become more active, effective and faster than physical proximity. Friendship has outweighed economic, political or cultural needs and other issues of group formation.

Theoretically speaking, age, gender, marital status, personality characteristics, values, attitudes, emotions, perceptions, ability levels and learning, motivation are the individual level variables they have brought into this informal group. They had to adjust themselves to group level variables such as group behaviour, group standards, communication patterns, leadership styles, power and politics and also conflicts, all integral components of a group. Their culture is determined by the interplay of these two types of variables.

It also can be defined as an open group having free entry as well as free exit which allows more diverse individuals to shape standards, attitudes, values and behaviours of the rest. People are attracted to informal groups for satisfaction of their needs (in this situation their needs are numerous: personal needs such as gaining recognition, status and pride,) and to share a common goal, “GotaGoHome”, basically an emotional response of anger. Individuals who experience this emotion seek others who have the same emotion. That is one reason for Galle Face Protesters for not being able to produce their own political leaders. In the initial stages, we observed that this group inclined to become structured, establishing their external networks, norms or rules of conduct. Emergence of informal leaders and spokespersons which were numerous was a part of this structure. This structure, also can be described as a part of group development through mutual acceptance and open communication; some members volunteering to undertake certain roles and assigning of roles to others by informal leaders, showing some sort of a division of labour.

As the Galle Face group is a large informal group, a “mixed clique” in management jargon, we tend to observe the emergence of sub-groups and contending forces with some intriguing names, each calmouring for leadership arousing internal conflicts; goals becoming inconsistent and unachievable. Theoretically, the emergence of leaders who are acceptable to all and maintaining cohesiveness in a large informal group like Galle Face Green is unattainable and all leaders who emerge in an informal group are informal leaders, who are not formally recognised by all. Imbalances have already occurred. Some self-appointed leaders were chased out attaching the ignominious label “Left”. This leadership crisis was the reason behind it becoming an easy prey for organised political parties.

With the ascendance of Ranil Wickremesinghe, it lost its steam, compelling many to decamp. At present the so-called “village” has turned into an urban ghetto, which shapes its culture now; vagabonds occupy some tents and the communal kitchen has become a “dana shalawa” to many who search for food. Only future will tell us who were the real architects of the Galle Face protest, who benefited from it and who were taken for a ride!

(The writer in his long career had taught Management, Organisation Behaviour and Research Methodology to undergraduates, Senior Managers and Senior Officers of the Tri Forces, although his interests are different.)

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Eyeball-to-Eyeball Decider

Published

on

By Lynn Ockersz

For the itchy master class,

Presiding over the imperiled isle,

Now running out of excuses,

The stony-faced armed men,

In khaki and camouflage,

Guarding its glittery high-rises,

Offer some sort of comfort,

That hanging-in there in power,

Until the crisis blows over,

Is the best of their options,

But out in the restive streets,

Frenzied anger is boiling over,

And the countdown seems on,

For the mounting face-off,

Between harried men and women,

Crying shrilly for Bread and fuel,

And spectral figures sporting Ak-47s,

To erupt in a bloody convulsion,

That could render the fabled Pearl,

A no-go zone of self- destruction.

Continue Reading

Trending