Masters of the universe but lack the wisdom of our ancestors
by Janaka Goonetilleke on 27 Oct 2018 4 Comments

Humanity in the last century has achieved immense technological skills that are far beyond one’s comprehension. We have gone to the moon, deciphered the genome, we can communicate across the globe in seconds, but do we have the wisdom to use it? Blindly led into self-annihilation by a group of advocates consisting of illiterate politicians, professional classes, media that believes in a philosophy of make belief and a set of blind economists who have of mixed up statistics with human development. This is the plight of the present generation.


Individualism against collectivism of our ancestors


Sri Lanka was a fine example of collectivism until the invasion and subjugation by the colonialist Europeans. They imposed a set of values that undermined the ancient ideas of collectivism which involved integration, assimilation and diversity. The best example of this is in the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka. The fishermen are all migrants from India who arrived in the northern part of the island and spread down south where the islanders were most prosperous.


Interestingly, the fishermen in the north speak Tamil, migrating south in the northwestern province they speak a dialect that is a mixture of Sinhalese and Tamil. In the south they speak Sinhalese and are strong Buddhists. In the south, the oldest migrants are blessed with Hindu Gods whom they can worship in Buddhist shrine rooms in temples. Till this day, businessmen visit the kovil in the morning before they start work: a fantastic example of humanism and harmony. Today, this aspect of humanism is lacking in the thought process of the islanders where inter-communal harmony is at the lowest ebb, with antagonism and intolerance taking pride of place. This is a reflection of the individualism that breeds greed, hate and delusion. The question is one of economic and social sustainability, a point most intelligent Sri Lankans lament after a 30-year destructive war where all Sri Lankans have paid a price.


Individualism and social perfectionism


Individualism has made society desire achievement. We push towards building great cities, digging more mines, destroying climates. We pursue our dreams with greed. Self-destruction is not a part of the plan, but it is the outcome.

-        Around 10 per cent of the people in the West are on antidepressants.

-        Suicide is increasing, the result of an acute feeling of failure in their inability to pursue their desires; having sold their soul, they have nothing to protect.

-        Children, the next generation, are paying the price. Driven by over-ambitious parents who wish their children to be multi-talented, they are taken for different activities and brought into the army of social perfectionists. Mental disease amongst the young is rising, especially in the West. With both parents working and the little time they have with the parents destroyed by extra school activities, they are emotionally deprived. The rest of the world follows the West.

-        A example of emotional deprivation is rising number of school massacres and rapes in the USA.

-        Overzealous parents have failed to realize that mental stability amongst adolescents does not occur until they are about 25 years of age. To be exposed to social perfection at the time of vulnerability is only going to make matters worse.

-        The emotionally deprived children brought up to be socially perfect having sold their souls are unable to even identify with their own families. This is made worse by the high divorce rates (60 per cent) and single parent families. In the USA, it is said that 15 per cent of the 13-15-year olds do not speak to their parents. The reasons are multifactorial but reflect the present social order of the Masters of the Universe; this makes a mockery of the family and the repercussions for the future are grim. It has negated the evolutionary process over millennia.

-        Social Media have made especially the young addicted to Facebook, Instagram etc. where people from different cultures, different communities, different religions express a globalized version of the truth, distorting the real issues of local communities. A locally arrived solution is most appropriate for any society. A globalized version distorts and undermines democracy, leading to communal and religious disharmony. These issues are most prominent in the Middle East where religious, communal disharmony has created millions of refugees, thousands dead, and social disruption that will take years to remedy. People from different backgrounds cannot be assimilated into one globalized unit.


World Economy

Open Economy and Politics


Individualism and greed are the main criteria on which the economy is developed, well fueled by a Banking system where making a quick buck is the main philosophy. The attitude to money making is just looking for profit on a transaction, but does not maximize profit long term. In fact, unless we learn from our past financial myopia this will lead to bankruptcies and market failures as we saw in the 2008 economic collapse.


Plenty of Power, No Responsibility


The masters of the world have still not realized the implication of plenty of power but no responsibility. The political class is the best example in Sri Lanka. They have borrowed money from China at about 6 per cent on the dollar when the market rate was 0.5 per cent. The borrowed money has been invested in hyped-up projects where the return on equity makes a mockery of investment. No wonder the politicians who got commissions on the investments have gradually got their families involved in the industry. To this day, no Sri Lankan politician has been charged for corruption.


Banking System


The masters of the universe are still to realize that the creation of money is in the hands of the private sector, not the central banks. In the west, 95 per cent of the money created is in private hands. These banks create wealth by investment and lending which is called the multiplier effect. Short termism is the theme. Forests are a good example. You cut down the trees and sell the timber making a big profit on the short term, but the countries are left with bare land and the local societies are left with losses and wastelands. This is how the unhealthy relationship between politicians, banking system and money-lenders has prospered, leaving the poor to carry the can.


The banking crisis in 2008 is a standing example: one per cent of the rich own 70 per cent of the wealth whilst 99 per cent own 30 per cent. The dwindling wealth of the majority can only lead to a collapse of the market system.


Forget the unnecessary fluff about human rights, democracy etc. It is social and economic sustainability that matters. This self destructive process advocated by the great powers of the world hope to sustain it by wars and destruction as we see in the Middle East. This does not sustain growth of wealth, but helps in the destruction of wealth.


A Lesson from our Ancestors


The vast irrigation canal system of our ancestors and the present Mahaweli Project of the 1980s, created to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice and energy lacks the practical scientific thinking of our ancestors.


-        The Mahaweli scheme made a dam across the main river, causing environmentally damaging results in the riverbed beyond the dam. Our ancestors built dams across tributaries, never on the main river. The area around the main river was protected.

-        Around the tributaries, they developed forbidden forests where the game (wild boar, deer, etc.) could be consumed only by the king. In the forests were grown a tree called Vera that minimized evaporation. This made the soil damp allowing many varieties of herbs to grow that had a stable biodiversity that was protected by law. The purpose of the forests was to protect the environment. The forest reserves are protected in most countries. Unfortunately, foreign consultants did not realize the value of these forbidden forests and recommended that the Vera trees be cut and used as timber, creating wastelands of no use to the local populace.

-        Silting Tanks or Biso Kotuwa. The tanks had a pipe at the bottom at the entrance and at the top at the exit, which allowed decanting the water free of silt. When the tank needed desilting, they used elephants to stir the silt that was carried to the paddy fields as fertilizer.

-        The present Mahaweli scheme diverts all the fertilizer from the tea estates to the North Central Province and has resulted in 15 per cent of the people suffering from kidney disease, made worse by deforestation.

-        Our ancestors were aware of the risks of heavy metals in the water that was transferred to the paddy fields and how it could affect the rice. They cooked rice with excess water and decanted the excess water after the rice was cooked, taking the pollutants out. Today we cook in rice cookers and do not have a mechanism to get rid of pollutants.


The native wisdom of our ancestors cannot be matched by modern masters who lack a policy of sustainability, be it in technology or otherwise. They believe in might is right as against harmony and interdependence with nature. This hubris is the cause of major environmental damage.

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