Groucho Marx, the comedian, immortalised himself making the world laugh with his humour and wit. Groucho, however, should also be remembered as a philosopher for his trite observation of human behaviour: ‘The secret of life is honesty and fairplay. If you can fake that you’ve got it made’. It is not difficult to look around [...]

Sunday Times 2

Faked honesty: Secret of success of our ‘great leaders’


Groucho Marx, the comedian, immortalised himself making the world laugh with his humour and wit. Groucho, however, should also be remembered as a philosopher for his trite observation of human behaviour: ‘The secret of life is honesty and fairplay. If you can fake that you’ve got it made’.

It is not difficult to look around the world and our own little island and apply Groucho’s test for secret of success in life today — fake honesty and pretense of fairplay.

Last week, at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders — most of whom were elected rightly or wrongly by the free votes of their people — were making their proposals on how to save the world from impending disasters or warding them off while rattling off their doughty deeds how they saved their people from catastrophes of the past year.

Would the world be any wiser from their collective wisdom and proposals made at the UN after the leaders depart from New York on their way back home — dropping in en route to see expatriate friends and family members?

In this Age of Communications, what the leaders of great and small nations declared with much ceremony at the UN have been reported and commented on during the entire year. It has been the duty of their permanent ambassadors in New York to regularly relay the mighty deeds of their leaders to the UN. If so what was the need for leaders to repeat well known facts? But that is what has happened all the years since the New York Talk Shop came up after World War II. No doubt it will be a continuing process, year after year.

Have the nuclear arsenals and stocks of missiles that would carry them been reduced? What decisions have been taken to reduce to meet the world food and water shortage by 2050 due to over exploitation of the Earth’s resources and increased population of humans? What were the positive decisions taken to combat climate change?

Proposals and ideals were aplenty as usual. But little or no commitment too as usual at the World’s Talk Shop.

This is diplomacy, not megaphone or gunboat diplomacy and progress has to be gradual, we are told by the learned.

World leaders will go back home to the cheers of their supporters for a job well done and jeers to their opponents, who will ask: What was the outcome of this world conference?

Were these world leaders genuine in their speeches about saving the world from impending disasters and the success of their efforts to save their countries? Or were they faking honesty and fairplay? The Groucho Marx criterion of fake honesty and pretence of fairplay varies from country to country. Let us consider its application to our own self-proclaimed paradise.

Last week after the Government announced the extension of curfew, those who had been placed under ‘house arrest’ groaned because there were many more days to go.

There could have been no genuine complaints about it because it was made on the recommendations of the health authorities. Soon after the extension announcement, there was a sigh of relief from those long suffering gentlemen, particularly the ‘retired’ types, who had been deprived for weeks of their evening drink they longed for. The news broke out that liquor shops were permitted to be opened.

Crowds naturally flocked to the waterholes as animals do when an oasis is found in a desert.

The drinking fraternity were happy but not most of their wives. Then came bursts of moral indignation from various quarters: The so called defenders of the country’s cultural heritage, followed by shop owners who justly protested that they were forced to shut down while booze joints were having a field day. Strikers such as principals and teachers, who made the point that they were not permitted on the streets while booze seekers were granted open licence, trade unionists opposed to the Rajapaksa Government and all other sundry rose up in arms.

The protestors were justified solely because of the likelihood of the spread of the coronavirus among the crowds that gathered at the ‘wine stores’ on the first day. However, the thirsty masses soon thinned out for many reasons, particularly because ‘wine stores’ do not have an infinite supply of liquor. Now the anti-boozers say there could be a ‘wine shop cluster’ spreading throughout the country.

Was this continuous anti-booze protest because of the genuine health hazard posed; moral indignation about the Government giving priority to boozers; a golden opportunity to wallop the Rajapaksa Government with any broom that comes their way; a weapon for strikers who were making justifiable claims or the Kassipu Mudalalis letting loose their goons on the streets because open legal ‘wine stores’ were taking away a sizeable avenue of their income opened by the Covid-19 virus? The protests may have resulted from combined mix of all these factors.

Now the billion rupee question is: Who issued orders for ‘wine shops’ to be opened. ‘Not I Sir’, says the new Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. ‘If not you Sir, who then Sir?’ No clear answer has emanated. Not the doctors. Not the mighty bemedalled General Shavindra Fernando who is in overall charge of controlling the spread of the pandemic.

In this free and open society of ours, no one knows the authority behind the opening of the ‘wine stores’ as the debate rages on in the media. Was it the Excise Department whose revenue was drastically reduced after the Lockdown? The Excise Department, more often looked upon with great suspicion by the moral crusaders, in our opinion, has no such authority.

An economics pundit laughs it all off. The Government is woefully short of cash, most of its sources of revenue being locked up by the Lockdown. Hence the ‘wine shops’ the instant and sure sources of revenue keep the cash flowing into government coffers. No one takes the blame and the cash continues to flow in. This is a new window for another informal sector of the economy.

Is this another form of Groucho’s faked honesty? Keep the pure white national dress unsmeared but enjoy the liquor revenue and keep the Government going? Is it a concrete example of moral hypocrisy?

Another example of pious hypocrisy is the alleged adventures of state minister in charge of prisons, Lohan Ratwatte. Having imbibed the stuff that cheers, he is supposed to have entered the Welikada Prison with a group of friends, including a beauty queen, to see the gallows and also alleged to have entered the Anuradhapura Prison and levelled a pistol at a group of prisoners.  While the concern is being expressed about the conduct of the minister of state, there is also much concern among moralists that he performed these alleged acts while under the influence of liquor!

Had he been sober and not drunk as alleged, would such an offence be pardonable?

It has also been reported that the two prisons were not equipped with CCTV cameras. Was this an attempt not to record activities of the guardians of the prisoners or the acts of the prisoners? The ancient Romans we are told were faced with a similar problem and poet Juvenal wrote: ‘Who will guard the guards? (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes).

Faked honesty has no doubt been a part of the protective armour of the ‘great leaders’ before us. Grouch Marx only put it in clear language for those of us living in this Age of Faked Honesty.

(The writer is former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and former consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)

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