I have an ‘uncle’ who has lived in Sri Lanka all his life. Contributed to society in a right and dutiful manner, paid his taxes, and has many happy memories. Recently, he has started to identify himself as a British citizen. Why? Because he can in no way relate to the way things work in this country at present. He does not feel that the Sri lankan government represent his or his country’s best interests. Fair enough I guess. He was born in 1930, and at that time we were a British colony. Ceylonese were British subjects and had rights to the UK just like all British nationals. It was standard practice to sail to the UK and work there for awhile. I know my mother did, as did most of her peers. Granted, the British were snobs, that would have been one of the reasons why all Ceylonese welcomed independence-and from what I gather, had tremendous faith in F.R. Senanyake and then D F Senanayake, because they were thought of as honorable men and there was an inherent confidence in them and the future of our island nation. So what’s missing now? and why is that period looked on as the golden age? I think the answer is Integrity. Not just speaking about it, but actually living the word. Wonder if the living of, will ever materialise in our society again?


21 thoughts on “Integrity

  1. i think what is missing now is as you say someone, or more than one would be better, with moral standards,integrity, brains and culture, i.e. not somebody elected thru thuggery, coming from the gutter with pistols in his hands. i laways ask, butnever get a reply: are there any competent enough ppl who could draft an agreement/settlemnt/devolution/ development plan, without selling off the assets of the country (many) to foreigners at dirt cheap prices, which is viable? if so someone please name them. no govnmtn in its sane mind would have signed ranil’s “ceasefire”, but they did and this is what we got/get. complete vacuum, void, zero, zilch. society is still, the rich get richer, and more and more shallow and bored, thus contributing even less to society, the poor have less and less hopes.
    now we have to rely on the high calibre mahindas, ranils, jvps jhus etc…what jokers. they have the moral stature of an ant. less actually, coz ants once they choose a path carry on towards their objective, they dont “crossover” and change direction like (sl, optional) politicians!

  2. Less to do with integrity and more to do with enforceable accountability I think. And even accountability is just a tool in the politics of looters.

    The only interests rulers have ever had in history are their own. In the past this has been linked directly to their performance – you did well or down with their ship. Now there is always a comfy exile in the Riviera, or Geneva, or elsewhere to live off the loot fed into some hush hush bank account.

    A ruler’s sole interest is their own power and this is the frame work of their world view. Looks different across history and culture but the core is always humanly the same. Any beneficial crumbs that fall off the high table are either due to luck of ruled or a calculated crumb to keep the ruled quiet.

    Every society has a mechanism for a special group to be favoured by the ruler in exchange for loyalty. And for the ruler to loot the common good for the sake of buying such loyalty to stay in power. The explicitness of the relationship can vary. The skill of the ruler is to take without making things nasty for a mass of the people who will get angry enough to revolt.

    The British empire for all its flaws, ran a bloody good racket. They offered a relative illusion of stability, order, layered justice, and social hierarchy that seemed easy to navigate. Even the coolies in the estates seemed grateful. It was so good that the communists couldn’t touch it and is thought of as standard good pragmatic reasons. Shyam Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens gives a masterful view of the Sri Lankan experience. Pity about the war that wrecked it all.

    Our current rulers – and those of the last 50 years – have not been too bright. They don’t know how to manage things well – to loot without causing pain. The best that they can hope for is to buy the next election by reaching into the till and tossing coins at a increasingly desperate mob. This is easier than trying to think out sustainable policies and other complicated things.

    Money for another fancy palace at the expense of the education budget is seen as a natural right. Sacrifices have to be made – but always by others. Another piece of chocolate even thought you know it might not be good for you. So what its fun.

    At least elections lets us periodically change looters with less violence when they get bad, boring or annoying. It also enables the looter element in society to take their place at the carcass without resorting to Somali/Iraqi/Congo style violence.

