Friday, August 30, 2013

Man's Inhumanity towards Man

Sunday Morning Sermon - Sep 1 2013

Mark Twain's major theme in the novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is man's inhumanity to man. Huck Finn states, "Human beings can be awfully cruel to one another".

This theme is no surprise to us all. We have, throughout history, read about the many events of such cruelty inflicted by man upon his own species.

The question that we now ask is whether we have learned any valuable lessons from this history?

When WWII ended we heard the voices say, "never again", yet we've seen so many new wars that have been fought, lost and won, since then. Millions have suffered or died in vain.

What motivates man to kill his own?

Yes, we know that animals and other creatures do kill each other. But they do it only as a form of instinct to survive. Never on a planned and hidden agenda to oppress or abuse. In the case of man its different.

What do human beings kill for? Usually its territory, power, religion, culture, ethnicity or basically, the inability to accept and tolerate one another.

Where did racism stem from? Racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior, or superior..

Historical economic or social disparity is alleged to be a form of discrimination caused by past racism and historical reasons, affecting the present generation through deficits in the formal education and kinds of preparation in previous generation, and through primarily unconscious racist attitudes and actions on members of the general population.
A hypothesis embraced by classical economists is that competition in a capitalist economy decreases the impact of discrimination. The thinking behind the hypothesis is that discrimination imposes a cost on the employer, and thus a profit-driven employer will avoid racist hiring policies.
Although a capitalist economy would avoid discrimination in order to avoid extra cost, this can be avoided in other ways. A capitalist company, for example, may use racist hiring policies as it deviates towards the “cultural norm”. For example, in a predominantly white society, hiring a person of color into a position of management may then cause disputes, and damage communications between other employers. Thus, the company would be economically put in a deficit because of the discrimination of other companies, as they invoke discrimination and isolate that company. Although this may be a radical, over exaggerated point of view, it portrays how pervasive racism is and how a company may sometimes deviate towards racist hiring policies in order to not be isolated, thus preventing the company from going into an economic deficit. 
Settler colonialism has always been one of the main contributors of segregation of human beings into groups and levels of social hierarchy, which then develops into a form of racism and divisiveness. The South African model is the best example of this.
Today, we see so many fires burning across many nations where people are involved in fighting their own people espousing their own causes and justifications. Interventions by more powerful first world nations have rarely brought forth a permanent solution to this madness. In fact such interventions have actually fueled the fire even further drawing more blood across wider landscapes.
Are we humans doomed to destruct ourselves in this manner, sooner than later?
Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Military Madness

Sunday Morning Sermon - Aug 18 2013

Throughout history, the military has been concerned with much more than national defense. In Imperial Rome, for instance, by the era of the mid Empire it had become customary for the military to influence the selection of the new Emperor. In modern times, virtually all Latin American and African nations have seen military interventions, often culminating in military coups and the emergence of military dictatorships. There are also instances of military involvement in domestic politics, even in apparently consolidated democracies. In 1958, the democratically-elected French government was forced to back down in a confrontation with a unified military command. Today, as we are all witnessing on the ground, the Egyptian military has ousted a democratically elected President and the result has been absolute chaos, destruction, and death on the streets. Sri Lanka, in recent days put down a protest in Welweriya​,
using the military,
where the
​ village people were only demanding drinking water.

The basic analytic​al framework is simple. Two groups, the elite rich and the ​ordinary ​citizens, are in conflict under democratic and nondemocratic regimes. Under democracy, redistributive policies benefit the citizens at the expense of the rich. Under oligarchy the rich keep their wealth but have to create (and pay) a repressive military to maintain them in power. A repressive military is a double-edged sword, however; once created, it has the option of attempting to establish a military dictatorship, seizing power from democratic or oligarchic governments. This is the political moral hazard problem at the core of the situation.

