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What is money?

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By Prof Kirthi Tennakone

People, who are over-conscious about money, strive to earn as much as they can in the shortest possible time. Some resort to crooked means of acquiring large sums. Few realise money is not everything but depends on it for survival. The poor sweat and exhaust themselves to earn pennies. Improvised beg for pennies in streets. Governments in debt plead for dollars

Whether you like it or not, money drives modern society. It is hard to think of an affair that costs no money. Being so familiar and too attached people take money for granted and rarely question what it really means. And tends to think of money in terms of currency notes and coins. Money is not something tangible but an abstract entity representing the worthiness of goods and services. Money can be moved across any distance at the speed of light, permitting beneficent transactions as well as laundering. It can be stored to postpone usage or invested.

Concept of money

Philosophers and economists have attempted to define money. According to Aristotle, money facilitate exchange of goods and serve as an assessment of worth – implying money has an intrinsic measurable value. Thereafter gold became the standard of money and the value of currency was defined in terms of weight of gold. Aristotle was materialistic, but his teacher Plato being more idealistic and abstract, disagreed. He denounced linking money to metals like gold and silver and declared money is only a symbol devised to makes exchanges of goods easier. More recent credit theory of money akin to Plato’s idea considers money as the entity that keep track of credit and debit in transactions of commodities and services. International Monetary Fund (IMF) states: money is anything that serves as store of value, unit of account and medium of exchange.

In physics familiar quantities such as length, weight and time are precisely defined in terms of fixed units. Money cannot be similarly defined to the satisfaction and precision of a physicist. It is a social attribute that emerged naturally.

The concepts in physics are understood and defined precisely. We feel temperature, it is the degree of hotness of a body, which can be measured using a thermometer. Physicists have understood temperature as average energy of random motions of molecules constituting the object. Money is also a measurable entity, but cannot be understood that accurately as the simpler idea of temperature.

Complex systems derived from a large number of mutually interacting entities acquire qualities absent or un-meaningful to an individual entity existing alone. We cannot talk about the temperature of one single isolated molecule. Likewise, money made no sense to earliest ancestors of humans, when each adult was singly dependent by himself for food and shelter. As humans advanced, the community noted there are individuals who perform better in certain tasks. Some were good at hunting, while other excelled in searching and digging yams. Why not exchange meat for yams and by how much? Three handfuls of meat for one handful of yams, because yams were a scarce commodity in the forest! The primitive tool makers had an opportunity. They would have exchanged stone tools for meat or yams; devoting lesser time for gathering food and gaining time for improvising better tools. This is the origin of barter system–exchange of goods and services. The barter marketing posed a natural hurdle; the producer of a certain item had to find a customer who possessed something he or she wanted to exchange – a double coincidence of low probability. With the advent of agriculture, grain became a commodity consumed by everybody. The quantity of it being measurable by volume; grain reached the status of a quantifiable commodity, adopted as the standard of barter – a form of money. However, grain money entailed problems. Grain cannot be stored indefinitely and instant transport of large quantities poses insurmountable difficulties. Thereafter, money shifted from grain to weighed amounts of noble metals; gold, silver and copper. Being rare and durable metals served as better exchange materials quantified in handy light weight pieces, which later transformed into coins. A community in a pacific island had used coconuts as the exchange material, one nut as the unit of money. Later, realising the inconvenience of transactions using a bulky object as exchanging agent, they resorted to a rare kind of sea shells. The pacific islanders had no contact with the continent, where metal money originated. Nevertheless, reverting from coconuts to sea shells in the pacific island is conceptually equivalent to going from grain to metal money in the continent. Things material or immaterial can represent money, provided counterfeiting is prevented. Today world has accustomed to paper money. Electronic money already there, might replace it in the future

A society progressing and moving forward, imperatively arrives at the concept of money. Aliens with capabilities similar to humans, if they exist elsewhere in the universe, would undoubtedly use money for their activities. A civilisation cannot advance without invoking the idea of money. How else they would exchange goods and compensate services? English novelist and historian H.G. Wells in his work ‘A modern utopia’ says, I do not see how one can imagine anything at all worthy of being called a civilization without money.