    Yep its grim but that’s how humans have let themselves been run. All we can hope for is a smart looter who can take their cut without stinking up the place.

    Right now there are no such people.

  3. politics is a dirty/self interested game. It always was and always has been. Power seems to breed that in people, whoever or wherever they may be: Romans, British, Dutch, past governemnets. However, the current government seems to inspire no faith in simple principles of governance that one can bank on- and there are many people of his age: nostalgia, rose tinted glasses, call it what you will, who would much rather have the british back, Simply for the principles upheld in governance, the sophitication in the understanding and implementation of; and a certain degree of intelligence. The generation that lived during those times, today, appear to be missing that. (and more)

    all we can hope for is what your last two sentences state, cerno

  4. Well, I chalk it down to apathy. I’ve met plenty of people who could make a difference to the way this country is run, the direction in which she is headed – people who are honest, committed, intelligent and patriotic.

    But hardly any of these people are willing to do anything other than talk. As someone said elsewhere, talk leads to action, and action leads to change. In Sri Lanka the talk has not yet been converted to action. Therefore nothing will change.

    As far as I can see, most Sri Lankans are happy to let things go on as they are, although they deride all the politicians etc from the comfort of their armchairs.

    If you look at countries that are successful, they are where they are because the people took them to success. As long as Sri Lankans remain spectators to our country’s stagnation, nothing will change.

    I can totally see where your Uncle is coming from. I for one have almost totally given up on Sri Lanka. The people don’t want change. They don’t know what they want.

  5. Apathy… always was there, and I have puzzled over it many times. and now we are just too busy making money and working for our self interests, or, are afraid of getting killed.

  6. I would like to comment that in srilankan politics all these years about 90 to 95% who participate in them are middle aged power craving men and they just seem to never retire! The youth should become more involved to bring new views and fresh views to the society…i am nto syaing to have a whole parliament full of youth members…but to have atleast some voice from the youth sector…i have noticed that a majority of youth have different views on war, economy and other things that affect the country than the politicians the views they have seem more practical and more effective…I think its about time we see a change!

  7. negligible minoritist: my answer is not a black or white one, therefore too long to get into here. I would be happy to meet and talk if you are ever at Barefoot(after checking out your blog)if you are really curious.

    Parthi: I absolutely 100% agree. i find so much hope in the youth of today. Bright young sparks with extraordinary ideas and vision, wish they would participate somehow, why not organise a group and get going!

  8. Like most things, apathy is an ingredient in the whole “state of things” but its hard to (perhaps impossible) to measure its role. There is a cultural world view in the Sinhalese tradition of the saviour hero king galloping to the rescue. The symbolism of this role has be long co-opted by anybody who wants to climb on the political gravy train.

    Parthi‘s comment about getting the non-politicised voices being heard is a good one. Though old men historically don’t like being upstaged by the young. And the only way the young upstage the old is by being more corrupt and ruthless. Its not a Sri Lankan thing. Its universal human power politics. But politics is not the only venue for young alternative voices (where they can be easily co-opted). Giving space to such views in popular / mass culture will I think be more effective in influencing change.

    Beyond a certain level of power – the ability to control other people’s behaviour – human integrity has about as much hope as an ice cube hurled into a lava flow (insert quote about power corrupting absolutely). I agree with Bemuse’s comment about good people left to do with nothing but talk. I have to add that doing anything explicitly politically automatically puts an person in competition with the other competitors in the political ecology. As with any highly competitive environment, they are sensitive to threats. Big fish like to eat little fish before they become too hard to swallow.

    Sorry for the monsoon cloud of grimness in my last comment (an in the words above). But I since then a few thoughts of hope have percolated.

    The political sphere is not the only areas of action for change, which after all, is the only constant. The issue is the nature and the pace of change. What might be termed as “positive / wholesome change” in a time of a profitable war is slow, incremental and messy. A school here. A micro loan there. A vocational training program that chugs on despite personal politics of a village in Uva. It all seems too little and rather futile but its not. Such things add towards (a distant) tipping point.