​This supports 
​the ​
military’s relationship with oligarchies, specifically the conditions under which the military will act as a perfect agent of the elite in oligarchies, and the conditions under which the military will turn against the elite and attempt to set up its own dictatorship.
It also clarifies thinking on the military’s role in transitions to democracy. The key element concerns the credibility of future pay-offs. Since oligarchies need a repressive military in ways that democracies do not, the oligarch’s commitment to future pay-offs is credible while those of a democratic government may not be. Consequently, our framework suggests that military coups are more likely to take place against democracies than against oligarchies because of the inability of democratic regimes to commit to not reforming the military in the future. 
Nevertheless, military coups against oligarchies are also possible when the political moral hazard problem is sufficiently severe. The point turns on the assumption that there is a probability that coups against oligarchies will fail.
 also suggests that military coups may be more likely when the external role of the military is more limited. When a strong military is needed for national defense, democratic regimes can also commit to keeping a relatively large military, thus reducing the incentive for military takeover at the early stages of democracy.

​The ​
historical relations between nondemocratic regimes and the military are important for the consolidation of democracy once th
 regime emerges. If a powerful military has been created by the elite to prevent democratization, then this military will be present at the early stages of the nascent democracy. However, since democracy does not have as much of a need for coercion as the nondemocratic regime, the military anticipates future reforms by the democratic government to reduce its size and power. This anticipation induces the military to take action against nascent democratic regimes, unless credible commitments for the continued role of the military in politics or other significant concessions can be made.

Other factors include the extent of income inequality and abundance of natural resources. Greater inequality increases the conflict between the elite and the citizens and encourages oligarchic regimes to maintain power by using stronger militaries. This increases both the risk of military intervention during the oligarchic regime and also once democracy emerges. Natural resources further increase the political stakes and make it more difficult to prevent the political moral hazard problem because the military can exploit natural resources once it comes to power. As such, they often make military interventions more likely.
One of the important implications of this state of affairs is that, when trying to shape or influence transitions to democracy, it is important that policy makers consider the complexities of the three-way interactions between the elite, the military and citizens. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Sunday Morning Sermon - Aug 11 2013

A body comes into existence.  If nurtured well, this body grows and matures into a healthy being.  Along the way however, steps have to be taken to ensure the continuous growth and development of this body, in a manner that will produce very little setbacks for a healthy and productive life.  These necessary steps are what I call "maintenance".

The same philosophy could very easily apply to all around us.  Not just to humans, but to the vast infrastructure around us.

In the post independence ‘50’s and ‘60’s the possibilities of taking our motherland, Sri Lanka, into an economical and social miracle was fully available. We had every opportunity, skill, resource, and even support from our Colonial master, Britain, to step ahead. However, petty politics, based on power struggle and selfish needs has made this a difficult target to achieve. Still, development of the infrastructure in this country has moved, even at snails pace, towards what it is now.  Billions of rupees have been spent to forge, build, and implement projects for the enrichment of the people and the infrastructure is reasonably on its way forward as we see it on the ground today, even if the socio-political climate has suffered tremendously, through hatred, wars, and mistrust between peoples.  

Communities have sprouted practically overnight in places where there was only bare land before.  Smaller towns have quickly developed and transformed into large metropolitan cities.

Hardly a day went by when one did not hear of or witness a new scheme or development beginning to take roots.  Foreign aid and development projects have also contributed effectively to this cause. People, both locally and from outside, have contributed in their own way and with their own expertise to the challenges faced with this mammoth task.  The maturity of society has still been slow in keeping pace with the expected development.

Today, t
e situation on the ground is received with mixed feelings. While infrastructure has improved the mindset of the people has deteriorated. Ethnic conflict is strife with the majority community taking and "Us and Them" attitude towards the minorities who have also made valuable contributions to the progress for over many centuries. Many have left the shores in search of greener pastures, peace, safety, and comfort.

After all this time, the ravages are beginning to show through the 
​glass ​
ceiling and we are on our way to simply becoming chronicled monuments of a recent era.

This does not have to be the case.  The key element missing here is maintenance, something we tend to ignore in just about every facet of our lives.  We tend to neglect our bodies, and on a larger scale, tend to neglect everything around us.  After all, why bother with something that works just fine for now?

