A choice between stability and virtue I start with a quote from Shang Yang (390-338 BC), an insightful statesman in the Chinese state of Qin: “A country where the virtuous govern the wicked will suffer from disorder, so that it will be dismembered; but a country where the wicked govern the virtuous will be orderly, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



A choice between stability and virtue

I start with a quote from Shang Yang (390-338 BC), an insightful statesman in the Chinese state of Qin: “A country where the virtuous govern the wicked will suffer from disorder, so that it will be dismembered; but a country where the wicked govern the virtuous will be orderly, so that it will become strong.”

Although this quote on governance is over 2,300 years old, the issues are still relevant. The January Presidential election was fought as one between stability and good governance. Such alternatives (i.e. order vs. virtue) are echoed in the above quote too. After Maithripala Sirisena won the election, the Rajapaksa camp warned that it may lead to separatist elements gaining an upper hand; instead of the country becoming ‘strong’ through a long-term Presidency. And at the end of the 100-day Sirisena regime, doubts were expressed whether it was either orderly or strong.

The quote of course is not a scientific law. At best, it encapsulates a social trend; and Karl Popper has clearly enunciated the difference between the two.A trend has very limited predictive power compared to a law. And it is almost impossible to posit ‘natural laws’ in the social sciences, which are also notoriously ‘fuzzy’ in nature, lacking the relative crispness of the pure sciences. Thus, there will be no unanimity as to whether the Sirisena regime is ‘virtuous’– especially if account is taken of some (though not all) members of his cabinet. And while there are many in the country who will label the Rajapaksa regime as ‘wicked’(with justifiable cause too), it may be difficult to ‘demonise’ it unanimously.

It is paradoxical, however, that while most of us would value virtue over wickedness (the process), we also tend to value stability over disorder (the outcome) – and therein lies the rub. Because Shang’s quote suggests that stability may be achievable only through wicked rulers, whereas virtuous ones may lead to a measure of disorder.

Is disorder such a bad thing? I want to make three arguments for choosing instability and disorder over stability and order. The first argument stems from the Shang quote itself. Although it is not easy to arrive at causes by studying effects (a form of reasoning called abduction and used by diagnosticians), it may well be that a stable society arises because of wicked rulers whereas instability could be a sign that rulers are virtuous.
My second argument stems from the notion of democracy, to which lip service is paid the world over, even by regimes bordering on totalitarianism. The association of democracy with disorder goes back to Athens, supposedly the birthplace of democracy. Plato, quoting Socrates calls it “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike”. Of course, there is a strong notion that democracy delivers justice, too, which is probably why it is paid so much lip service. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Anyone who values democracy (and the justice it delivers),therefore, should be prepared for a degree of instability.

My final argument is that instability is associated with positive change. Many people feel that the scientific revolution in Europe arose in a climate of social instability, arising from the authority of the established church being challenged, primarily by those within the church itself. And the industrial revolution in England took place in a climate of political flux, when the power of the king was being replaced by that of Parliament. So lack of stability and order can give rise to positive changes, especially when the previous state of equilibrium has been unjust and unfair.

A final comment: Shang Yang’s quote was made at a time when Chinese states were at war with each other. So it may even be argued that to forget virtue a little during times of war is acceptable for the sake of order (I would not advocate it, however, because the inexorable ‘cosmic’ laws of justice will come back to haunt us). But we have finished our war – it is six years since we did. This is a time to espouse the process of being virtuous (whatever the outcome will be) rather than insisting on stability at any cost, because we may have to allow, participate in or commit great wickedness to achieve it.

Speaking for myself, and many people in this country I think, President Maithripala Sirisena’s great appeal stems from the fact that he is not in control of everything. It suggests that he is more democratic and virtuous. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on the other hand, tried to make sure that he had everything under his control – deeply disturbing at best.And even where potential “dismemberment” is concerned, in my opinion, President Sirisena’s conciliatory gestures to northern citizens, and the TNA’s rapport with him, make separatism much less likely now than under the Rajapaksa iron fist.