Is money also an evil?

Money is neither an evil nor a virtue intrinsically. Nonetheless, literature frequently portrays money as an evil. According to Aristotle man’s ambition and desire to make money are the most frequent causes of deliberate injustice. Bible says love for money is root of all evil. In the play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Shakespeare writes a love for money can be deadly. Treating money as something sinister had also originated from the attitude of predatory money lenders. In early days when barter economy was transforming into a currency system. Peasants and workers were deprived of new commodities purchasable only with currency. Money lenders offered coins for unwarranted rates of compound interest. They quarreled and harassed peasants in the event of failure to settle the loan with due interest. Often the law of the land favored the moneylender, supported by corrupt officials of the state. When East India Company introduced their coins to Sri Lanka, moneylender exploited our famers. Folklore recite many such incidents.

Evil is not money but the manipulations of opportunists who grab money unfairly and illegally or use of money to inflect crime. Rightful earning of money is not considered a sin but a meritorious deed worthy of praise as told in Chulasetti Jatakaya.

Chulasetti Jatakaya

Chulasetti who inherited his father’s position as the Treasurer of the King Brahamadatta was a man of unmatched wisdom-a Bodhisattva. One day on way to the palace he saw a dead mouse lying on the road. With a burst of foresight, Bodhisattva declared this is an opportunity for young man to be rich and marry a woman. A poor lad having overheard the words of the Bodhisattva, picked up the carcass sold it for one penny to a nobleman fondling a cat. With the penny he bought jaggery. Serving sweet and water to tired men returning from jungle after collecting flowers, he earned eight pennies. After a series of many other innovative pursuits, he earned sufficient money to buy a shipload of merchandise and sold them to wealthy persons in the town. One day he went to see Chulasetti and told him, I earned so much money because of your words. Chulasetti said, you deserve praise for earning money rightfully. I will give my daughter in marriage to you and transfer my wealth.

Money is neutral and innocent. The neutrality permits any person irrespective of his or her social standing to earn rightfully and become rich, whereas innocence allow rogues to pilfer billions. Society honors the former and condemn the latter.

Relative value of money

A kilogram of sugar costs around 500 rupees in Sri Lanka and about 0.4 dollars in United States. On basis of these prices, can we deduce sugar is more expensive here than in United States? One would argue, as one US dollar amounts to about 360 Sri Lankan rupees, sugar is lot more expensive in Sri Lanka. But what made one United States dollar equivalent to 350 Sri Lankan rupees? The value of money is relative. Conversion rate of US dollars to another currency is absolutely determined by comparison of the average purchasing power of the two currencies. However, currencies are also marketable commodities, value determined by supply and demand, which depend on factors additional to purchasing power and determined by the foreign exchange market. The Central Bank adjust the value of local currency accordingly. Central Banks also have the authority to set the value of local currency at a desired level relative to the dollar. If the productivity of a nation is low, devaluation (depreciation) of its currency would be advantageous, whereas the impact of revaluation (appreciation) likely to be negative; when it comes to earning of foreign exchange.

Wages and prices of goods together decides money’s worth in the society. If you express price of sugar as a fraction of the average wage of people in United States and Sri Lanka, you can meaningfully conclude sugar is cheaper in United States. Obviously, this fraction remains independent of the unit of currency. Likewise, the fraction defined as: the average price of goods divided by the available supply of money remain invariant with respect to the unit of currency. Economists, conjecture that the price level of goods increase in proportion to the money supply. When a government print money to raise the wages, the price level escalates. Compelling workers to demand further salary increases and if implemented by printing more money, prices of goods continue to increase – an economic outcome referred to as hyperinflation. The price of goods can be reduced effectively only by boosting the production.

