A heart in a heartless world

Thursday, 10 August 2023 00:00 –      – 24

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Lighting up Mihintale wouldn’t do any good to people whose life savings are gobbled up by a capricious clique who pushed the nation into this poop pit


The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) the largest Opposition party/alliance in the current Parliament has cleared the outstanding electricity bill of the Mihintale Sacred City amounting to Rs. 4.1 million.

According to a report in the Daily FT, the funding to settle the bill has been secured from party members and well-wishers.

This painstaking act of piety of a political party is also an act of purposeful politics.

That the leader of the SJB Sajith Premadasa is a devout ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ is no secret. Sometime ago he declared that if elected to high office he will also build sacred ‘Stupas’ (Chaithya Rajayanan Wahensela) in every district in our land.

While the SJB is busy ensuring that all places of religious worship are lit up, the rival opposition group the NPP – ‘Jathika Janabalawgaya’ currently limited to three members in the current Parliament is hard at work organising island-wide resistance to the iniquitous domestic debt restructuring process that places an unfair disadvantage on the voiceless contributors to the EPF and the ETF.

The NPP has made some notable strides in the Apex court litigating this sensitive and complex issue. It has prompted the President to issue an edict – “The Government will not heed orders or advice from any other party except parliament with regard to debt optimisation measures”.

We are approaching the Rubicon. As Professor Kumar David has remarked in a recent essay “there are only two options”. The RW led outfit and the National People’s Power.

The deliberate and determined display of brute force by law enforcement agencies to suppress and or discourage dissent testifies to the uncomfortable truth that we live in ‘dark times’.

If you happen to have a conscience that becomes uneasy at the prospect of explaining opulent wealth amidst abject misery, these are indeed dark times of dark despair.

The Philosopher historian Hanah Arendt used the expression ‘dark times’ to describe her painful experiences in prewar Germany in Nazi years.

She borrowed it from Bertolt Brecht’s poem ‘To prosperity’.

Indeed, I live in the dark ages!

A guileless word is an absurdity.

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!

But how can I eat and drink

When my food is snatched from the hungry

And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?

And yet I eat and drink.

The distinguished historian and former US Secretary of state Marlyn Albright describes the type of person who driven by sheer lust for power gives substance in creating times of dark despair.

In her book ‘Fascism – A warning’, she describes the modern-day fascist. “It is someone who claims to speak for the whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or any other means to achieve goals he or she may have.”

In dark times illuminating rock temples is not the kind of practical politics the ordinary people either demand or need.

We have two options. We can either continue with crony corruption reconciled to live with privileged pockets of opulent wealth, guided by the invisible hand of a free market or forge the broadest possible alliance of ordinary people who believe that society is not a market but a community.

SJB’s generous gesture of restoring electricity to the historic Mihintale temple adds a new dimension – politics of piety to our current quandary.

Quite contrary to the wicked distortion by his detractors Karl Marx recognised the role of religion in society.

In one of his Encyclical letters Pope Benedict XVI describes Marx’s role in shaping modern culture. He explores how Marx interpreted human hope after the great promise of the French revolution. After the French revolution change was inevitable. Progress could not simply continue in small, linear steps. A revolutionary leap was needed.

“Karl Marx took up the rallying call and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation—towards what Kant had described as the “Kingdom of God”. Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now.”

Marx merely explored the role of religion in society. He did not disparage or reject religion. He condemned the use of religion to justify or explain injustice in society. Marx explained the role of religion.

“Religion is the opium of the people. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions.”

When Marx used the word ‘Opium’ it was regarded as a type of medicine and not an addictive social menace.

Use of opium was not illegal at the time. The suggestion that Marx equated religion to an addictive narcotic is a terrible distortion.

Marx was a secular humanist much ahead of his time. He merely examined the role of religion in the exploitative society of his time.

To return to our predicament today, we are a very religious people. Yet, we have the extremely distressing habit of infusing tribal perceptions and predatory ritual to our otherwise illuminative faiths.

The Chambers of Commerce currently in continuous dialogue with the saviour and redeemer of the bankrupt economy would disagree. But Karl Marx is right about human nature. We need to sleep contentedly not in 2048 but now.

With nearly seven million out of twenty-two million below poverty line, our society is in desperate need of a heart and a soul wherever we can find it.

Lighting up Mihintale may promise nirvanic bliss. If you are an ordinary contributor to a superannuation fund you need justice and equity here and now.

Lighting up Mihintale wouldn’t do any good to people whose life savings are gobbled up by a capricious clique who pushed the nation into this poop pit.

Václav Havel the lifelong dissident who was finally elected President of the Czechoslovak Republic explained to a sceptical journalist: “Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Regardless of how it turned out after Gota went home, the ordinary people who overwhelmingly discarded the United National Party into the dung heap of history at the last parliamentary election remain steadfast in their hearts that the “Argalaya” made eminent sense.

The SJB is a vestigial remnant of the dinosaur. Hearts are not sold in the market. Not even in Social Markets!


Spe Salvi 20: Hope in the Modern Age, Engels and Marx

To Be Realistic, There Are Only Two Options


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