Priyan Dias
Via email


Thank you Mayor, for your prompt action

A Kottamaba tree in front of our house on a busy main road died due to natural causes. The tree which stood for decades, giving shelter to school children and commuters using this bustling road is now a major threat to public safety.

Considering the danger, I alerted the Colombo Municipal Council. The officer who answered my call said they could attend to it only after the Avurudu holidays.

Checking the website of the CMC I found that I could directly write to the Mayor on his email, which I did immediately. Lo and behold, the very next morning the tree cutting crew of the CMC was there and within hours they had completed the job. This is a note of thanks to the Mayor and the staff for expeditiously moving on this matter.

Lalindra Jayewardene
Colombo 10


Stand up and oppose loud broadcasts at places of worship

Having participated in prayer vigils, I have only admiration for those who commit themselves to all-night meditation for the sake of the country and its people. If it is to be really for its people, then it becomes counterproductive to amplify it to the general public who are not involved in such an effort: what is sweet to your ears may be an irritant to others.

This is true even for the best of music! So, when the Nugegoda Nalandarama Temple broadcast its all-night pirith ceremony on May 7 over loudspeakers, it is negative thoughts that overshadow the intended positive ones of the devotees gathered at the temple itself. Negative thoughts of the elderly who find it hard to sleep anyway; negative thoughts of the migraine sufferer or the mother trying to put her baby to sleep. And the negative thoughts of the majority of the densely populated area around the temple. This is true irrespective of the religion concerned. I would object similarly to Muslim prayers or Christian vigil if blared out at high volume through the night.

As far as I am aware, there is only an unwritten rule and common courtesy (except once on a determination of a former Chief Justice) that all amplified sound should cease by 10 or 11 p.m. at night. If not, residents should make complaints to the police on the grounds of ‘disturbance of peace’. However, when it comes to all-night pirith, suddenly this becomes sacrilege.

What we really need is sensitivity to other religions and persuasions, the general public and indeed those who profess no faith, so that we all engage in our practices without irritating the other. That way, we can make our pirith and prayers truly affect our people in positive instead of negative ways.

Please stand up and object to blaring religious broadcasts in your neighbourhood!


Via email


Good governance lacks energy

When the scripture says “let not your right hand know what your left hand doeth” it is about doing charity. However, it does not apply to governance. In governance, if the Executive is ignorant of what the ministers and board chairmen are doing, it is schizophrenia.

Energy conservation is a misnomer. We do not need to conserve energy. What we need to do is to conserve our use of expensive, imported, fossil fuel. Why don’t we realise that renewable energy is just that: endlessly renewable and freely available?

While the Minister concerned postures at Independence Square with the President, the CEB, claiming that nett-metering is reducing its “profits”, has slapped a charge on people using photovoltaics equipment to obtain free solar energy. Now, no matter what your solar power capacity, you pay for any electricity you use between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. This hugely undercuts the economy of purchasing the necessary equipment. Equally ‘sagacious’ is the decision of another minister to raise the tax on hybrid vehicles.

I really would like to have someone explain to me the science of how exercise reduces electricity consumption. Instead of such mindless posturing at Independence Square, if they fund people to shift to solar power and ban the import of petrol-only vehicles, we could achieve a 20% reduction in our fuel bills in short shrift. In the long run, such an intelligent policy could raise this to probably a 70% reduction in our consumption of fossil fuels. Now that would, indeed, be good governance.

Ranjan Karunaratne


Semantic  burial  of  Colombo’s  history

Yet another piece of Colombo’s urban history has been erased by authorities running this old town. “Ketawalamulla Lane” has been renamed “Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka Mawatha”. Although I have no idea as to what ‘ketawala’ flourished in this ‘mulla’, I am saddened at this erasure of an old name harking back, perhaps, to our city’s botanic history – in an attempt to curry favour with VIPs.