Hard currency

Nation cry for dollars, shouting we cannot purchase adequate quantities essential commodities without this brand of money. Hard money means a kind of currency accepted in international transactions and readily convertible. United States dollar stands as the hardest currency – competitively preferred in global business dealings. Other currencies acknowledged as hard are; Euro, Japanese Yen, Great Britain Pound, Swiss Franc and Canadian and Australian Dollars. A general consensus of credibility in transactions determine hardness. The countries where hard currencies originate are politically stable and economically sound offering a wide variety of quality goods and services. It is impossible to define a hard currency precisely. They originate as competitive selection of different brands of money.

Development plans and Monetary Policy

Every country obtains a portion of goods and services from abroad. Demanding foreign exchange which has to be earned and maintained as a reserve. Lower the productivity greater is the requirement of foreign money. Increasing production to optimize local requirements and delivery of exportable goods and services ensure hard currency earnings and economic stability. During past few decades many nations, previously classified as underdeveloped have achieved this goal.

Development plans and monetary policy of a nation are intimately linked. Monetary policy means management of money by a Central Bank to secure price stability and employment. Economic theories and empherical evidence indicate sustainable economic growth necessitates maintenance of a low price level. Unfortunately, foreign exchange heavily influences the price structure and availability certain goods, compelling governments in low income countries to go for loans, to be paid back with interest. The situation is critical when countries are heavily dependent on imports for routine consumption and development. If borrowed funds are not properly utilized or misused the consequences would be disastrous.

Improper expenditure of money by governments: Wrong policies

The greatest harm to an economy would be the diversion public funds to avenues having no bearing on production and social wellbeing. Such expenditures incur as massive projects commissioned without ascertaining economic returns or misappropriation.

Providing extraordinary financial benefits to sectors not commensurately contributing to the society, constrains the budget and discourages productive groups who agitate for fairness. Programmes geared for alleviation of poverty and employment are sometimes counterproductive. Poor should be supported to become rich providing substantial inputs, instead of stagnating them at the same level of deprivation giving token subsidies. Instead of exploiting cheap labor to earn dollars, country needs to introduce policies to breed high quality labour for domestic and overseas expectations. Increasing work force for shake of employment creates inefficiency.

The human resource turns productive and innovative only when they receive proper education. It is a myth to believe that a general education inclined only towards technology will nurture innovators. Educational reforms have to consider inculcating rational thinking, absence of which is the root cause of many social ills. Innovators are dreamers who undertake risk, dispelling myth. Our policies should be geared for the purpose.

An example of wrong policy that will go to history is banning of chemical fertilisers. Even a high school student who had assimilated science understands why the present-day food demand cannot be not met without concentrated fertilisers. The stupidity and motives of the politician is one thing, but a band of so- called experts advocated the idea. The ineffectiveness of their carbon, organic, microbial, bio and biofilm fertilisers has now been manifested to the nation and world at large. Agricultural specialists in our institutions did not (could not) turn out sufficiently vociferous to nip the foolish idea in the bud!

The fertiliser episode reflects a serious fundamental flaw in our entire establishment. Identifying all the factors (not necessarily pertaining to agriculture) and their elimination is absolutely essential to rebuild the nation.

Author can be reached via email: ktenna@yahoo.co.uk



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Opinion

Ohe Innava ; ban on Russian tennis players; greed leads via deceptive satisfaction to disaster

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Sins of the leaders suffered by innocents

This beautiful island seems to be at a standstill and its people rather dazed, confined to homes or queues for days on end (no longer hours). Maybe, Jaffna and its southern neighbouring Vanni are better equipped mentally and stoically to withstand these vagaries of fortune and carry on their lives as they know well, through experience (1983 to 2009 and even thereafter), with inbuilt mental and physical resistance. The government that should be so very occupied looking after its people, and MPs and their bosses mandated to do so, only continue emanating hot air and cruise around in their gas guzzlers, of course, in protected areas. They feel the anger of the people: righteous, justified and ready to burst forth in flames of anarchy at the first ignition. One VIP speaks to the public of imminent arrival of ships laden full with fuel and cooking gas; and another VVIP on further necessity to tighten belts and suffer. All of us are near suffocation because of the mistakes, corruption, extravagance and bl… idiocy of those who ruled us.