This illusion is fine so long as things work well.  But the moment that something falls apart, we are taken off guard by the unexpected.  The evidence of such a demeanor is all around us.

Take to the roads today and tell me how you feel.  Are they being properly maintained?  Is the electricity service to your home steady and reliable?  Is the water supply piped in constant or intermittent? Walk into a modern and state of the art building or structure built in the last decade or so, only to notice the beginning stages of neglect and decay.  Or try using a service, which although recently introduced has fallen to hard 
Look at your neighbor. Is he Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher? How do you feel about him living next to you home?
 Does it bother you in any way? if so, why?
​ ​

Our philosophy and indifference towards maintenance is a major factor towards this decline.  An individual buys an expensive automobile, yet may search for the cheapest of labor to operate it.  The same attitude could apply to those investing in factories or industries.  Just about any responsible individual or party is more concerned with the initial investment in a project than the continuing expenses of maintaining his investment.

Is it indifference or ignorance? I sometimes wonder. Does not the analogy to a human body apply to just about everything we build or create?  Admittedly, maintenance comes with a price.  But the cost of neglecting this necessary function is far greater than imagined.

It is easy to complain and criticize, but how could one go about addressing this issue.  Well, we hear a lot about the high cost of living among the people.  Why not put our minds to get around them to drop the ethnic issues and concentrate on the needs for maintenance of the nation? Sooner or later, many professionals and skilled workers may leave, and with them so will a huge pool of talent.  Utilize that expertise now while they are here and develop a maintenance team of people, dedicated to the proper preservation of all things around us.

It takes more to build a community. It takes planning ahead, creative ingenuity and diligence to maintain it at a level acceptable to all.  And yet that is a challenge which many of our public service agencies have yet to fathom.

When are we ever going to learn?


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Profanity v Obscenity v Vulgar

Sunday Morning Sermon Aug 4 2013

Profanity is when something is considered insulting to a religion, its god(s), or people’s beliefs in them. Obscenity involves offense to taste or common decency, something vulgar enough to be taboo in a given context (often relating to sex or bodily functions).Vulgarity can mean crude, in general.There are legal nuances in all three terms.

Lets look at a common occurrence in our everyday life to illustrate this. 

You just stubbed your toe on a metal pillar or maybe opened your tax statement that came in the mail, and you want to let loose with some language that would make a sailor blush. Which category would those colorful words fall under?

If you're being profane, you may not need to worry about the arm of the Law, but if you believe in an immortal soul, you might be in trouble. Profane (from the Latin profanes, meaning "outside the temple" ) originally referred to things not belonging to the church. Later it meant blasphemy, sacrilege or taking the Lord's name in vain (we just call that blasphemy now).
Today, profanity is an expression that is specifically offensive to members of a religious group. The definition also extends to expressions that are scatological, derogatory, racist, sexist, or sexual. What is and isn't profane largely depends on the context and the company you keep.
Obscenity (from the Latin obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable" ) generally covers sexual or scatological references to the body or bodily functions (i.e. F*&k and s#$t). The term is also used in a legal context to describe expressions (whether words, images or actions) that offend the sexual morality of a given time and place.

Vulgarity (from the Latin vulgis, meaning "the common people," ), which used to refer to text written in a vernacular instead of Latin, has two definitions today, depending on who you ask. For some, vulgarity is generally coarse or crude language. For others, it is more specifically the act of substituting a coarse word in a context where a more refined expression would be expected.

The actual intent and application of all these three category of words may have their nuances and variations in languages other than English, although in general, they must conform to the common definitions outlined above.

Schooldays were always filled with many of these "choice" words, be it in the classroom between colleagues or even in the playing fields. Cricket has its own share of vocabulary, referred to as sledging, that players choose to sling at each other during a game.

Pakistai dudes have a tendency to greet each other on the phone with a massive dose of "mother/sister" related "good mornings". At first I found that rather offensive in nature but eventually got used to it once I found that it was part and parcel of their Operating System, done in a very fun like and acceptable manner.

Whatever category they may belong to, the bottom line of the real meaning of many of these expletives is intent.