    At a personal level I think the core “infra-structural” change must be one of personal world view. Specifically, the view that the politics of patronage is unhealthy. That humans should treat human like they way they themselves want to be treated.

    There are no magic bullets, single quick formulas. But that’s not a reason for giving up hope or for feeling that activism directed at battling kleptocrats is the only option.

    Change personal world views towards something humanistic one person at a time without mudding things with the dirstractions of cultural / ideological politics. To do so you got to develop such a world view yourself which can be pretty hard when things are grim.

    Not much of a magic bullet no?

    How to exactly do about that will take a library of books, not a comment in a blog. And even a library of books won’t help. I doubt if there’s really one way to do it. You might be fortunate to meet/hear about some folks who have a few tips (which may or may not be easy). You might get killed or become happier or both.

    Its all a part of a messy process called living life.

    Perhaps this is the closest I’ve come to sounding a cold hard cynic and naive at the same time.

    Good post Naz 😀 Got too many of my neurons firing.

  9. I followed this post with a lot of interest. Presently occupying myself with the study of postcolonialism and its interesting how little we have moved away from a colonial mentality. No offense to your uncle Nazreen but I believe every generation looks back at their youth as the “golden age.” Also Cerno makes the point that the British too had a good racket going here. Which i agree with. The use of colonies such as Sri Lanka to supply their resources while providing a market for their goods has been discussed at length elsewhere and I don’t need to restress it.

    This is not to say that the British were all bad but to point out that era may not have been the “best” for the majority of the population. Despite the fact that i’m a burgher I have to deal with this reality.

    Secondly, there seems to be a generally accepted apathy towards politics in SL. My personal view is that politics is not necessarily a bad thing. The issue is that politics in SL has hit dismal depths for a long period of time. But i don’t think blaming the leaders of post independence Sri Lanka is quite fair. After all they were inheriting a legacy that was based a lot on exploitation and power. The issue is that Sri Lankan politicians have been unable to rise above that. Integrity possibly… but personally I believe its more of an inability to see above our personal interests thats at fault for one. Note i say “our” because we vote in these so called crooks and cheaters continuously almost, with hardly a thought about the country. And then we wonder why SL politics isn’t moving forward. The issue then branches out in to one of accountabilty in that we are unable to hold our representatives responsible for their actions. But this also begs the question as to why those who wax eloquent about the political situation in the country at every party do nothing but vote for the same people every year. It then becomes an issue of unwillingness on our part to do what is necessary (of course that is liable to interpretation) to resolve the morass that is the sri lankan political sphere.

    So i don’t believe its as simple as the lack of integrity on the part of our politicians.

    Interesting post Nareen… I don’t go to barefoot but i guess i have an incentive now. 😀


    PS- excuse the length of the comment.

  10. Parth:

    Machan i agree about youth participation but at the same time how and where? See the issue is that as Youth we tend to push for greater representation in decision making etc without really making changes where we can. I’m all for having a greater role etc but i think that at times we get carried away in that struggle and forget to deal with the realities around us. Even if it is as simple as teaching english to a group of friends who aren’t as privileged.

    The thing with change in any sphere is that it requires action but i don’t think that greater youth participation in parliament would facilitate that change. Mainly because while being in parliament has its privileges, its so institutionalized its hard to make the kind of change that can be made from being outside.

    Personally i believe its better to make a change on a more personal level than get caught up in too big a picture.

    But then that’s merely my opinion. Anyway nice meeting you again :D.


  11. integrity is only part of the picture, and I never meant to imply that it was the sole cause of my Uncle’s identification with harking back to a time when ceyloneses were british subjects:-
    we all know it’s so much more complex than that, the world has changed, so much so.. it’s a value system, and I can’t quite extol it all here simply because I am not equipped to, or the subject is so vast, that it would take up too much of my time. History, identification of what it means to be sri lankan, how one was bought up, the experiences we had all play a role, not just in a local sense, but in a worldly sense. I also know that I have met simple rural farmers with an integrity that is astounding-and they have no problem with our collective history and identity. they know who they are.