The biggest man, almost daily, gathers sundry officers to his vast meeting hall and while they gaze at him, some mindlessly but none interrupting, pontificates mostly on how they should be alleviating the hardships of the population. He singlehandedly caused farmers and now us immense deprivation. He thought his mea culpa would exonerate him. The ex-PM and doing-just-as-they bid ex-Gov of CB sit out in comfort on the look out to escape. The dethroned VIP heir is creeping back to meetings where he is not justified being in. Dreams of a glorious return? Shatter them to bits, you people are NOT coming back ever to power. 20 million people, including kids, know you all too well now and the bung screwed on tight on criticism popped off, released mostly by the peaceful protesters of Mynagama and GotaGoGama. Thank goodness for them!

Cass listened to the articulation of peaceful protesters in Havelock Town carrying succinct boards and good sense and intelligence in their heads as relayed by 8.30 pm Newsline of MTV TV One on Tuesday 28 late evening. What emerged was most forceful censure of the powers that were and are. ‘Go home Gota’ they said in unison and decently. What sort of a skin does one need to enable one to stay on when disliked so intensely and shown the exit explicitly by millions here and overseas. The protective skin of the armed forces is not available, one presumes. As is said, the soldiers’ old mothers can barely make ends meet with soaring prices and fathers are in queues, so how expect them to turn against their own suffering people even though commanded to do so?

Wimbledon

The cricket matches between the Aussie team and a revived, zestful Sri Lankan team have been giving solace to a major section of our people. That is fine, since one needs to divert one’s mind and also grab whatever respite one can from the ongoing disaster that is our beloved country.

Cassandra is a tennis buff deriving not only sporty enthusiasm but also aesthetic satisfaction by watching good players on court. How so the latter, one may query. Just watch a good player and witness his/her playing is ballet like in postures and grace; a fine synchronization of muscle and limb. And for Cassandra the best is to watch the Wimbledon matches, the players and linesman and ball pickers all in white. Maybe Cass is conservative, a throw back on her upbringing, but discipline even in what the players wear is pleasing to her. Wimbledon times are not so inconvenient to us as matches start there at 3.30 (it was said) and so by 8.00 pm one can watch them over sports channels. It’s when the US Open is on that one has to watch into all hours of our night.

Wimbledon has banned Russian players and so men’s world number 1 Daniil Medvedev is out – banned; so also number 8 Andrey Rublev and women’s numbers 6 and 13 – never mind names, difficult to even spell. Great pity, especially regards Medvedev – almost humble on court – but again proof that sins of the leaders fall on ordinary heads. The organisers of Wimbledon decided in April to ban players from Russia and Belarus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, ex KGB Putin’s fear of European Union’s expansion of influence and protection, or greed for expansion of Russian controlled territory or even a desire to re-establish a sort of USSR have impacted on innocent sportsmen and women.

Greed may be satisfied temporarily but degraded shame is permanent result

‘Bollywood actress of Sri Lankan origin’ as Jacqueline Fernandez is named by S Venkat Narayan and other media persons, has again been questioned by the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the gifts of dollars and expensive items given her and her family members by billionaire conmen Sukesh Chandrashekhar. Cass is not flogging a dead horse (or much alive, lovely mare here) but quoting this tidbit from Tuesday June 28 press, wishing to impress on herself and her readers that avarice and boundless greed lead to retribution and perhaps heart searing regret. It is obvious Jackie entertained the conman, and very intimately we suppose, to be worth all those millions gifted to her. It surely cannot be love. That explanation for the close liaison is good for the fairies to narrate. She was motivated by desire for quick immense wealth. And she has landed flat on her face: passport impounded, reputation gone, and with it admirers and Salman Khan too perhaps, and sure shot no offers of further stardom. She was catapulted to be top of the beauts on par with now exclusive Aishwaria Rai Bachchan. And what has avarice brought her to?

