A week ago, I went to a seminar on how to make babies. Although, in hindsight, it was more about how not to make babies. Because the main speaker was a medical professional with a post-grad degree in neonatal care and a theological inclination with clear sharp ideas about creation. A dangerous combination for cosmetic [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Babes-in-arms, attacks, and back to barracks…


A week ago, I went to a seminar on how to make babies. Although, in hindsight, it was more about how not to make babies. Because the main speaker was a medical professional with a post-grad degree in neonatal care and a theological inclination with clear sharp ideas about creation. A dangerous combination for cosmetic baby-makers, as it turns out.

Let me explain. Then expound a contemporary application of a sort.

That seminar was conducted for members of the general public interested in the philosophy of creation. The presenter was a theologian and a technologist. He reminded his audience that traditionally, religions warn against the taking of life. (So: no abortion, no euthanasia.) Given the unprecedented advancement of science and technology, however, the arguments and issues have taken a different – even counter-distinct – turn. Today, these realities are more to do with the making of life, the faking of life, and the shaping of life. (Go, life in vitro! Go, embryonic stem-cell research! Go, shopping for desirable traits for the baby you are manufacturing – literally!)

After two to three hours of exposure to this theologian-technologist’s thought-world, yours truly came away with several new – and a few renewed – convictions.

FIRST. That life is sacred in both religious and scientific senses. And that humanity would be well-advised not to play God or Master Technician – for moral as well as more mundane reasons: such as the fear of creating Frankenstein monsters out of the neo-babies human beings might be increasingly tempted to make.

SECOND. That while sex used to be procreational in the traditional view, and if at all recreational and relaxational, it has now been relegated in some families to being simply a rather sad combination of the latter two; with cosmetic baby-making coming to the forefront in often frightening ways.

AND LAST, BUT BY NO MEANS LEAST: That an excess of money and the availability of modern technology, coupled with businesses not being averse to marketing the Creation of New Humanity, are threatening in some parts of the global marketplace to help Homo sapiens become the ‘gods of the gaps’. It is filling in the very vacuum where Nature (you say), or God (I think), or the élan vital (according to certain philosophies), abhors to act.

These principles, I find on reflection, apply to the most unlikely practices. They make most sense where ‘parents’ cull, select, elect, and fine-tune their own ‘babies’. And not all of them are biological. In fact, one of them is quite the opposite of childlike. It is our army.
Just this weekend, paterfamilias was at work, fine-tuning his infant prodigy. First, the head (which was replaced). Second, the major organs – directorates and their respective directors (which were shuffled and reshuffled). Third, the skin and bone – the rank and file (some 18,000 of which were relegated to their respective regiments).

The last of these is the most interesting. While the changes at the top can be considered cosmetic (the usual superficial reasons of loyalty and fealty to the powers that be – and the powers that want to be), the changes to the body come with a rhyme and reason that beggars belief. Because the very raison d’etre for these troopers is being brought into question. Apparently they are being released from ‘menial’ work such as building construction as it is infra dig for the soldier to do anything less than suitably ‘military’.

Well, I have news for you, sirs! The common or garden soldier has a long and proud history as the backbone of society in times of war and peace. Hoplites of the ancient Greek city-states were primarily farmers and artisans, free citizens pressed into military service because they could afford their trademark shield. Historians record that Roman soldiers were first and foremost architects and engineers, breaking down and building up anything and everything from viaducts to aqueducts. Chinese soldiery during peacetimes was enrolled not only as armourers and tax collectors, but artisans and hostlers among other vocations in civvy-street. The British army’s engineers benefited Ceylon in many ways that we are still experiencing as boons to travel, especially, in our island.

Point is: successive administrations have had varying ‘theologies’ of the security forces. In colonial times, armies were the infant prodigies of mercantile and mercenary interests. After independence, the nation’s military came into its own and came of age as an independent – if metaphorically teenaged – standing army in customary republican tradition (abortive coups notwithstanding). Its service in the sundry conflicts (‘civil’, ‘internecine’) that afflicted Sri Lanka over the past 45 years or so saw it add muscle, grow up, attain manhood. Post conflict, it was possibly the unwitting plaything of a regime more mindful of its own image than that of the forces, which injected its corpus with more ‘adrenalin’ and ‘steroids’ than a nation at peace could healthily retain, sustain, maintain.

In the limit, the trajectory of the security forces’ treatment – nurture, cull, select, elect, fine-tune – has been redolent of the gene technology used to manufacture super-babies. First, it was a colonial relict or monument. Then, a mighty fighting machine. Now, a stripped down movement reminiscent of a demobilisation that never happened – but should have – in the aftermath of the war. In the end, the army and its sister services have been the brainchild and plaything of governments from regimes to republican democracies.

So, these powers would do well to remember the philosophy of creation when it comes to creating or manufacturing or superintending ‘babies’. The making and faking of life can be as abhorrent as the taking of life. That the events of that fateful January night are driving the changes being made in the army is clear. We hope and trust that the shaping of the new lease of life that it is now receiving – republican-technology-style – will not create Frankenstein monsters: an army of privileged technicians and technocrats who have forgotten that its peasants and paddy farmers are its backbone and that there is dignity in labour.

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