  12. The problem is that a lot of us are too similar to the very same politicians we detest. Self interest dictates our lives. Tolerance of mediocrity dictates our stances. While the country remains weak and cowering how can it stand up to the rape and pillage of its assets? We’re all the same….blogging about it doesn’t make jot of a difference.

  13. never in my wildest dreams do i think blogging about it would make one iota of difference. my comment earlier on this post agrees with the self interest aspect. However, I am glad there are people like my uncle who remind me of a different, gentler time. that’s all.

  14. sophist:
    i agree with you apart from one point: i.e.”blogging about it doesn’t make jot of a difference”. it does coz even talking about it, showing there are different views, is a teardrop in an ocean, but it’s better than nothing.
    i agree 100% on first part of yuor comment, the rich need a mass of poor ppl to prosper even more, the politicians need the same “ignorant”(i mean uneducated here) masses to keep them under control. instead on panem et circenses (i think…) it’s rice and cruicket matches.

  15. Negligible Minoritist: Good point about the voting for the same types every year. Heard people in the US talking about the same issues (Republicans vs Democrats). I’ve heard anecdotal stories where the voters here did revolt against the pols at a provincial council election. They wrote all sorts of things on the ballot papers other than state a preference for a candidtate. Apparently many of the candidates didn’t even make the minimum needed to get a seat (and the Pajaro). No idea if this is true or not but in a way its heartening. At a national scale its unlikely it will happen.

    I think mainly because there is no alternate parties at a critical mass with the necessary brute force on the ground to compete in the electoral process. Another danger I see it that the mechanism of gaining political influence is so corrosive that people can become what they are fighting against. Plus I think we in the SL blogosphere are privy to a select body of knowledge and talk to a smaller circle of people. I wonder if the bulk of the voters who trudge to the village school to vote for the MP who gave a relative a clerking job in some ministry have the same world view us digirati. They are merely being greatful to their patron.

    It is also in the interests of our kleptos to keep the standard low. To create a acceptance that what they do is normal – that it is a right of power. I’m not saying that there’s a conspiracy – just a collective instinct of the political class.

    As for the accountabilty, the issue is one of enforability – to the point where it is unlikely that a high ranking power broker will ever be arrested for their crimes. This is a common thing in the world – not just Sri Lanka. Watergates are globally rare. Occationally there’s something hopefull like the Pinochet prosecution.

    I totally agree with Negligible Minoritist’s last comment which I think is one way to sane in all this. Though its hard to argue with Sophist’s point, I think talking rationally, precisely about how things (one person at a time) could be positive will contribute to change on the long term (permit me a bit of naive fanatism). Blogging can be an ingredient though not the whole solution.

    To do it, it means being the nameless drop that melts the glacier to the point where it slides apart. Seemingly thankless whose fruit will not flower in a life time but it might make living meaningful. And perhaps interesting.

    Lastly, folks who do hark back to the good old days offer a point of contrast to the here and now. And they do spark some good conversations 😉

  16. Well Naz, twenty days after the last posting I stumble upon this and, in a jetlag wakefulness, read every one slowly. Good. So good yet how strange it feels to read these covert, questing voices, sounding like refusniks behind the Iron Curtain.

    But perhaps that is too generous an analogy. Where has the debate gone after 19 postings (8 voices)? Forgive me if I don’t know on which blog it rages. But with just you to listen here, I might mention the T word. The poor quality of political leadership compounds one government after another as its predecessor fails to adequately deal with the Tamil issue. And this goes right back to those golden post-colonial years when there were talks and pacts that failed or were disabused.

    Is not this the poison that making Sri Lanka so ill?

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