Cass in her age earned wisdom warns young beauties not to gamble on good looks. Many are the girls who did so and surely are cast aside and also fearful now since tables have been turned on their benefactors mostly by the sensible young ones of GotaGoGama. Where’s that beauty queen whose crown was snatched as placed on her by political influence, who accompanied Lohan R to Welikada prison in short shorts to view the gallows? We heard many a chick was given jobs, sometimes double at Sri Lankan, with no English ability, etc. No wonder our airline nose-dived and is still on that perilous down swing but sustained by government monetary life lines. Many were the discards given employment in Sri Lankan.

Another point: definitely a too flogged horse: are those who plundered government money and assets by the millions, nay billions happy and leading fine lives. Nay, No and Nein! They may be safe and their stolen wealth intact and in no danger of being confiscated, but their minds? Wellbeing? They cannot have such thick hides that satisfying the five senses brings them peace of mind? Again, a thundering NO. Reputations ground to dust; friends disappeared; and the door to a return to political power shut bang. Jolly good for those damned thieves who sent our country down to the depths. We will rise, that’s for sure. We have good people in the majority.

On that rousing note of determination to rise from the depths, Cassandra wishes you bye, for now. May its enforced curtailment of normal routines; immense difficulties and future bleakness not depress you too much. We as a country can only now go upwards, hit rock bottom as we are.

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Opinion

Buddha’s ambivalence?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

We, Buddhists, are very fortunate in that we are able question even the actions of the Buddha. After all, the Buddha encouraged questioning as exemplified in Kalama Sutta, dubbed ‘The Buddha’s charter for free inquiry’. Buddha was not an intermediary conveying the messages of a Supreme Being, His teachings being based entirely on what was discovered by the exploration of His mind and hence becomes unique among religious leaders. One can say that the Buddha did just the opposite of what scientists do; they turn the searchlight outwards whereas the Buddha turned the searchlight inwards. He completely changed our way of thinking by placing conviction over blind belief or faith and could therefore be credited for having laid the foundation for scientific thinking.

In the Satmag article titled “More than a doctrinal problem: The Buddha and his stepmother” (The Island, 25 June), Uditha Devapriya questions whether the Buddha was ambivalent on some issues like ordination of women, consent for ordination and caste system. What he explores extensively is ordination of women and concludes his piece with the following:

“For the first and probably only time in his life, the Buddha is admitting to a theoretical lapse without really admitting to it. Perhaps to make up for his shortfall, the Buddha justifies his earlier position by attributing the decline of Buddhism – from a millennium to half a millennium – to the very gender he admits to the order. Even if that is not, according Narada Thera, a “wholesale condemnation of women”, we must admit that between the Buddha’s rejection of Gotami’s request, his acceptance after Ananda’s intervention, and his sober prognosis following his acceptance, there was an intellectual leap. I believe this issue needs to be investigated, more deeply”.

I am in total agreement that a deep investigation is fully warranted but wish to point out that in investigating this issue, as well as other instances of probable ambivalence, we need to take into consideration three main factors. The first, of course, is the accuracy of the descriptions. Though some consider the written word to be superior to the ‘oral-tradition’, we are well aware of the problem of writers’ bias. It is not that writers distort purposely but human nature dictates that it is nigh impossible for a writer to be non-judgemental. We convey ‘facts’ according to our perceptions. In fact, the best example is the analysis of this issue by the much-respected Buddhist scholar, Venerable Narada whose comment, which follows, would be considered very sexist indeed from today’s perspective:

“In making these comments, which may not generally be very palatable to womankind, the Buddha was not in any way making a wholesale condemnation of women but was only reckoning with the weaknesses of their sex.” (Venerable Narada Thera, “The Buddha and His Teachings”, Fourth Edition, 1988, Chapter 9, Page 156).

The second factor is that instead of putting into perspective the prevailing conditions when the problems arose, we make judgements based on our present standards. The powerful tool ‘Retrospectscope’ is useless without context. Perhaps, had he been alive today, Ven. Narada would have rephrased his comments, as he would have realised that ‘weakness of women’ is an outmoded concept in our world of equality!