Not far from here was “Paranawadiya Road” where, in olden times, bullock carts were parked and carters bringing their loads to the harbour had their caravanserai. It is now called “Ananda Mawatha’ named after a popular school that does not need this dubious ‘honour.

I have written earlier of the replacement of the name “Thimbirigasyaya Road” which recalled the huge ‘thimbiri’ trees that stood on the tank bund overlooking an ancient ‘yaya’ of paddy fields. It is now called after a trade unionist cum cleric who, obviously, sees no harm in ‘his’ road hosting four liquor shops and a meat shop. Round the corner was “Kirula Road” — probably named after the ‘kirala’ bird that haunted the marshy shallows here. It is now renamed “Bernard Soysa Mawata” – after a deceased politician who, in his lifetime, disdained such accolades. Down this road is the Survey Department which did not raise a whimper of protest when “Baseline Road”, commemorating the base of Ceylon’s first trignometrical survey was chopped up, semantically, into three sections with forgettable names.

The Dutch occupation left us with Wolfendahl [vale of jackals], Bloemendahl [flower valley] romantic reminders of the wilderness that surrounded Colombo of centuries ago. Former “Reclamation Road” was named after an early harbour development project. “Shoe” and “Silversmith” Streets were named after the artisan ‘colonies’ that once flourished there. Not a trace remains of their origins. I sniff the danger that “Jawatta”, where Malays settled long ago and buried their dead, may lose its name unless that endangered minority fights to retain its contribution to Colombo’s urban history.

If the powers- that-be desire to ‘honour’ their favourite sons, I suggest they rename the streets that yet flaunt the names of old Brits –Horton, Barnes, Maitland, Torrington, Stanmore etc. Their contribution, if any, to Colombo’s history is dubious.

Tissa Devendra
Via email


Socialism no more, rename Lanka as Republic of Sri Lanka

Now that anti-capitalist humanitarian socialism is no more in vogue let us change the name of our country once again while retaining our historical name, ‘Lanka’, to something more appropriate. Let us rename our country simply as the “Republic of Sri Lanka” and if we wish to reflect unity in diversity, then let us call our country the “United Republic of Sri Lanka”.

The President and the Yahapalanaya Government should give serious thought to this, for national unity is the foundation for good governance and should be our goal; this should find expression in the name of the country itself, reflecting our values. In the first instance, as a Republic, we have a form of democratic government in which power resides in elected representatives, and government leaders exercise power according to the Constitution which upholds democracy, the Rule of Law and human rights.

We are a country, with a proud heritage. Ours is a predominantly Buddhist country; tolerance of other religions and other ethnic groups has added value to our image. Though the manner in which we handled the Tamil issue was wrong, the present administration is seen to be taking measures to rectify it. ‘Compassion and tolerance’ are our motto for it is not only the essence of Buddhism but also of Christianity.
We also value democracy and all it entails; ours was the first country in Asia to give its people free education, free medicare and also free food for the poor.

We are the first British colony to receive universal adult suffrage even before some countries in the developed West enjoyed that right. We have also elected governments without an interruption for over 65 years since Independence. So we do have much to be proud about as a democracy. So let us rename our country simply as the Republic of Sri Lanka or as the United Republic of Sri Lanka, and move forward.

K. Godage
Via email


No coconut vows at Bodhiya, please

Last week’s Café Spectator story headlined ‘Pol mess for Nilame’ rightly stated that the Well Bodhiya was no place to make vows or seek revenge for barbaric shenanigans. It’s a place of sublime sanctity revered through the ages by both kings and commoners.

To break coconuts in such a hallowed precinct is sheer desecration, particularly by a man who headed the nation, nay the world’s supreme Buddhist shrine for a decade. While his complaint to police about the vanished nuts is hilarious, it could be an act of the gods.

Asoka Weerakoon

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