The third, and the most important, consideration is our concept of who the Buddha was, which seems to vary a lot depending on one’s faith and beliefs. Unfortunately, based on many stories built around the Buddha we have ‘falsely elevated’ an extraordinary human being to that of a superhuman. The birth of Prince Siddhartha itself is an unbelievable story. There is no recorded human being who walked at birth even though many animals do so. Most biographies of the Buddha repeat the hardly believable, traditional embellishments which make most of us imagine a Buddha far removed from reality.

My concept of the Buddha is an exceptionally intelligent and compassionate human being who, noticing the all-pervasive sense of dissatisfaction around (Dukkha), pondered over to find the root causes as well as a solution to this problem. After a prolonged journey of experimentation and thought, the Buddha found the way for ultimate detachment (Nibbana). As He worked this out all this by himself, the Buddha was deemed to be Sarvajna; all-knowing or omniscient. Rather than considering this to mean that the Buddha knew all that needed to be known, we tend to go on the literal meaning, which implies that the Buddha should have the final word in everything. He lived a relatively simple life and walked, very likely barefoot, around large parts of India passing on his message.

Rather than acting as an all-knowing dictator, the Buddha was a problem solver who made decisions and found solutions as problems arose, often taking other’s views too into consideration. Among the many examples, one that stands out is what happened after the ordination of Rahula, His son who came behind seeking inheritance at the behest of the mother. When King Suddhodana pointed out that the ordination took place without informing the mother, the Buddha did not say “Oh! King, you may be my father but I am the Sarvajna Buddha and know what is right”. Instead, He agreed and laid down the rules for parental consent for ordination. The entire Vinaya Pitaka is based on rules formulated following incidents of inappropriate behaviour by Bhikkhus; they were applied henceforth, the Buddha demonstrating that rules should not be applied retrospectively, long before lawyers adopted the concept of retro-active legislation.

The Buddha’s world was a male-dominated one where discrimination on the basis of caste was the norm. I cannot find any ambivalence in Buddha’s attitude to caste as he categorically stated that it is not birth but actions that determine whether one is a Brahmin or an untouchable. His Sasana was open to all though, regrettably and paradoxically, Sri Lanka which claims to be the protector of Theravada Buddhism still has a caste-based Nikaya system! Therefore, I find the following statement by Uditha Devapriya puzzling:

“Even on the thorny issue of caste, he didn’t adopt a straightforward position: while he did condemn Brahmin caste structures, he also added that “by deed is one born a Brahmin”, thereby distancing himself from the kind of political critique of caste pioneered by, inter alia, Ambedkar.” He seems to have misinterpreted ‘Kammana hoti Brahmano’ which means “by deed one becomes a Brahmin”.

I have grave doubts regarding the accuracy of what is written about the ordination of women. Considering that a monk of this era like Venerable Narada was sexist in his comments, it is no surprise if male chroniclers of yesteryear wrote their own interpretations of the story with their ‘women are inferior’ attitude! However, it is very likely that the Buddha may have initially had some reluctance considering the social milieu of the day. In any case, ordination of women by the Buddha has to be considered a revolutionary act, considering that the Catholic Church still does not ordinate women as priests and the Anglican Church allowed only two millennia later! It was a great surprise that some prominent women too objected to the Church of England ordaining women and when this happened in 1994, a prominent lady politician and a duchess, married to a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, left the Church of England to become Catholic!

However, to state that Venerable Ananda had to remind the Buddha that Mahaprajapati Gothami suckled Him is a great insult to the Buddha. What happened to the Buddha being Sarvajna? It is said that the Buddha stipulated eight conditions, the first being that a Bhikkhuni with even hundred years of higher ordination should worship and serve a Bhikkhu who had just got higher ordination. Does this not reflect male chauvinism? It is very likely the Buddha stipulated conditions, as protection needed to be afforded to women, but it is more likely that the conditions mentioned are what the Bhikkhus chroniclers wished than what the Buddha stipulated.

The most absurd is the supposed to be declaration by the Buddha that by this action the duration of His Sasana would be halved; from a thousand to five hundred years. As the Sasana has lasted over two thousand five hundred years already, in spite of distortions by many well-meaning followers, one has to ask the question ‘Why did the Buddha get it so wrong?’

Poor Venerable Ananda! After having served his cousin, neglecting his own spiritual advancement, all he was got was blame during the first Sangayana. He was blamed for not requesting the Buddha to live much longer when the opportunity arose which, again, seems to be an attempt to make the Buddha superhuman. Though Venerable Ananda was accused of shortening the lifespan of the Sasana by facilitating the ordination of women, perhaps, it worked the other way as the Sasana has lasted far beyond the Buddha’s expectations! That is, if these stories are believed to be rue. Anyway, looking at the attendances in Viharas, meditation sessions and other religious activities, it is pretty obvious that Upsikas contribute far more to the continuation of Buddha Sasana.

It is very likely that the apparent ambivalence of the Buddha on some issues is more apparent, than real, due to the many factors outlined.

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Opinion

‘Democratic’ impasse and the need for secular action

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Today, our democracy is showing its feeblest self from the point of view of the masses. The whole society writhes under the jackboot of oppression, but our democracy, which has been twisted beyond recognition by the rulers to further their own interests, has no easy way out; at least, it doesn’t seem to have any, which is why a whole nation is made to tolerate appalling grief.

It is clear that our democracy is a system that has been manipulated to favour the corrupt and the vulgar, not to favour the masses that need it most. Or, is it that democracy has nothing to do with maintaining social justice and that it is just a concept to be discussed by students of politics? Incidentally, how about religion? What’s its role? To moralise or help get rid of colossal injustice in society? If it is for moralizing, it has pathetically failed in that it hasn’t and will never moralise those who need it most: the power-hungry few, who have brought misery to the entire nation misusing the power vested in them by an ingenuous and devout people.

What moralising do the battered majority need? Perhaps, they don’t need any, because they are not the ones who have been greedy and unscrupulous beyond belief; they are not the ones who have robbed the country for wallowing in unearned luxury, which is not recommended by any religion. They are not the ones who have denied the due share of the country’s assets to its people. It’s the uncouth few at the top – to borrow a line from Joseph Stiglitz, written about political czars of another territory in 1970s – who, “snapped up expensive property and went on grand shopping sprees provide one of the more ostentatious examples of what not to do with one’s newfound wealth”, that need religious tuition urgently.

This is perhaps why, today, the clerics of every conviction, who used to vainly lecture politicians on good governance and shower blessings on them, have now decided to stand with people to help oust them to rid the country of prolonged injustice. We don’t know whether the good priests are still engaged in their respective rituals in the hope of salvaging the country from ruin, but some of them are certainly relying on secular action and joining the crowds to save those who are deprived, humiliated and insulted. Today, there is a noticeable absence of religious rituals publicly organised at times of distress. The Corona epidemic has sufficiently shown that natural or manufactured disasters do not respect supernatural powers, no matter how long people have believed in them. The present calamity has removed all sorts of ‘spiritual’ scales from the eyes of the masses and the priests seem to be willing to join them in their march.

By the way, this is not to say that commoners are lily-white angels descended from heaven. The masses are not all that innocent and sinless, but their wrongs don’t have the potential of bringing down the entire edifice of society. In fact, the common people, and also, the so-called leaders, are trapped in a sinister system that has for long brought about the worst in people. And, there are no prizes for guessing whose ‘sins’ have been more destructive and more easily swept under the carpet. Yet, it is the ‘criminals’ among the hoi polloi that are regularly branded and disparaged by society and punished by the law every so often. The sharks are quite versatile in manipulation and know how to escape the net and even drape themselves in religious flags and earn encomiums from the leading priests.

Today, the slow strangulation of life has made it clear to everybody the grand ride our leaders have taken us for. We see them bearing their teeth behind their religious covers. It is heartening that at least some of our priests have come out of their customary role of moralising and showing carrots in afterlife; instead they are helping the people to wield the remaining democratic sticks to win their rights and dignity in ‘this’ life we all have to live and cannot get away till the end.

Susantha Hewa

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